Each April for decades, as trees begin to blossom and temperatures begin to rise, Virginia politicians have gathered in rural Sussex County to spend a day shaking hands, passing out literature, and eating some shad.
The event, known as Shad Planking, was begun in the 1930s by a small group of friends as a way to celebrate the running of shad along the James River, according to the Shad Planking website. Since the Wakefield Ruritan Club took it over in 1949, the event has become, as organizers put it, a "place for candidates to see and be seen and for the curious to speculate about the likely winners and losers of the year's coming campaign season."
This year’s Shad Planking, held on Wednesday, was no different. It’s one of the highlights of the state’s campaign season for Republican politicians, who came out this year in droves, as well as the sprinkling of Democrats who showed, including Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Bobby Scott. Read National Journal’s account of the event and click through for views of the food and the faces.
Former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., hoping to regain his seat in 2012, talks to attendees.
Allen, who has also served as the state's governor, told National Journal that he "may" join the Tea Party Caucus if elected.
From left to right, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and George Allen place their hands over their hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance.
McDonnell roasted his predecessors, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (who is running for the Senate seat). He also took aim at Congress and potential presidential contender Donald Trump.
The Confederate Flag is displayed by one Shad Planking attendee.
Former Virginia Tea Party Patriots Chairwoman Jamie Radtke is also vying for the Senate seat.
A man wears a Virginia Citizens Defense League sticker as well as two political stickers. Tim Kaine was absent from the event, leading some to hand out satirical "missing persons" flyers.
Second to the politicians (and maybe the beer), the big draw to the event is the shad, an oily, bony white fish. The shad are slow-cooked on white oak planks and basted with a "secret sauce" containing salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice.
The fire is lit by 6 a.m. and the fish are served whenever they're ready, which this year was in the late afternoon. In the video above, meet one of the chefs, who has been working at the Shad Planking for 17 years.
The tail fin of a shad is chopped off before it is cut into serving portions.
Many diners are turned off by the number of bones in the shad, so the fish is served with trout and side dishes. What's the best thing to eat at the festival? Watch the video above to find out.
Shad Planking attendees line up along a truck bed used as a standing table.