Hey everyone, with march coming to a close and most of the North East still under a few inches of snow I’d like to chat alittle bit about the American Shad and their spring spawning runs up most of the eastern seaboards rivers. A short history and alittle did you know fact, did you know that shad was a staple food for the continental army during the revolutionary war? Fact!
Shad have been ripping fishermans line for decades and have been used for food sources even earlier then that, but it hasn’t been untill the last couple of decades that these stinky ocean fish have really become a true sport fishing species. tackled by rod and reel.
In my home town along the banks of the famous Delaware River Easton, Pennsylvania and Philipsburg, New Jersey, we have a huge fishing tournament every year The Bistate shad Tournament where hundreds of fisherman partake and spend 4 days to catch a winning shad that could win them a good chunk of money and bragging rights of being shad king for a year. Easton is the self proclaimed shad capitol of the world but I’ll take atleast capital of Pennsylvania.
The Delaware isn’t the only river to tackle some of these fish, from Florida to New England you can find a river with these fish making their way out of the ocean to make their annual spawning trip back to where they were spawned themselves. The cycle is just about 7 years a fish makes its way back to the river it was born in. The farther south you are the earlier in the year you can hook shad. Here in Easton pa our run usually starts in mid March and goes untill early June. Prime time is the month of April with the bigger females in late April Early May. If your like me you can follow these fish right up the Delaware all the way to New York, fly fisherman in the upper Delaware have been known to accidentally hook a shad while trout fishing to find out their reel screaming fish wasn’t that 24″ wild brown but a 18″ American Shad!
There’s multiple ways to catch shad, the most common is from a boat where you can use three rods legally per person on he boat, usually with a down rigger or flat line with flutter spoons or small shad darts. It’s also very fun to wade fish with either a spinning rig with heavy weight and a flutter spoon or shad dart, or the other and my favorite way a 6-7 wt fly rod with full sinking fly line or sink tip and 9-12′ leader. Flies that are my favorite are anything bright and flashy, fish are not there to eat so reaction strikes are key. Small streamers or bright flashy nymphs will get the job done. I usually target water that is not more then 8 ft deep with a good fast current. If rocks are present that’s even better, the fish will stop behind those boulders to rest before making their next run up river. Go to colors are chartreuse, orange, pink , red, white, but honestly it’s all about confidence, I’m a firm believer that it’s not the the fly that’s catching the fish but it’s more your drift and where in the water column your fly is working. Shad hug the bottom so weight is usually very important, keep the shot roughly 1-2 ‘ from from your fly on your leader but there are also hundreds of ways for that set up. I truly hope this helps anyone with questions on shad. I love this fish and want to make sure they are around for centuries to come! Please handle with care and please practice catch and release as much as possible! Feel free to message me on Facebook @ Jeff Ellie or on instagram @higher_level_flyfishing.