Thousands of American Shad begin moving into the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., in late May and early June. "Old timers" say they expect shad fishing to be good by Father’s Day. They don’t want to waste a day of fishing to catch four to five shad, they want to catch a cooler full! The run is basically over by the fourth of July.
Catching Fish For Bait?
Most anglers catch shad for crab or sturgeon bait because the oil rich fish is excellent bait. Shad meat is very bony, but some anglers smoke them, and then can the meat. It is rich in flavor — and, in fact, many consider shad roe a delicacy.
An assortment of popular shad lures.
Sportfishing for shad has been building in popularity on the Willamette for years. When the run is at its peak, boats will form "hog lines" in the area above Clackamette Park, all the way to the deadline below Willamette Falls. Bank anglers will line the area along Clackamette Park. The park is an excellent place to launch a boat, fish from the bank, have a picnic, and watch anglers catch fish.
A unique feature of the fishery is you are almost fishing in the shadow of the local McDonald’s! Bank anglers can walk to McDonald’s for a snack. Also, Fishermen’s Marine Supply, a full service outdoor store, is only a few blocks away, and has anything the angler could possibly need. They will always have the latest data on the fishery.
Thousands Of Fish
The American shad, a member of the herring family, is a highly migratory anadromous species that returns from saltwater to its freshwater natal area to spawn, after spending three to four years at sea. Males and females may return to spawn more than once. A female shad can produce 30,000 to 60,000 eggs. The Columbia and Willamette River runs are robust.
Where To Find Them
Shad travel in lanes within the river channel. Water depth becomes crucial for success. Donald Koskella, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, has found shad prefer to travel in water 15- to 16 feet deep.
"I try to anchor at this depth. If I get no fish in 20- to 25 minutes, I move. If I see other boats catching fish and I’m not, I try to move upstream and anchor in the same lane," he said.
Larry Arendt, of the Mid-Valley Anglers in Salem, is a longtime shad angler. He gives workshops on shad fishing. He currently holds the Oregon state record for the largest shad, 6 pounds, 9 ounces. (The average-sized shad weighs 2.5 pounds.) He agrees getting in the same lane is key.
Larry Arendt with the Oregon state record shad.
"Three boats can be anchored up side-by-side, only a few feet apart, using the same lures, and one boat still is catching all the fish," he explains. "When that happens, pull anchor and try to get in the same line, above or below the successful boat."
Smaller Is Better
Shad are toothless and have small, fragile mouths. You will frequently lose hooked fish as the hook will tear out.
"I sometimes use a rubber snubber on my leader. I feel it helps prevent hooks from tearing out," Arendt explains.
The key is to remember, smaller is better. Experienced shad anglers say you cannot have a lure that is too small. Some have good success using a No. 2 colored hook with something colorful wrapped around the shank.
You should be prepared with an assortment of wobblers and flashing lures in the smallest sizes available. Triple Teasers, Dick Nites, and Shad Darts are very popular lures among anglers. Small bright jigs can also be good.
Color Can Be Important
You will need these lures in an assortment of colors such as green, red, white, and silver. If you have more than one rod out, have different colors on each rod until you find the "hot color." Odd as it seems, the hot color may change. Green may be hot one minute, but then after a few minutes nothing hits. The rule of thumb is if there are no bites in 15 minutes, switch colors.
The Willamette above Clackamette Park is unique in that shad stay in the area below Willamette Falls to spawn. In the Columbia, shad stream over the fish ladders by the hundreds of thousands. On the Willamette, they do not enter the fish ladder. Since they remain in the area to spawn, anglers enjoy thousands of hours of a "fun fishery."
A popular way to rig for shad.
A Productive System
The most popular tackle set-up for shad is to attach the mainline to a three-way swivel. On the bottom eye, attach a 12- to 16-inch dropper line and attach a sinker. Attach a 24- to 36-inch leader to the middle eye of the swivel. Attach your lure of choice. (See diagram)
How To Fish The Rig
Here’s how to fish the rig. Lower it into the water until it touches bottom. Utilize a slow jigging motion. You may choose to let out more line and slowly back bounce downriver until you can no longer feel bottom. If you don’t get any action, reel in and do it again.
Fill Up The Cooler
There is no limit on shad. It is not uncommon for three or four people in a boat to fill a cooler with fish. It depends on if you have a use for them. Remember, they are loaded with fat and oil and have a strong odor. Large saw-like scales or "scutes," that come off easily, seem to "weld" to anything they come in contact with.
Shad fishing is a fun family-type of fishing. There is plenty of action with these hard fighting fish. They are built for speed, and use the river current as leverage. Don’t worry about losing a fish because there should be plenty more. A long-handled trout net is important for landing these fragile mouth fish. All you need is a valid angling license. Use light action gear and have a ball!
For a fine assortment of fishing gear, click here.