Shad are a fish with odd nicknames, the most famous of which is a “poor man’s salmon.”
A spring breeder, shad show up in their spawning streams each spring all along the East and West Coasts. American shad (Alosa sapidissima) are an incredible sport fish, and if properly prepared, a delicacy for the table as well. The adults average around 5- to 6 pounds, and are about 20- to 23 inches in length.
Shad arrive each spring between the end of March through June, depending on how quickly the water temperatures warm in their spawning streams. Shad, unlike the stripers that also run concurrently in some streams, are not a species with a voracious appetite. In the ocean, they are a filter feeder, sifting the water for plankton.
American shad are an incredible sport fish, and if properly prepared, a delicacy for the table as well.
When shad are in freshwater rivers to spawn, they will feed on insects, usually on their way back downstream to the ocean, but like most spawning fish they are not really there to feed. Their interest in a quick meal of a mayfly has surprised many a trout fishermen when they hook into a big shad that has engulfed a fly.
Shad In Rivers To Spawn
Primarily, shad are in the rivers to spawn, and like Pacific salmon, they can be goaded into hitting lures and flies, by taking advantage of their natural spawning aggression.
For spin fishermen, the shad dart is the standby lure. These darts are basically an elongated leadhead jig, and come in a variety of bright colors. Bouncing the shad darts on the bottom with the current will produce fish. Fly fishermen also can catch shad, and, in fact, many use the shad runs as a form of practice for salmon fishing, thus the nickname, poor man’s salmon.
The fly equipment for shad is the same as you would use for bass, a 6- to 8-weight rod and a sink-tip line to get the fly down near the bottom. Flies are bright, just like the shad darts.
Whether you are fishing with a fly or a shad dart, color choice is important. Shad, much like Pacific salmon, hit a fly or lure out of aggression. Thus, the more annoying the color, the more likely the fish are to hit it. Shad flies and darts come in a variety of colors, but the fluorescent yellows, oranges, greens, and reds, work well.
Flies should also have some flash to them, such as an Estaz body, or a little Krystal Flash in the wing.
Keep Changing Lure Colors
Different colors perform well under different conditions. The variables being water clarity, amount of sunlight on a given day and a given time, and the mood of the fish. If there are a bunch of shad there, and they won’t hit, keep changing colors until one of them works. Once you hit the right color, keep using it until it stops working.
Most shad streams are big rivers, and a boat is needed. The fishing technique is pretty simple. Anchor up near any dams or creek mouths entering the river. Cast across the current, and let the fly or dart work its way downstream in a broadside presentation, and then bring it in when it is directly downstream. The fish can hit anytime through the drift.
The fly equipment for shad is the same as you would use for bass, a 6- to 8-weight rod and a sink-tip line to get the fly down near the bottom.
When you hook a big shad, playing it can be difficult. Shad have a thin mouth membrane, like a crappie. If you try and horse the fish it will most likely be lost. Shad like to run when hooked, and the only way to successfully play them is let them run and gain line on them when they tire. There is quite a knack to playing them.
One Delicious Fish!
The second half of the Latin name scientists use for shad, (sapidissima) means “most delicious.” Shad are a taste treat. From a cooking standpoint, the female fish are the best for eating. They are larger and have a bit more fat, and are easier to fillet.
Filleting shad is more difficult than the average fish, because they have a lot of bones, but those who take the time to learn the art are rewarded with fillets that can be broiled, baked, smoked, or grilled. The shad roe is also a delicacy, and is commonly pan-fried and served with eggs.
If you love a lot of action, shad fishing is well worth a trip in the spring. They are a great sportfish, and are an excellent way to gain the fish-playing skills you’ll need for your next salmon trip!
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