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American Shad

General Facts
The American shad is the largest member of the herring family and ranges on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to the St. John's River in Florida. Shad spend three to six years in the ocean and then return to freshwater in the spring to spawn. Adults usually weigh from four to eight pounds, but the New Jersey State and International Game Fish Association's eight-pound test line record is 11lb. 1oz. Known for their strength and fighting ability, shad are often the first fish species anglers pursue as the water warms in the spring.

Where and When
American shad fishing is almost synonomous with the Delaware River in New Jersey. Angling for shad on the Delaware usually begins around the end of March near the warmwater effluent of a power plant in Trenton. As the water warms to 50° F, and the population migrates upstream, shad will be caught all the way up river to the New York state line and beyond through the end of May and into June.

Productive boat and shoreline fishing spots, moving from down to upriver, include the Yardley/Scudders Falls area, Lambertville, Bulls Island Recreation Area, Byram, Phillipsburg/Easton, and finally within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Early morning and dusk are the most productive times. Helpful Web sites for shad fishing include the Delaware River Boat Access Sites, the Delaware River Shad Report, and Woo's Shad Fishing Report.

How
American shad are caught with shad darts, flutter spoons and flies. From shore, cast a lure slightly upstream and retrieved as it bounces along or near the bottom. From an anchored boat, a lure should be "dead sticked" out of the stern with added weights or on down-riggers. Trolling can also be effective. The main channel is productive when the Delaware River is at normal or below normal levels.

When the river is above normal, angling is best near the shoreline. Extremely high river flows may stop the migration and the shad will hold in calmer water behind in-river structures. The subsiding flow will often trigger this holding school of shad to migrate, en masse, upstream. American shad must see the lure. Therefore, muddy or debris filled water make for poor fishing conditions. To reduce hooking mortality, American shad that are to be released should be retrieved as quickly as possible, guided into a rubberized net (shad are easily de-scaled) and released, having never been removed from the water.

Other helpful Web pages include the divisions's List of Guides, Delaware River Fishing Reports and the Delaware River Shad Fisherman's Association.

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Department of Environmental Protection
P.O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: March 28, 2011