Overview

American Shad - Alosa sapidissima

Also known as: Alose, Atlantic Shad, Common Shad, Connecticut River Shad, Delaware Shad, North River Shad, Potomac Shad, Susquehanna Shad, White Shad

The American shad occurs natively east of the Appalachians along the Atlantic coast of North America from Sand Hill River, Labrador to the St. Johns River, Florida. Also, in St. Lawrence River to Lakes Huron and Erie. Between 1871 and 1881 it was introduced into the Sacramento River, California and is today up and down the Pacific coast as far south as Bahia de Todos Santos in upper Baja California, Mexico and as far north as Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula, on the Asiatic side. Like the salmons, the American shad is an anadromous fish that ascends coastal rivers to spawn.

This is a silvery fish with a single dorsal fin in the middle of the back. There is a large black spot directly behind the top of the gill cover, followed by 4-27 spots, which are generally smaller than the first. Sometimes there may be a second row of spots below the first, and more rarely, a third row below the second.

They closely resemble the hickory shad, Alosa mediocris. The most important physical distinction is in the lower jaw. In the American shad this jaw fits easily into a deep notch under the upper jaw, whereas, in hickory shad the lower jaw protrudes noticeably beyond the upper jaw. Also, the American shad grows considerably larger. Both occur up and down the coasts, but the American shad is predominantly in southern climates.

The American shad is highly regarded by some as a game fish and its white, flaky flesh supports a considerable commercial fishery. The roe is esteemed by some as a substitute for caviar.

Habitats

Schools

Baitfish and schools of larger fish can swim so close together they actually change the color of the water. Train your eyes to look for these moving patches of color, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Cast ahead and let your bait float to the school.

Ripples, Currents, Swirls and Sprays

Call it what you will, but it might be a fish. It might be baitfish feeding. It might be baitfish trying to jump out of the water to escape game fish. Or, it might be bubbles and rings from a big fish that just went down to eat a minnow. Cast quickly, and you might get lucky.

Outsides of Bends

When the river or stream curves, the faster water (which carries the food) moves to the outside of the bend, and fish look for food in these bends. If the outside of the bend also contains a rock or fallen tree (to slow down the food-carrying current), it’s an even better place to catch fish.

Backflow (backwaters)

When the tide moves into a small inlet, or point, it slows down and moves in a different direction than the main flow for a short period of time. Fish will feed where the backwards flow slows down and the food settles.

Current Edges

A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.

Merging Currents - Feeder Brooks, Stream or Creek Mouths

Flowing water carries food. So when two bodies of flowing water meet, fish will find twice as much food. Plus, when currents collide, there’s a small area in the intersection where the water and food actually slow down, making merging currents an excellent place to catch fish.

Drop-Offs

When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.

Rock and Boulder Pockets

When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.

Undercuts

Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.

Dams and Falls

When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.

Small Pointed Waves

These triangle-shaped waves form where faster water meets slower water. Like the riverside edge of a bend, bay or eddy. Large fish gather under these waves because the water slows and food drops.

Bays and Estuaries

If you’re fishing in a bay or estuary, you better have a big tackle box. These bodies of water contain a mixture of fresh water and salt water. They also contain a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fish. Bays and estuaries can be fished from shore or from a boat. Estuaries are locations in which the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Estuaries support saltwater fish such as tarpon, snook, redfish and striped bass. Other saltwater fish like shad, herring, salmon and sea-run trout can also be found in estuaries because they need to find saltier or fresher water when it’s time to mate. Freshwater fish like largemouth bass can also survive in the salty waters found in estuaries.

Weather can also affect the mix of fish in combined waters. Stormy weather pushes fresh water from the rivers closer to the ocean, causing freshwater to move farther downstream. Dry weather pushes salt water and saltwater fish further upstream into the rivers.

Rivers and Streams

In a lake or pond, fish have to move around to find food. In a river or a stream, the food comes to them. So moving-water fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to up to several hundred feet, several times a day to eat.

You have to decide if you’re going to fish where the fish are hiding or where the fish are feeding. Either way, you’ll have to learn about river and stream feeding and hiding structure.

Hiding structure include undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes: places that provide protection from the current and above-water predators.

Feeding places include the outside of bends, merging currents, drop-offs, feeder brooks and springs: places where the current slows down and food collects or sinks.

In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But they’re fighters, strong from battling the currents.

Bays

Ocean bays don’t have much freshwater influence. But because they are protected from severe ocean conditions, they become ideal nurseries for many species of baitfish and shell fish, which can draw bigger saltwater fish into the bays to feed.

Channel Entrances

Anywhere water is forced to move through a smaller opening, currents run faster and dig deeper into the bottom. Fish will be attracted to these places because the water is deeper and the supply of food is more concentrated in the “pinched’ area.

Man-Made Structures

It’s only natural, baitfish and other marine creatures gather around piers and pilings because they’re looking for food and protection from currents. This attracts larger game fish species like snook and tarpon that feed on the bait surrounding these structures.

Eddies

When fast moving water flows into a small inlet, or eddy, it slows down and creates a whirlpool. Fish will feed where the whirlpool is slowest or in the main body of the river where the whirlpool kicks out the food that has been carried in and out of the eddy.

Standing Waves

If you see waves on the water that look like a rollercoaster, the water is probably going over underwater rocks. Fish like to sit in the shallow part of these waves.

Anadromous

Anadromous species migrate from the seas to freshwater streams for dietary and/or reproductive needs. For this reason, anadromous fish can be found in a variety of habitats at various times of year. Specifically, these areas range from bays and estuaries to rivers and streams. Occasionally, anadromous fish can be found offshore, but not in great concentrations.

Fishing Methods

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Fly Fishing

With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.

Jigging

Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.

A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.

A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8 oz. up to 14 oz. and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”

When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Surf Casting

Surf casting is perhaps one of the easiest methods of fishing the ocean without access to a boat. Fishing off the beach does not come without its challenges, though. Surf casting requires large and bulky equipment. Rod sizes can be as large as ten feet. Special rigs are used in surf casting in order to combat the strong currents and sometimes large waves. This allows the bait to remain suspended or at the bottom of the water column. The simplest of the rigs consists of a terminal egg weight with a hook attached to a loop knot six or seven inches above the weight.

Bait & Lures

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Flies

Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.

Jigs

Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish

Plugs

Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.

Saltwater Live Bait

Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.

Spoons

Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.