SHAD FISHING Shad by the hundreds of thousands migrate up the Columbia and Willamette rivers from late May through the month of June and provide some of the most exciting fishing action you’ll find anywhere.
Biologists who keep track of fish passing over fish ladders at Bonneville and The Dalles dams say that over the past few years, there have been runs of from slightly less than 2 million to nearly 4 million shad! That makes it the strongest and healthiest run of anadromous fish coming up the Columbia. In addition to such large numbers, they are also unmatched fighters, pound-for-pound.
A native of the Atlantic Coast — shad were brought to the West by Seth Green of Rochester, New York in 1871, shortly after the Civil War. Green is considered the father of fish culture in the United States. He transported 12,000 young shad, obtained from the Hudson River, via railroad in milk cans and planted them in the Sacramento River near Temeha, California.
During the next 10 years, 790,000 more were transplanted into the Sacramento River. The transplants fared well and shortly had established populations in several Sacramento River tributaries as well as rivers in Oregon and Washington.
Commonly called shad, the species name is American shad and the scientific name is Alosa sapidissima (Alosa means “shad”, sapidissima means “fine tasting”).
Buck shad average 2-3 pounds and roe shad (females) 3-4 pounds. They have a row of decreasing-sized spots on the side, are metallic blue to green on the dorsal surface and shade from white to silvery on the belly. The side spots sometimes are not visible, but show up when the fish is scaled. The body shape is somewhat like that of a small salmon.
Like salmon, shad enter fresh water rivers and streams in the spring to spawn. However, unlike pacific salmon, they usually don’t die after spawning unless water temperatures are high. In lower temperatures, some adults will live to spawn again.
For both sexes, spawning appears to start as early as age two and continues as late as age seven. Actual spawning TECH BULLETIN OREGON / WASHINGTON Compiled from the Diaries and Logs of the Luhr Jensen Fishing Research Team. Published as a service to the industry by Luhr Jensen, Inc., P.O. Box 297, Hood River, OR 97031 #8822-527 SINCE 1932 occurs at night, with the semi-buoyant eggs being laid near the surface, where they are fertilized. They drift with the current and hatch 3-6 days later.
Shad may return to their stream of origin but are not as rigidly determined to do so as are salmon. This is thought to be a major contributing factor to their relatively quick expansion so shortly after their introduction.
On light tackle, shad are spectacular fighters that make reel-singing runs and perform heart-stopping, topwater, tailwalking acrobatics.
Many people think of them as bony, overgrown members of the herring family. However, properly prepared, they are delicious, and are especially good pickled or smoked and canned. Add to that the fact that there’s no limit, it's surprising that shad remain one of the most underfished resources in the Northwest.
FISHING TECHNIQUES An excellent way to fish for shad is to anchor in water from 9 to 22 feet deep with the current running two to seven miles-per-hour. The Willamette River at the mouth of the Clackamas is one of the very best fishing areas. Try using a 36" long lead dropper line which should put your lure at the right depth. In this section, the river currents are slow enough that you don’t need to use as heavy an anchor or as much rope as you need on the Columbia below Bonneville Dam. There, because of the swifter current, it is better to shorten the dropper line length to 27" so you’ll be fishing at the right depth.
Like kokanee, shad have a very soft mouth, so on the swifter Columbia in particular, rig a Luhr Jensen Trout Snubber (#9700) on your leader to help keep from tearing the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
The best-producing lures include 1/ 16-oz. Bang-Tails®, size “O” Needlefish ® and #500 or #501 Super Dupers®. The Needlefish and Super Dupers work best from the boat, while the weighted Bang-Tail spinners work well for casting from the bank.
#0003 Copper and #0133 Pearl/Red Head are very good standard colors for the Needlefish. The #0814 Metallic Perch and #0076 Cerise/Pearl colors of that lure also are excellent.
When fishing the swifter Columbia’s waters, try adding a Bigfoot® 5mm Chartreuse and a 4mm Red bead to the leader above the wobbler so its action will slow down and make it even more effective in enticing the shad to bite.
SUGGESTED TACKLE TO USE A good fishing rod to use in the heavier current is a medium back bouncer fitted with a reel loaded with 20-lb. test Berkley® Trilene® or Big Game® line. Use 10-lb. test leader, but for the lead dropper line, use 8-lb. test. Being lighter than your leader, if the sinker gets hung up, you can break loose without leaving your lure on the bottom of the river.
Another good way to fish the heavier water is to use a size 20 Jet Diver™. rigged free sliding. This eliminates needing a heavy weight to get down to where the fish are.
Once you’ve found the fish, you can get back to proper depth each time simply by counting the pulls from your reel to the first guide on the rod. This will put you right back into the “strike zone” and improve your chances of consistently catching fish.
Thanks to the great people at Luhr Jensen