Shad Fishing

Shad are the aquatic equal of robins in their ability to herald spring. Every year, a generation of these anadromous fish begins the reproductive phase of their life cycle when, veterans of the Atlantic Ocean, they return to their fresh water origins where they will spawn and, usually, die. Members of the herring family, shad populate the entire east coast; tagging studies have shown the same fish in the ocean off Nova Scotia in summer that wintered off Florida. As soon as the water temperature sends its signal, usually sometime in mid March, millions of fish enter the Delaware Bay to begin the long and arduous upstream swim toward the river's head water in the Catskill Mountains. The restless army enters the river proper in smaller divisions; schools clustered densely at the center of the run with advance brigades in front, followed by platoons hanging back at the rear. Their mission is simply to swim, females following males to nesting locations along a journey that, for some, can continue for more than 300 miles.

The migration, a staple for European Colonists and the bounty for great commercial fisheries through the 19th Century, has meant an American harvest. Rivers were once black with fish, but the shad population met typical devastation attributable to overfishing, pollution and river damming. In the Delaware, prior to the turn of the century, most spawned way down river below Gloucester, where the water was once clear enough to allow the mating rituals. Today, spawning doesn't begin to take place until the schools approach the Delaware Water Gap, and, due to the trip's increased stress, modern shad are typically robbed of their golden retirement years, unable to complete the return trip to the ocean.

The Lewis Fishery

The abundance of shad in spring reminds us again how fortunate we are to have in our midst the largest free flowing river in the East, one that has eagerly responded to conservation and clean up efforts. Nowhere is this thanks better expressed than at the annual Shad Festival at Lambertville, where the tiny city's commercial links with shad span more than a century. The Lewis family of Lambertville, whose island fishery dates to 1888, and who hold the only remaining commercial license to catch shad with nets, have been key participants since the festival's inception 24 years ago.

Even before that, Fred Lewis' annual shad haul had already become a rite of the season; more "expensive hobby" than commercial venture, but living testimony to what the river once meant to the towns and villages along its banks. Shad skeining remains a vital part of the Festival as spectators line the river bank watching the boats manipulate the huge nets across the river bottom to the shore, filled with feisty fish.

Another highlight of the festival is the shad bake. Each fish yields four filets taken from the fish at it "ripest". The shad have prepared for the migration by heavy feeding prior to entering the river. After this point, the fat and succulent fish, rapidly deplete their body stores, as approach their upriver appointments with parenthood. North of Lambertville, shad have come to play a new role in the Delaware Valley. Although classically a food fish, Shad have become quite popular as game fish and may one day gain that classification.

Since shad do not eat during this part of their life journey, no one knows why they strike lures floated in their midst. Maybe the busy fish are simply easy to aggravate, or they're trying to kick away the invading darts and flutter spoons from spawning beds. But strike they do, much to the delight to a growing number of sport shad fishermen. These strong salty soldiers offer some of the best battles on the river, especially on light tackle. Even devoted hunters of the celebrated trout have been known to yield to the hearty pursuit of shad during the first months of spring!

Gene Neiderlander, a retired Delaware River shad fishing guide, explains, "They're really a sport fish to catch. They just strike it and take off... they hit and they run. Your drag will be screamin'. Holding the rod up, they'll go 30-40 yards before they stop. If you're in fast water they'll turn side ways out there and they don't even have to move. You can't budge them, they'll just use the water. We've had to pull anchor and chase fish. But we don't want to, 'cause there are other boats on the water that will come take your spot."

Gene knows his spots. He and his clients caught 892 fish one spring; 38 on one 5 hour trip. Between Lambertville and the river's headwaters it's safe to say that, in a good spring, well over 100,000 shad are caught by hook, line and sinker.

A shad fisher who locates the procession's core can follow it upriver for weeks of great fishing. Spawning begins somewhere a little south the Water Gap and it is here that the schools begin to linger, building a season that runs from mid April well into late June. Neiderlander adds "The best time, I found, is in the rain when the water's rising a little. Boy, they go crazy. You want clear water because shad go by sight, not scent."

The shad fisherman considers many intricacies- time of day, dart or spoon, water temperature and depth- but there is one overriding component to success: position. If you aren't in the path of the fish, you're in for a long day. There is speculation that shad somehow instinctively follow the same route up the river every year. A few feet can make all the difference when you aim your cast or choose to set anchor. The easiest way to find a hotspot is, of course, to watch other boats with guys like Neiderlander in them. But the complete sportsman wants to "read the river" for prolific channels or where fish are likely to swim along eddies on the edges of rapids, much as in a mountain trout stream. A shad is likely to follow the path of least resistance, especially after swimming 200 miles against the current with no food. If you find a spot when the water temperature is right (about 55), you're in for a busy day. After the run is over, thick bunches of fish mill around spawning beds, and you can to look for fish in pools well into June.

Although a boat is an enormous advantage, Shad don't require special equipment to be a caught, The conventional lure for catching shad is called a dart, either plain or tied. For some reason, tied darts are popular in the Delaware while plain reigns in other rivers like the Connecticut.

Six or seven years ago darts were joined by flutter spoons as an alternate, used mostly in early spring. Both colorful lures- some even glow in the dark- are designed for lively action and travel through the water with hook pointed up. A shad's mouth is paper thin on the sides and a hook will hold only in the top. Experts will tell you, to avoid snags and produce better motion, keep your dart small on light 6 lb line (and lots of it). A split shot about 2 feet up will get the lure to fish depth. An ultra light rod does three things: helps you cast to a wider range, gives you a better "feel" for the fish after it strikes, and makes for a more exciting battle. The state record shad is 11lb 1oz, but large shad commonly run about 6-7 lbs. Pay attention; they have been know to jerk the rod right out of the boat.

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12 Feb 2015, 02:00
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Zilmira fiallo
07 May 2012, 15:20
I was at hte shad festival this year. I was looking forward to eating some shad, but to my surprise, there was no shad to be found! My son started calling the festival the shadless festival. Very disapointed.
07 May 2012, 09:01
Mom loves shad roe and I would love to get her some for Mother's Day. Will I have any luck and do you have any suggestions. Thanks!!
Jacqueline Smith
24 Apr 2012, 11:32
Having difficulty finding Shad to purchase in south jersey area. Please inform me of where I can purchase shad in quantity.
Masud Alam
05 Apr 2012, 21:57
Please some one send me the address and phone no that I can buy some shad fish.
30 Mar 2012, 12:59
I ate shad once and liked it very much.I live in Jersey city and would like to know where either JC or in NYC I can buy it.\r\nMany thanks.\r\nPlease e-mail me:\r\
Lib Rozario
22 Mar 2012, 18:27
If any fisherman would like to sell their fresh catch(especially shad) from the Delware river during the upcoming season, please feel free to contact me at . I live in the NJ Trenton area, but can travel further. Thanks.
Rose Willams
20 Mar 2012, 12:26
Where can I purchase Shad Fish? Please let me know. Thank You
Mita Mukherjee
28 Feb 2012, 11:16
I am interested in buying fresh Shad fish in southjersey area Please let me know the fish store's[ who sells the fish] address.
Kalyan Mustaphi
20 Jan 2012, 11:54
I am looking for a fish warehouse who carries SHAD FISH. Willing to buy 50-100lbs and pay for shipping in Minnesota.
17 Dec 2011, 22:45
Don Barrow,\r\n\r\nI need to buy large quantity of fresh shad. Can you email the information ? My email address is thanks\r\n\r\nSimon
Jeff Chen
23 Apr 2011, 06:59
i like to book a half day or full day shad fishing.\r\nplease email me information. thanks
30 Mar 2011, 16:37
looking for guide for shad fishing.\r\nThanks,\r\nMickey
John K
22 Mar 2011, 17:31
Check out We offer fully guided trips for multiple species! Happy Fishing!
22 Mar 2011, 15:11
Can someone please let me know when the shad is running on Delaware water gap\r\nand what to use to catch them?\r\nThank you \r\nnick
Mac Alam
15 Mar 2011, 08:00
I want to go shad fishing in Upper Delwar River. Can you please send me some guide contacts like Mr. Gene Neiderlander? Thanks.
Mohammad Khan
13 Mar 2011, 12:08
I need telephone number of fishermans who sell shad close to Delware Memorial Bridge
Isaac Lauver
02 Oct 2010, 13:43
cast hook and reel hook shad in the top fin
10 Aug 2010, 06:30
raymond de luca
02 May 2010, 13:39
I need a list of urrent gudes Delware river abve rt *0 Bridge Upper Delware river guides shad and smallmouth Ia m disabled and need to have guide thanks\r\
Jerry Sonnie
15 Apr 2010, 11:20
I never went shad fishing before and I don't know where to fish. Could you point me in the right direction so i could catch some shad. I have a GPS if you could give me some type of address that would be great. I'll just punch it in and a way I go. Thanks for the help.\r\n\r\n
Alan Ginsberg
01 Apr 2010, 19:17
I am looking for a guide with boat and equipment for a full day shad fishing trip. Do you have suggestions or can you tell me how I can find one.\r\n\r\nThanks
23 Mar 2010, 11:56
dave jones
22 Mar 2010, 10:07
when does the acual fishing season start along the upper delaware? thank you for any reply and happy shad season!!!!!!!
Steve Meserve
12 Mar 2010, 21:55
Contact info for the Lewis Fishery:\r\nSteve Meserve\r\nPhone: 908-806-3163\r\nemail:
Amy Smith
22 Jan 2010, 16:13
I am trying to contact the Lewis Fishery in Labertville to see if they would be willing to do an educational program for a school trip. Do you have any contact information for them?
Linda Moskowitz
08 May 2009, 05:25
I would love to go shad fishing--please email me all the particulars-boat rentals and license info.
Ghulam Suhrawardi
31 Mar 2009, 16:03
I am dying to buy a stock of shad fish for my own consump[tion. But the stores dont have any in the Central Jersey (Monmouth County-Freehold area). Any stores selling shads?\r\n
Nick Sourine
24 Apr 2008, 10:53
I am looking to buy 25 metric tonnes of Shad. Can anyone help me?
21 Apr 2008, 14:17
Marc E
29 Mar 2008, 16:16
Musky Daze Guide Service does a great job, I have fished with this guide before. \r\n\r\nGood luck!
13 Mar 2008, 13:37
I'm looking too. Did you find any? Please let me know. Thanks so much Mike
Paul Bertolini
07 Mar 2008, 17:25
I'm looking for a weekend charter, somewhere between Route 78 and Route 80 on the Delaware, half day or full day. Email me with information, please.
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