American Shad

North America is home to many native species of fish that swim in freshwater sites up and down the country. Today, we are treating you to an angler’s guide to the American Shad. This is a specific type of fish you find in the US, but what exactly is it? More to the point, where can you catch it, how do you catch it, and can you eat it? All of these questions will be answered throughout the guide, along with all the information you could possibly need to know about the American Shad. 

What is an American Shad?

To give it its scientific name, the American Shad is the alosa sapidissima. Funnily enough, this is a Latin term that translates as delicious in English. It gets the name largely thanks to the flesh and roe that this species produces. The American Shad is a mixture of white, silver, blue, and green in color. It is a relatively large fish, with females growing to 24.3 inches in length on average. Males are a bit smaller, with an average length of 19.7 inches. In terms of weight, this fish can be anywhere between 3-8 pounds. 

Interestingly, this fish is a Federal Trust fish, which means that the Federal government is responsible for restoring them. This means that they are protected under the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, and moves have already been made to restore this fish to freshwater settings throughout the country. 

The American Shad is also part of the anadromous clupeid species, which makes it a type of herring fish. This species is characterized by its ability to migrate upriver from the sea. Most American Shads will live in the Atlantic ocean but travel upriver to spawn in freshwater rivers around the country. In effect, this makes them quite similar to salmon in terms of their migration patterns. Did you also know that the American Shad is the largest member of the ray-finned clupeid fish family?!

Where to Fish for American Shad?

Adult male American Shads will spend a lot of time in the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, they then migrate and swim to rivers close to the East Coast of the United States. It is, therefore, possible to find these fish in a whole host of states and rivers around this part of the country, and possibly even moving up to Canada. 

Common places to find American Shad fish are:

  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Connecticut

Central Florida is something of a hotspot for American Shad fishing as it is a very popular thing to do there. This is mainly because many people see it as a cheaper and easier-to-catch version of salmon. The number one place for American Shad in Florida is undoubtedly St Johns River. 

Over in North Carolina, you will find mass numbers of American Shad migrating through multiple coastal rivers. This typically happens at the beginning of spring, making this a prime time to catch some of these fish in this state. Cape Fear River is one of the best spots to go here to see plenty of American Shad ready for the taking. 

In Connecticut, you will also find this fish in abundance. It is deemed the largest herring species in the state, and there’s an interesting fact about American Shad and Connecticut that you’ll learn about later! Here, the Connecticut River is a prime place to go fishing for this species. You should find a good amount of young fish frequenting this river – and others in the state – during the summer and fall before they head back to the ocean. 

American Shad Fun Facts

The American Shad is actually one of the most interesting species of fish in the country. It has an interesting history, meaning there are plenty of fun facts to know. Some of these facts are just useful tidbits of information, while others can help you understand the best ways to catch these fish. 

  • The maximum reported length for an American Shad sits at 29.9 inches. 
  • While mainly an East Coast fish, there have been some Shad introduced to the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast. This means that it is possible to now find some in strange places. American Shad have been sighted as far north as Alaska, and even in Mexico!
  • In Connecticut, the American Shad was officially unveiled as the State Fish in 2003. 
  • It used to be frowned upon to eat American Shad, all the way through to the 1700s. Before that time, people saw it as a lesser version of salmon that only the poor would eat. However, as times got hard during the Revolutionary War, more people turned to this fish to keep that satiated. From then on, everyone is more than happy to eat American Shad. 
  • Thousands of American Shad can be seen swimming through the Connecticut River in the late summer, often jumping out of the water to try to catch a bite to eat from the insects in the air!
  • American Shad are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health and cognitive function. 
  • These fish have a decent lifespan, with the maximum reported age sitting at 13 years. 

Top American Shad Fishing Lures & Tips

Typically, anglers will call upon both spinning and fly fishing to catch American Shad. Before you learn how to catch shad, you should consider the best times to catch them. Naturally, spawning starts at different times in the year based on where you’re located. However, warm water is normally what makes them spawn quicker, so you will see them earlier in the year down South than you would up North. 

As for the time of day, anglers all agree that just before dark is the best moment to start fishing. This is where they are at their most active, so you have a larger chance of catching them. When it comes to your setup, you should set your rod with a 6-12-pound test and use lures or hooks that are around a 1 or a 1/0 in size. The rod should also be light-to-medium-action, which is similar to what you’d typically use for bass or trout. 

Perhaps the most interesting caveat is that American Shad do not feed while they are in freshwater. Like salmon, this is because they are in their spawning season, so their main priority is attracting females and spawning, rather than eating. Therefore, this impacts the lures you will use to catch them. It’s not so much about tempting them with a meal, it’s more about getting them to strike out at your lure. 

Some of the best American Shad lure choices include:

  • Shad darts
  • Small spoons
  • Spinners
  • Weighted jig heads

The aim is to use something that is quite bright or can attract attention right away. You want to drop the lure into a school of Shad if possible, instantly disrupting them. This way, one of them is bound to react and lash out, biting down on your lure. From here, you can reel them in and you’ve got yourself a catch. 

That’s the main trick with fishing for American Shad – you want them to notice your lure, and you want to almost annoy them. They are unlikely to just take the bait if you have a lure lying in the depths acting as food. Instead, you should move it around and get as close to the school as possible. 

Can You Eat American Shad?

Shad is safe to eat, and it is actually one of the healthier fish you can find in the US. It is a very oily fish, meaning it is high in omega-3 fatty acids, giving your brain a boost. Tastewise, it has a fresh fish taste that’s close to sardines as it is both sweet and salty. Interestingly, the texture of the fish is perhaps closer to salmon when cooked as it gets really flaky and silky, often melting in your mouth when you eat it. 

One key thing to know about eating this fish is that it is incredibly bony. However, like other bony fish, this is easy to get around by choosing the right cooking technique. Baking American Shad is the most preferred method as it is easy to do and will soften the bones, making them easier to remove. 

Additionally, you can eat American Shad eggs, which are called shad roe. This is seen as something of a delicacy in parts of the US, with shad roe servers in sauteed butter. They are incredibly sweet and delicate, so the roe is best served with something that can take away from the sweetness. Not everyone will like these eggs, but it could be worth trying them if you get your hands on a female American Shad. 

In conclusion, the American Shad is a popular fish that’s native to the Atlantic Ocean and migrates through various rivers across the East Coast of the US. It is relatively easy to fish for and can be eaten in many dishes a variety of ways.