Blueback Herring

All around North America, there are bodies of freshwater that are home to thousands of different species of fish. Many varieties present themselves, making freshwater fishing a highly popular hobby for lots of anglers. Amongst the various fish available to catch, you will find the blueback herring. This is a sought-after catch that can be found in many areas of the country. Below, we have compiled a guide that will teach you everything you need to know about this fish. This includes where they’re found and how you fish them, plus all other vital information!

What is a Blueback Herring?

The blueback herring – alosa aestivalis – is an anadromous species of herring that’s largely found on the east coast of North America. In terms of appearance, these fish typically have silvery scales and a host of small spiny scales along their bellies. These scales are called scutes, and the fish themselves will largely have bluish-green backs. In fact, this is one of the key ways to notice these fish – they’re easy to spot as the silver scales juxtapose with the darker bluish-green ones on the back. 

As an anadromous species of fish, the blueback herring will live in the ocean and migrate to freshwater settings during the spawning season. Other fish that fall into this category include salmon, striped bass, and the American Shad. They tend to migrate to their spawning grounds in the spring, and they like swift rivers with hard substrates. 

It is not uncommon for blueback herring to be confused with alewives. Both of these fish look similar, and it is usually only possible to distinguish them when viewed up close after catching. As such, it is common to hear both of these species referred to as river herring. Other terms that are used to refer to blueback herring fish are blueback shad and summer shad. 

Where to Fish for Blueback Herring

This fish lives on the Atlantic Coast and will migrate from the ocean to rivers up and down the coastline. In fact, it is not unknown to find some blueback herring as far north as Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Similarly, one of the main hotbeds for blueback herring is all the way down south in St. Johns River, Florida. Throughout the spawning season, you can expect to find this fish in rivers all along the coast. 

They can also make their way inland via these rivers, and it is known to see some blueback herring in the following locations:

  • Lake Burton
  • Lake Nottely
  • Lake Hiwassee
  • Savannah River
  • Pee Dee River

As you can see, the distribution is pretty diverse, and it depends on how far the fish want to swim while spawning. Typically, they are looking for quite mild waters with a temperature in the mid-50s. For context, a typical blueback herring can swim over 100 miles upstream from its entry point on the coast. The most important thing to note is that this all happens on the East Coast of the country. Because the fish live in the Atlantic Ocean as adults, they will only frequent the rivers on this side of the country. 

Having said that, it’s not unheard of to see some blueback herring on the west coast, but these will have been placed there as a conservation effort. 

Blueback Herring Fun Facts

You will discover plenty of fun facts about this species of fish, including how heavy and long they are, and how old they can get. There are lots of other interesting pieces of information worth knowing as well. We’ve compiled the most intriguing facts about the blueback herring and listed them below:

  • Most blueback herring will grow to reach a maximum size of around 11-15 inches, with the average weight being 7 ounces. 
  • The typical lifespan for fish of this species is 8 years, making it quite a long-living fish in comparison to most. 
  • After spawning in freshwater, blueback herring will migrate back out to the ocean when they are adults. Young blueback herring already begin to leave their nursery grounds when they’re only 2 inches long, but stay in the freshwater currents for a long time before heading out to sea. 
  • These fish are carnivores and like to feast on other small fish and shrimps, along with copepods. 
  • Interestingly, blueback herrings have unique spawning marks on their scales. This indicates how many times an individual fish has spawned in its lifetime. 
  • The spawning season is determined by changes in the water temperature and the amount of light the fish see. When it gets hotter and brighter, the fish migrate inland to spawn. 
  • Blueback herring will often be seen closer to the surface when the sun is out, as they like the heat. On darker days, you are more likely to find them lurking in the depths. 
  • Blueback herring are prey for a lot of larger predators. In the water, different species of bass like to eat them, but they can often get picked out by gulls and other coastal birds. 
  • Currently, there is a River Herring Conservation Plan in place to help reintroduce more river herring – like the blueback herring – to different parts of the US, in a bid to help the species continue to thrive and grow. 

Top Blueback Herring Fishing Lures & Tips

What are the best ways to fish for blueback herring, and which lures should you be using? Both of these questions shall be answered in this section as we provide the top tips to help you fish for this species and enjoy as much success as possible. 

Typically, a good time to fish for herring is in waters that are around 65 to 70 degrees in temperature. This is where they are most likely to spawn, so it’s a good time to catch some nearby blueback herring that have migrated. The good thing is that herrings are available to catch all throughout the day, not just at specific time periods. 

What lures are the best for you to use when catching blueback herring?

Traditionally, you’re looking at using topwater jerkbaits or swimbaits when catching these fish during the spawning season. 

What sort of jerkbaits should you be looking at? Well, it depends on which you prefer, but you should seek out soft plastics that mimic other fish in the area. You want to catch the blueback herring’s attention, presenting yourself as a smaller fish that will either threaten them or provide a tasty meal. By using the jerking motion to bob the lures along the topwater, you make it look like your lure is actually swimming. This commands the attention of nearby blueback herring, and they either strike out in self-defense or instinctively to get something to eat. In either case, you get a bite, and you can begin reeling the fish in. 

You will have an easier time catching these fish when it is bright and sunny, mainly as they are more active. We mentioned earlier in the facts section that they will be seen closer to the surface when it is warm and sunny. Therefore, it is easier for you to get bites on your lures when the fish are already swimming close to the surface of the water. 

Can you eat Blueback Herring?

In years gone by, this fish was primarily used as bait to catch lobster. However, it has since become a popular fish for human consumption. Blueback herring is similar in taste to other river herring – such as alewives – and all river herring are rather close to Atlantic herring, better known as sardines. If you have ever had a sardine, you will know that they present a very salty and fresh taste, which is what you will get from a blueback herring as well. 

These fish are packed full of beneficial nutrients and are an excellent source of protein. Additionally, they boast a high omega-3 content, making them a highly popular fish to improve brain function and cognitive capacity. 

Like most fish, you can cook the blueback herring in a multitude of ways. Perhaps the most popular method is to smoke it beforehand, imparting a unique flavor to the flesh. A lot of people will bake or fry their herring as well, ensuring that the bones inside soften and the fish are safer to eat. Make no mistake about it, there are no health concerns with the actual fish themselves. Instead, it’s more a case of them containing lots of small bones that could cause choking hazards. Cooking them helps to solve this issue and makes it easier to get rid of the hazardous bones. 

On that note, you have reached the end of our guide to blueback herring fish. This species of fish is part of the river herring family and will live on the Atlantic Coast, spending its adulthood in the ocean. When the spawning season begins, they migrate inland and are found in rivers and lakes up and down the East Coast of the US. Jerkbaits and swimbaits work best to lure them in, and it is perfectly safe to eat this fish.