Just as George Washington and his Continental Army were on the verge of starving to death in Valley Forge in the spring of 1778, an amazing thing happened.?? Sometime in March, the ice melted and the Schuylkill River, along which Washington and the boys were camped, began flowing again. In April, the first wave of alosa sapidissima, otherwise known as “American shad” arrived to spawn in the river like a gravy train from the heavens.
Soon, there were hundreds of thousands of shad in the river and the Continental Army netted them by the ton and gleefully fattened their retched selves up on them.
Now, I’m not going to say that American shad saved America or that they are going to have quite as much of an impact when they return to our rivers this year. But I will say this: we’ve got a high water season going on in the American, Yuba, Feather and Sacramento rivers and that should mean some awesome fishing is forthcoming.??Close to home, there are already plenty of fish in the lower American up to Watt Avenue and I’d expect to see them all the way to the Sunrise Flats by next week.
If you’ve never fished for American shad, you’ve been missing the boat. They’re great fun on light tackle and, though I’ve never eaten one, Washington and the fellas seemed to think they were great table fare as well. After all, alosa sapidissima translates to “most savory.”??American shad will generally run from 2 to 6 pounds and it’s not uncommon to hook into 20 to 50+ fish in day.
Since they don’t feed when they’re in freshwater (shad are plankton eaters in the ocean), why they’ll bite a fly or lure is not completely understood.?? But who really cares why they bite anyway? The fact of the matter is they do and you can have some epic days throwing curly-tailed plastic jigs ranging in size from 1/64 to 1/16 ounces.??Red/white and solid yellow were the staple color schemes back in the 1970’s and early 80’s, but chartreuse and hot pink are the two favorites now.
Of course, it’s a good idea to keep a variety of colors and sizes on hand in case the shad are in a “retro” mood.?? Deep, slow pools are good places to begin your quest. Shad tend to hold throughout the heat of the day in such spots, where they’ll often wait for evening to fall before they continue upstream. Long, uniform flats with slow to moderate current below white water will also attract shad, as will current seams and soft current edges.Once you’ve found a good-looking spot, start by tying on a jig that’s just heavy enough to get to the bottom but light enough to drift with the current. If you need extra weight to get down, add some splitshot or a slip sinker18 to 24 inches above the lure.
Position yourself upstream of the water you want to fish and cast slightly down and across the current. Allow your offering to sink near the bottom and swing in a downstream arc.??As it drifts, give the jig some action by raising the rod tip 12 inches or so every 3 to 5 seconds. This jigging motion seems to really appeal to the curious nature of the fish and will draw strikes when a simple “dead drift” approach doesn’t work.
So, get out there and take a shot at the fish that perhaps saved the United States in its infancy. Maybe they call them “American” shad for a reason…