Tips & Techniques
> Shad > Shad Fishing in the Central
Shad Fishing in the Central Valley
American Shad make their way up Central Valley rivers and streams
each spring for their annual spawning run. These tough
fighting fish have been called "little tarpon" for their fighting
abilities and are pursued by sports anglers across Northern
California. Native to the Northeastern United States, American
Shad have been introduced to the west coast and are now found in
large numbers in the Sacramento and Colombia River systems.
The best time to target shad in Northern California is April through
July depending on the location. In the Sacramento region, the
end of April through the middle of May is the best time to fish the
American Shad are relatives of the herring and spend most of
their lives at sea. The males average between two to four
pounds while the females can reach up to six or seven pounds.
If you decide to keep some shad, they are
really good when lightly smoked and canned (Recipe
One thing to keep in mind is
that shad do not feed in fresh water. Much like salmon, they
stop feeding once they reach fresh water and begin their spawning
run. They strike out of aggression or out of instinct similar
to kokanee or river salmon.
American Shad shouldn't be confused with Threadfin Shad, which
also live in the California Delta system. Threadfin shad only
reach about six inches in length and are commonly used as bait for
striped bass and sturgeon in the delta.
Practice catch and release, and good luck!
First and foremost, be sure to check the current regulations
for the area you are fishing. Some areas have single
hook or barbless restrictions. I personally
know of anglers who were busted in barbless areas using barbed
shad darts straight out of the package. Don't bet busted,
change your gear before you cast!
Most people like to use about a six to seven
foot medium rod with a fast tip. Try to go light without
getting too light. Ultra-light panfish and crappie rigs are a
little too light to bring in shad out of the current. A light
trout rod is what you are looking for.
If casting, go with a small
to medium sized spinning reel. Most people stick with
spinning reels because the lures we will be using are light
and need to be casted far. One important factor is a
smooth drag. Shad have soft mouths and we'll be using a
really loose drag setting. A jerky drag lead to lost
main line, use whatever works. I normally use 6 pound
test. For the leader, I use 6 pound test fluorocarbon,
just in case some of the fish are line shy.
several lures to choose from when shad fishing. The
traditional shad dart works, but here in Northern California most
people prefer to use crappie jigs. An 1/32 oz. crappie
jig with a 1" curly tail grub is the most popular lure.
The standby color for
the jig head is red, followed by chartreuse or pink.
For the grub, champagne is the top color, followed by
chartreuse, white, and pink. If you buy a shad dart that
comes with a tail (like the ones shown here), trim it off or
the lure will be too big.
My favorite lures by far
are flutter spoons like the Dick Nite size 0 shown to
the right. The half chartreuse, half pink shown here
is my favorite. I also have had success using the half
white, half pink, or solid pink versions.
Curly Tail Grub
Dick Nite Spoon
will rub some krill scented gel onto my lures for good measure.
I figure it can't hurt.
Deep Water Setup for Casting
You'll need to add some weight to get your lure down into the
current. When fishing in deep or slow water, tie about a
three foot leader attached to a swivel. Above the swivel add
a 1/4 to 1 ounce barrel sinker.
Shallow Water Setup for Casting
In shallow water, you can simply add about four to six
split shots about three feet above your lure. This method
works best from a boat because using it from the bank will ensure
that you get snagged on the rocks often.
Alternatively, in shallow water you can replace the split
shots with an 1/8 to 3/4 ounce slinky weight. This
will help to keep you out of the rocks, especially useful
when casting from the bank.
Anchored Boat Setup with Flutter Spoons
This is my favorite setup by
far. Use size 1 Dick Nite spoons if the current is slow,
use size 0 in fast current. Jig the rod up and down about
one foot at a time to increase hookups with this rig -
especially if the fishing is slow.
You want to keep your line
fairly vertical, so adjust your sinker size as needed.
Slowly lower the rig to prevent tangles, and back bounce the
sinker along the bottom until is stays put. A lot of the
hookups will come while back bouncing.
Anchored Boat Setup with Grubs
Be sure to jig the rod up
and down about one foot at a time to increase hookups with this
Again, you want to keep your
line fairly vertical, so adjust your sinker size as needed.
Slowly lower the rig to prevent tangles, and back bounce the
sinker along the bottom until is stays put.
Shad can be
found throughout the Sacramento River system. In the lower
section of the river, Clarksburg, Freeport, Garcia Bend, Discovery
Park and Verona are all popular bank fishing venues. The
American, Feather and upper Sacramento Rivers are also great places
to catch shad. The faster running, shallow stretches of rivers
are more popular with jet boats and anglers using waders to access
Find a Spot
interesting thing about shad is that they can be found at all depths
and in all types of water. Experience or watching other
anglers will clue you into the better places to fish.
Deep Water Casting
If you are fishing in an area that
is wide and deep, you simply need to start fishing to see where they
are holding. If you are fishing of the bank in slow deep water like the
Freeport area, start out by
casting upstream at about a 20 degree angle. Let it sink for a
few seconds and slowly retrieve
your lure as it sinks to the bottom. Vary your retrieve to see
what the fish are looking for that particular day. Sometimes
the fish want a medium or fast retrieve, while other times
they want a slow retrieve. You can also vary the amount of
time you allow the lure to sink before you start your
retrieve. I usually start with a five second count and go up
and down from there until I find where the fish are holding.
When the lure gets near the shore reel quickly to avoid getting
If you are
fishing in shallow water, like the upper American River, you'll need
a lot less weight. In shallow stretches of the river, shad tend to
hold in water that is five to seven feet deep. Look for water
that has a decent amount of current running through it. Use
the split shot or slinky weight setups shown above. And don't
forget to check the regulations for barbless, leader length, and
single hook restrictions!
Shad tend to
strike the lure fairly lightly. You might feel an abrupt bump
followed by pressure. If you feel pressure, use a short quick
hook set and start
reeling. As I mentioned earlier, shad have very soft mouths
and are easy to lose if you apply too much pressure. A huge hook
set will tear their skin and cause you to lose the fish if they are
hooked in the side of the mouth.
Be sure to
keep a loose drag on your reel. Your goal when fighting
a shad is to keep light and steady pressure on the fish at all
times. When the fish make a run, let your drag do its
job. It should take several minutes to land each shad.
Times that shad will bite can be
unpredictable. Most people fish for shad either at
mid-morning or late in the afternoon. Sometimes shad will
bite like crazy right before dark. I've had some really
good early morning trips myself.
Success really depends on being there when
the school is moving through. Shad seem to travel in
tight, single file schools. If I'm fishing and I see the
boat anchored directly below me hook up, I know it's on!
If boats below me off to the side start hooking fish, I will
veer my boat in their direction or cast my lines to the side
where the fish are moving. It really does make a