Rites of Spring: Wading for Delaware Shad - The Fisherman

Rites of Spring: Wading for Delaware Shad

2019 3 Wading For Delaware Shad Water
Wade-in and bankside fishing for shad is often as easy as finding a nice parking area beside the Delaware River. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

Bank on another good run of shad along the Delaware this spring!

During the past six years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of American shad entering the Delaware River each spring to conduct their spawning in the clear, clean waters of the Delaware River.  As a result, more and more anglers are spending time fishing for shad and some amazing results have been noted.

During the spring of 2018, numerous anglers reported daily shad catches had risen, with some anglers reporting catches of 25 to 50 shad per trip, especially during days early in the season.

When speaking to fishermen while attending some winter outdoor shows, numerous anglers said they had heard reports of shad in abundance and were eager to join the shad anglers but did not own a boat.  The common misconception is that you need a boat to fish the Delaware River; so, I told the anglers I met that I would have an article in the spring edition of The Fisherman about shore fishing for shad.

Promise kept!

Banking Benefits

I have never owned a boat and have spent my shad career as a shore angler; and I have always managed to catch and release shad in big numbers.  If you’re willing to put in the time as a shore angler, there is a real benefit to becoming a mobile angler dedicated to shore fishing for shad.  If the shad are not active in a particular place, it’s quick and easy to get in your vehicle and move to another more favorable location. I also like the idea that when I finish fishing, I get into my vehicle and drive away without waiting at a launch to trailer the boat for the return trip home.

Bank-side fishing for shad requires concentration and patience.  You will be casting a shad dart shad spoon, or common spinner, and you will undoubtedly hone your casting skills with repeated casting to reach the “shad zone.”  After your experience with that first shad, you will be thrilled by their strength and how hard they fight.  But don’t lose interest if you go shadless; they will always be part of a large school, so after you catch the first one, others will follow.  Shad are powerful gamefish with female shad ranging from 4 to 7 pounds, the males about 3 to 6 pounds.

If you are an active angler currently fishing for other popular gamefish and you do not own a boat, let me just say you don’t need one to fish for shad. In fact, there are a large number of anglers who fish for shad from shore. The best part is you can use your personal rods and reels with only minor adjustments.

The best all-around rod and reel for shoreline shad fishing is a 6- or 7-foot medium weight spinning rod with a matching reel.  In terms of which darts to attach, keep in mind that shad do not feed during the spring spawning period but are attracted to hit at the colorful darts.  Bring a variety of colors to be sure of what happens to be hitting on that particular session.

2019 3 Wading For Delaware Shad DOCK FISHING
If you find out where the shad are running of late and know where the local launches can be found, you’ll often find good access for shoreline shad opportunities. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

The Business End

Some of the nearby tackle shops you’ll visit that specialize in shad gear may show you another popular shad lure, the flutter spoon.  Fasten a 1/4-ounce “in-line” sinker about 20 to 24 inches above the swivel.  The sinkers come in several models and the tackle dealer will offer his suggestion on the most productive sizes to use.  The added sinker provides the weight to cast the spoon. Shad travel the lower depth of the river, and the sinker gets you to the schools that generally travel just a couple of feet off the bottom.

I constantly meet shore anglers using their personal equipment, i.e., casting rods, closed or open face.  I have learned that anglers are comfortable with their personal equipment, and with the patience and adjustment to shore fishing, and whatever they use will eventually be putting shad in the net.  Practice casting that much lighter shad dart, and you will quickly find comfort in using your bass equipment.  Keep in mind though that shad will also strike a bass spinner, either silver or gold blades are fine, so keep a few in your lure box.

Fly fishermen have discovered that shad fishing is a super spring sport, and if you have a serious notion to try your luck, do it.  Shad flies do not imitate insect patterns, and every trout fisherman I meet has a variety of colorful wet fly patterns that attract shad.  You’ll find plenty of Trout Unlimited members out along the Delaware fishing together.

When shad arrive each spring, their mission is to reach spawning locations farther upstream.  In their upriver journey, shad will travel at a steady pace especially if river conditions are favorable.  There are several methods to help locate shad at historic sites along the river.  For example, Fred Lewis Fishery in Lambertville is a commercial fishery where they release daily reports of the shad they’ve caught and released.  For the past six seasons, the shad have been arriving in mid-March, so watch for reports of early catches.

2019 3 Wading For Delaware Shad GREG HUETH
Greg Hueth spends a lot of his time fighting for better fluke science or casting at stripers along the coast, but he’s known to take some time in the spring to hit those hard-fighting shad on light tackle a little farther west.

When setting a successful shad spread along the Delaware River, Chris Gatley from PENN said he prefers running flutter spoons behind hookless rattling baits like the Berkley Flicker Shad (7 feet or less) or Flicker Minnow (8- to 10-foot range).  “I’ve learned the more rattling baits that I can get out in my spread, the more fish we’re catching,” Gatley said.

To see how Chris rigs for shad find our “how to” video at TheFisherman.com under the Features/Video Library tab.

2019 3 Wading For Delaware Shad Collection

The Latest Intel

The best shad information is available via a 24-hour daily hotline (610-954-0577 or 610-954-0578) courtesy of Delaware River Shad Fishermen’s Association (www.drsfa.org) of Allentown, PA.  The hotline is updated daily dispensing info about shad as reported daily by the members and provides great info on weather, conditions, and what lures and colors are working.

I faithfully commence shad fishing the latter part of March, depending upon weather and water conditions.  I avoid fishing if the Delaware River is high, muddy and with slippery shorelines.  Last spring we had more water than usual, but the shad were on time and abundant.  The period from early April through May are the prime times for fishing.

Like all fish that swim, shad have peak times of activity and movement.  I have a liking to fishing the hours from daybreak to 9:30 a.m., then the period from 4 p.m. to dusk, which I have found very productive.

If you’ve never fished for shad before, there are some pre-fishing things to do prior to that first cast.  Make it a point to take a few trips to the Delaware River to learn about the river.  Buy a common highway map or browse online maps.  You can also find maps of boat launches on the New Jersey side at the Division of Fish and Wildlife website (www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw).

I have been shad fishing nearly my entire life, yet I make it a point to make some pre-season visits to the Delaware River area and visit all the people and places where I would be fishing.  Things do and will change.


If you are serious about joining the ranks of Delaware River anglers who shore fish for shad, contact me at [email protected].  I would be pleased to speak with you about your specific interests.  But here are some things to remember when you are shore fishing for shad.

  • Avoid fishing alone
  • Keep cell phones fully charged
  • Polarized glasses are a must
  • Hip boots/waders with felts or grippers (there are plenty of places to fish without wading)
  • Short handle net with wide brim for easy catch and release
  • Flotation vest is great to have should you slide or slip
  • NJ or PA fishing license is required, but one is good for both shorelines
  • Shad limit is three per day, any size
  • Don’t litter or damage property

By the way, you can’t miss my 1-Shad, NJ license plate either parked along the river; be sure to stop and say hello.

– J. Punola




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