Spring Fling: Delaware River Shad - The Fisherman

Spring Fling: Delaware River Shad

The author with one of many nice shad caught on a road trip west to the Delaware River.

Expect the first reports of spring shad this month, with the best still to come in April.

As a saltwater charter captain one of my goals when taking clients out is that they have an enjoyable experience on the water. Something that they can look back on and say, “Now that was a good time.” Of course this is easier to accomplish if we catch fish but I would hope for the same response even if we don’t. The camaraderie, explaining the science of the fishery, the fishing techniques, and even the local history of where we are all intertwine to accomplish this.

I highly recommend Dieter if you are looking for a great shad adventure on the Delaware River. This trip, by the way, was a professional courtesy and I will be sure to return the favor this spring for big bass in Raritan Bay with hopefully the same results. Dieter can be contacted at 215-767-6745 or [email protected].

So when this captain, along with my wife Riley, pulled ourselves out of the salt and into the sweet waters of the Delaware River for our first professional shad charter I was expecting the same.

My gracious host was professional guide Dieter Scheel of Big D RiverGuide who is a Pennsylvania-licensed fishing guide who serves the Delaware, Lehigh, and Susquehanna local waters. “I have been fishing since I was 5 years old and it has been the thing that I enjoy doing most for the last 55 years,” Dieter said, explaining how he started off fishing Churchville Reservoir in the late 1960s before switching over to river fishing in the late 1970s.

“I have fished the Delaware River since then, learning everything that I could regarding shad, striped bass, walleye, and all the other species that roam the river,” he said, adding “I began guiding in the mid-90s starting with smallmouth and expanding into shad.”

The author’s wife Riley gets a net assist with her doubleheader shad catch from Dieter Scheel of Big D RiverGuide service.

From Salt To Fresh

Dieter guides an average of 80 trips a year for the last 15 years. When we first talked, Dieter told us to meet him at the Lambertville ramp on the Jersey side a 4:30. I told Riley we’d have to get up early to make the hour ride in the pre-dawn hours to get there.  Then Dieter clarified it was 4:30 p.m. not 4:30 a.m.  “Wow,” I said to myself, thinking how it starts to get dark around 6:30 p.m. – that is not a lot of time to catch fish. But I kept my mouth quiet and said to my wife, “let’s spend the day there anyway, we can get a nice lunch at the Lambertville Inn and add in a few cold beverages and we will be ready to go.”

Effective in 2023, the creel limit for American Shad on the Delaware River has been reduced to two fish in order to comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Fishery Management Plan for American Shad and River Herring. “The Delaware River Cooperative, which is composed of the Delaware Basin states, had to develop some new management measures to address unsustainable adult female mortality in the Delaware Basin that was found to be the case in the ASMFC’s recent benchmark stock assessment for shad,” said Brian Neilan, Principal Fisheries Biologist, who last year explained how all states in the Delaware Basin (including New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware) have had to reduce their rec creel limits down to just two American shad in an effort to conserve the fishery.

Anglers are allowed to keep six hickory shad (zero American shad), five hickories and one American, or four hickories and two American shad in the Delaware River.  “There is still no possession of American shad outside the Delaware River, so fishermen can keep up to six hickory shad only,” Neilan said.

When 4:30 p.m. came we were feeling good so we drove behind the Inn to the launch ramp. Surprisingly to me there was Dieter with his 17-foot RiverPro jet boat waiting at the bottom of the ramp all rigged and ready to chauffeur us on. And that he did. It was a beautiful sunny spring afternoon with temperatures in the low 70s and just being in the boat with my wife and Dieter enjoying the grandeur of the majestic Delaware river was exhilarating enough for me. I was pleased already.

It was only a few minute run to anchor up under the Lambertville Bridge where Dieter proceeded to put out an ultra-light six rod spread. Within minutes of doing so the rods started to double over.  And for the next two hours that was the norm. We ended with about 25 shad which was more than I expected as I would have been happy with my wife just catching a few.

“I started, as many do on the river with a two rod spread,” Dieter said, explaining how he later expanded to four rods and then to six as he began taking customers out, “I have added a couple of rod holders that will allow me to fish eight rods but honestly, a six rod spread is optimal,” he added.  “The six rod spread allows me to keep the rods clean and get them clear when we have one or more fish on the line. On certain days, I must cut back to four rods because of the amount of fish coming up the river otherwise there are too many tangles,” Dieter explained.

Dieter Scheel first began fishing the Delaware in the 70s, and has been guiding parties for smallmouth and American shad since sometime in the 90s.

By The Hundreds

On three of the rods I like to use a Shad Rap SR-7 with 3 feet of fluorocarbon tied to a Steve’s Leaves shad spoon. The other three rods get a Mini Diver with 3 feet going to the shad spoon. There is a lot of conversation about what color the spoon is either gold or silver, but it usually doesn’t make a difference if it’s in the right location. If there are a lot of fish coming up, or if I want to switch things up a bit, I put a few rods out with zinc shad darts made by Tinman Lures. These super shiny darts can be the difference between a good day and a great one.”

“My best outing ever was 102 fish in under four hours,” Dieter said, explaining how the three guys out with him that day grew tired and wanted him to catch number 100. “By the time I got the rods cleared we were already at 102, so I landed that one,” Dieter said, while remembering back his best full day ever of 182 shad while.  “On this day a mother, father, and their teenage son, got on the boat in a rainstorm. All other boats had gotten off the river hours earlier,” he said, noting how the wind was blowing 25 mph upriver with the rain coming down in buckets. “When the mom boated the 182nd fish of the day, I had already put the other rods away,” Dieter said, adding “She was mad because she wanted me to go for 200.”

The author shows off a Shad Rap SR-7 with 3 feet of fluorocarbon tied to a Steve’s Leaves shad spoon on the left, with a Mini Diver and 3 feet going to a shad spoon on the right.

As far as the state of the shad run Dieter said he has not seen as much of a drop off in the shad population as some others have. “Five years ago I saw the largest group of shad that I have ever seen migrating down the river. Literally, the fish were side to side on the river above Easton and the school was over a mile long,” Dieter said, explaining how he had never seen a school like that before or since. “I mention this because shad generally take 5 years to mature and I’m hoping for a bumper crop this year,” he added optimistically.

Our trip with Dieter far exceeded our expectations but why should I have expected anything less. Dieter is a consummate professional with extensive knowledge and a passion for what he does. He is also a very pleasant, friendly, and a fun person to be with.

Expect to see him on the river this season with his new jet boat. It will be outfitted with the latest electronics, lithium ion batteries, tons of storage and waterproof hatches. The boat is over 20 feet long and will be able to run in 4 inches of water. It should be a very comfortable fishing platform.

A tackle tray filled with an assortment of high quality spoons and shard darts could lead to arm weariness on light tackle.


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