Spring Shad: A 2021 Delaware River Forecast - The Fisherman

Spring Shad: A 2021 Delaware River Forecast

The Pocono Outdoors Guy, with a solid Delaware River shad. Photo courtesy of George Schauer.

The Shad Man is back with his annual forecast from the mighty D!

If you grew up within 20 miles of the Delaware River in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you no doubt have experienced the excitement of the American shad arrival during the spring spawn that occurs every April and May. For non-anglers who merely wished to see a live shad a journey to the Lewis Fishery site in Lambertville on the Jersey side to watch them net and retrieve lively shad which were sold fresh to eager customers.  If you were lucky your dad would take you with him to fish for shad.


John A. Punola caught his first shad in 1972 and has been catching them to the present day.  He was aptly nicknamed “Shadman” by fellow sportswriters, a title he has carried with him proudly over the years.  Always one to offer advice and encouragement to the next generation, keep an eye out for John’s SHAD license plate along the river.  The author also serves as an advisor on the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s River Herring & Shad Committee.

Times have not changed; you can still witness the shad being netted each evening by the Lewis Fishery from mid-April to mid-May. Shad fishing is still popular from the area of Lambertville onward upstream to Milford, PA.  The river forms a natural border between the two states and a large numbers of anglers fishing from both shorelines, plus numerous shad anglers fishing from boats anchored in the river, will gather again this spring for this annual event.

The American shad have shown a steady increase in their population and will continue to be on the rise this spring of 2021.

Looking Ahead To Spring

Back in January I started to receive calls and e-mails from anxious readers who wanted to talk shad; we also discussed the situation last spring caused by the Coronavirus which had an immediate effect on a popular Shad Derby held every season out of the public launch at Phillipsburg, NJ.  Once New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an order closing the public launch – given that a large crowd of shad anglers represented a severe health threat – the annual derby was cancelled.  Also cancelled due to COVID-19 was the popular Shad in Class studies, a 10-year-old high school project of the Delaware River Shad Fishermen’s Association involving 12 high schools in the PA/NJ region.

Josh Taylor and Uncle Buck from Rut and River Pursuits with a shad netted while working along the river by boat. Photo courtesy of George Schauer.

Are you wondering whether or not you will do some fishing this shad season of 2021?  The good news is yes, you can fish the Delaware River and catch some American shad.  For those anglers who ventured forth in 2020 to fish for American shad and other desirable gamefish they enjoyed some good fishing days.  Last year states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey encouraged anglers to go forth and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with fishing, you just have to do it the proper way.  You must have a current valid Pennsylvania or New Jersey license to fish the Delaware River.  Your license permits you to fish either shore line, or launch from any ramp.

Use a 6-foot spinning outfit or if you prefer to fly fish, use a medium weight fly rod.  There’s a great stretch for fly fishermen on the lower campground section of Worthington State Park on the New Jersey side of the river.  During the month of May, the campsite area in the lower part of the park is reserved exclusively for shad fishing only and is clearly marked “Shad Fishermen Only” by the Park Office.  This is a popular gathering place for fly fishermen only and the river is only 50 feet from where you will park your vehicle.


Fishing is a clean outdoor sport and it is not overpopulated; just take proper precaution, maintaining a safe, 6-foot different between other anglers, don’t share fishing lures and equipment, and make sure you have the necessary gear (rod, reel, bait, lures, towels, pliers, knives, nets).  Bring a suitable landing net, carefully unhook and release all fish you might catch that day.  Most importantly, especially for older folks or those with any underlying health issues, make sure to wear your face mask.   Last season anglers learned it was possible to get out and catch fish; for this spring, join the crowd and enjoy yourself.

–J Punola

By the way, there’s one thing to watch out for and that’s the black bears that prowl the areas along the Delaware River.  Do not bring any food that bears can smell.  If they smell it, they’ll claim it.  If you do encounter any bears slowly depart the area and report it to the park office.

For boaters there are paved boat ramps available on both sides of the Delaware River.  If you are not familiar with the exact locations, spend some time prior to shad fishing season and take some scenic drives along both sides of the Delaware River.  Locate and make a record where the boat ramps are located.  If you are strictly a shore-bound angler, you, too, should locate the boat launches, because you will find that good fishing can be attained by fishing in the general location of the boat ramps.

The 2021 Forecast

I do plan on doing a lot more fishing for shad this spring and will give it an early visit unless the river is not in good fishing condition.  I have never owned a boat of any kind and have always been a lone wolf angler with a great memory of the shore hot spots.  I am blessed to have wonderful shad fishing pals that are strictly boat anglers and I do get invites for an occasional day.  I have maintained good records and photos every season since I first got into shad fishing, and correctly said the spring of 2006 that the American shad will now begin an increase in the Delaware River population and it would keep increasing.  I am predicting another increase in arrival of shad from Canadian waters and believe the early arrival schools will have already started moving upstream in March.

variety-of- lures
It helps to have a variety of lures for targeting shad, including the darts as well as roadrunner under-spins, spoons and darts like those available from John Augustine at HardCoreFishing.US.

Last spring, 2020, I spent some time shad fishing with a long time fishing buddy, Scott Krueger who fishes from a well-equipped boat.  Scott alerted me the shad run was on and the schools were passing by close to shore in fairly clear water.  Scott picked a date for us, and we fished from 3 p.m. until dark, and Scott caught five nice buck shad; I did not catch any, but did catch some good sized smallmouth and walleye.   Water temperature was 40 degrees and the date was March 7.  Just one week later the water rose, became muddy with a large amount of debris and trash and stayed that way until the end of April.  I squeezed in some trips to some select shore locations and caught numerous shad until the water conditions became unfavorable.


There are plenty of great locations to get in on the shad run in 2021.  Make it a point to seek out and make note of worthy locations.  There is a great advantage to be shad fishing from a boat.  If you own a boat, there are plenty of good launch areas on both sides of the Delaware River that puts you in the general vicinity of the shad.  Just keep in mind the river obstructions you may contend with in the Delaware are a little rockier that you may find on your favorite lakes.  That’s why jet boats are so popular here.  Also bear in in mind Delaware River boat launches can be subject to heavy canoe and raft traffic on weekends.  If you plan to fish, try and do it during the week if possible.

For a comprehensive listing of Delaware River Boat Access Sites visit the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife website at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/delacces.htm.

So is there a best time to fishing for shad.  Everyone has an opinion, but I do believe there is.  I have always believed the best time for shad fishing will be from daybreak to about 9 a.m. and later in the day from 4 p.m. to dark.  Not just shad, but these are the hours when I have always caught the most fish of any species.   I utilize the rest of the day with photography, gathering subject matter for articles I am preparing for a magazine, or it could be time spent metal detecting a historic location.  This is not to say you will never catch shad at mid-day because you can also catch them at that time, but fish are active feeders during the later afternoon into dusk period.

Since that 2006 spring that sparked the beginning of increased shad numbers all along the many miles of Delaware River shoreline that continues to this day in 2021.  I am therefore predicting another increase in the number of American shad on the Delaware.  While I cannot predict or guarantee weather or water conditions of the Delaware River, my prediction data cannot take that into consideration; but the American shad will be arriving as predicted, and John A Punola will be there and catching them.


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