Spring Shad: Delaware River ‘22 Forecast - The Fisherman

Spring Shad: Delaware River ‘22 Forecast

There are several local guides and outfitters who can put you on the Delaware shad this month, like Rusty Balls Tackle & Guide Service based out of Allentown, PA.

Annual Delaware shad outlook with the Shad Man himself. 

American shad are not in every part of the Delaware River; they will follow the current line, staying close to the bottom of the river.  But every spring these shad will be in the Delaware River, and will be in the same location, at about the same time.

If you’re getting into shad fishing on the Delaware, I recommend that you to take a notebook and carefully record the places where you and other successful anglers are fishing and catching these incredible fish. If you are a shore angler, record as many places as possible, and if you own a boat, pay attention to the placement of the many fishing boats, they will always anchor in same locations.

Teach A Man To Fish

I began shad fishing in the early 1970s and struggled with the rest of the rookies, and only caught one. But I took notes and kept fishing throughout the long summer.  When I learned the shad is a visiting and spawning anadromous fish (migrating up rivers from the sea to spawn) that only stays two months, I quit and went home a wiser person.

I clearly recall my first full season of shad fishing; I wore hip boots and carried along with me a 7-foot spinning rod with 8-pound mono line on a medium reel. I also had some live minnows and night crawlers and used them for a while until I noticed no other angler was using live bait.  That’s when an old-timer pointed out the need for metal 1/4-ounce shad darts, with white bodies and red heads. On my way home I stopped at the numerous sports fishing stores and purchased darts and planned to return that weekend to learn how to use them.

When do shad arrive on the Delaware? Elmer Rue limited out on shad in the lower Delaware in early in March of this year while using Hard Core Shad Spoons from shore.

I continued my mission to catch American shad, but still with no success.  Eventually in early September, I quit for the year, but I would return a wiser and determined angler.

Shad are consistent in their arrival and sightings and for as long as I can remember; it was common to assume that beginning in mid-April, you could bet the shad would be here. Now all signs point to American Shad being present as of St. Patrick’s Day (though the first reports in The Fisherman Magazine this year came on March 10, 2022). Low clear water and a steady rising water temperature reaching 50 plus degrees will prompt Delaware River shad to become more aggressive as they enter the early stage of spawning.

The Delaware River Shad Fishermen’s Association (DRSA) want to make sure that fellow shad fishermen are aware of a service they provide, a Shad Hotline phone service that provides a steady 24-hour dose of shad info. Call 610-573-1231 for all the details.

DRSA has a cadre of volunteer members who spend time along the Delaware gathering daily river and shad information which is promptly given over to DRSA member Keith Wolf to share on the hotline. For more information about the club visit www.drsfa.org

As I progressed into the world of the shad, I asked numerous veteran anglers precisely who it was that created this piece of lead and named it a shad dart, and when exactly that happened.  No person had the answer, nor did anyone show any interest. I was told you could purchase a kit which included the molds and lead to allow anyone to become a shad dart maker. The fact is shad darts, in a variety of colors and weights, are very effective for catching shad along the Delaware, always have.

Then along came the shad spoon; no one I’ve spoken to really seems to know where they originated, but many anglers use them at this point.  I once had an invitation from a Connecticut friend who invited me to visit for a weekend and do some shad fishing.   My friend took a liking to the darts I was using to catch shad, and he insisted we trade his shining spoons for my lead darts. Before I returned home, he gave me some quick lessons, but I eventually laid them aside and continued fishing my old, reliable darts. Eventually the anglers of Delaware River Shad Fishermen’s Association began using the spoons; I still don’t where they came from or who introduced them, but I too began using them, and creating numerous dart designs that catch a lot of shad to this day.

New Tricks For Big Dogs

In 2021, I fished with a casual friend who showed me the shad rig he uses, one which has become a popular lure combination on the lower Delaware River.  A common sinking plug as you’d use for largemouth with roughly 7 feet of 8-pound mono with either small dart or shad spoon behind (visit www.thefisherman.com/delaware-river-shad-tips for tips from PENN’s Chris Gatley on using the Berkley Flicker Shad or Flicker Minnow ahead of your shad lures).  I caught shad on my first cast, finishing with 10 fish on my first go around; later I had the good fortune to fish with a boat angler at Dingmans Bridge area where we continued to find good success with this rig connecting your plug to your darts or spoons using a length of mono attached with a number 10 swivel.

Local lure maker John Augustine of HardCoreFishing.us makes roadrunner under-spins as well as shad darts and spoons which are especially effective on the Delaware this month.

John A. Punola caught his first shad in 1972 and has been seeking them out every spring ever since.  Aptly nicknamed “Shadman” by fellow sportswriters, Punola has authored several books about local fishing with a particular emphasis on the Delaware River.  The author also serves as an advisor on the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s River Herring & Shad Committee.

Anchor your boat in places of mild current; this is the course that American shad will follow as they are passing through in their search for upriver spawning area. Look where other fishermen may be anchored and find a spot that does not interfere with the lines from their boat. Cast the rig about 30 feet from rear of boat and place your rod in a rod holder. The rig will settle in the current and does a steady twisting and turning until a shad hits.

The saga of the American shad is an amazing gift of Mother Nature. When shad reach their destination in the upper portions of the Delaware River bordered by Pennsylvania and New York State they will eventually mate and the eggs will hatch to begin a new generation of fish. Schools of juvenile shad will make their way down the Delaware River in late August and into September, entering the Delaware Bay before emptying out into the Atlantic.   From there they’ll travel northward, closely following the shoreline, until they reach the Bay of Fundy in Canada.  Once there, the shad will mature for 3 years before repeating their journey back to the Delaware to repeat the cycle.  I have spent time with fishery biologists who say the incoming American shad have a built in direction finder that actually guides them to the exact pool where they were hatched three years ago.

During my many years of shad fishing, I have always taken the time to record any changes in habit in their spring arrivals. Five years ago I was on an early visit to the Delaware River and I was pleased to see nice clear water, a lower than normal flow, where you could locate schools of American shad moving forward.  That was St. Patrick’s Day. Every spring afterwards, I was alone along the shore, looking for evidence of shad, and sometime fishing. The signs of spring with eagles in the trees and favorable river condition will always lead me to believe the shad are with us.



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