PEAK SHAD FISHING

Bob Gregorski June 2007

Peak Shad Fishing
The shadbush was in bloom, so it was shad fishing time! During a mid-May trip to the lower Connecticut River, I lucked out with landing my first shad of the season. It was a good catch. The 3.0-pound shad looked beautiful; its brightly colored, silvery iridescent colored body glistened in the daylight. It grabbed a bucktail fly that I was using as a dropper. When I released it, I thanked it for its entertaining battle. The next few weeks will be the peak of the shad-fishing season in Connecticut.

Here’s what the quarry is like. The Anadromous
American shad adults average 18”-23” and weigh 3 to 6 pounds. These adult fish spend most of their lives in ocean waters and migrate into freshwater to spawn in the spring. They are the largest of the herring family to migrate into Connecticut waters. They have a dark spot aft of their gill plates followed by a series of smaller dots. They do not feed while in the up-river spawning migration. Some research indicates that they strike at something in their path, particularly brightly colored lures and flies instinctively to move them out of the way of their journey. Most of the time their diet is small aquatic creatures that include: shrimp, insects, small fish and zooplankton.

American shad provide important commercial fisheries in some major rivers and recreational fisheries in many east coast rivers including the Hudson, Delaware, Connecticut, Thames and Housatonic. They range from Nova Scotia to the St. Johns River in Florida. “Freshwater Tarpon” is one nickname for Alosa sapidissima because of the aerial acrobatics it can perform. The hen shad (A.K.A. roe shad) are filled with eggs and weigh an average 4 to 6 and the male (A.K.A. buck shad) weigh 3 to 5 pounds. The sweet shad meat is considered a delicacy as is the shad eggs (roe). Alosa sapidissima means "pleasantly flavorful shad." This time of year fresh shad and roe may be found on restraunt menus. The short season is late April to mid-June.

There are several fraternities of shad aficionados. The largest group uses spinning or bait casting outfits; smaller tribes fly fish, troll, drift or still fish with lures from anchored boats. My own experiences include all of those except trolling and drifting. Spin casting and fly-fishing are my favorites. Fly-fishing from shore is limited to few locations in Connecticut. Contempory shad anglers use brightly colored shad darts, spoons, willow leaf blades or flies. Most use medium-to-light rods with 6 or 8 pound test leader/line.

During my early years, we tied a gold or silver colored bare hook onto a one-foot leader, added six colored plastic beads and a clinch-on sinker. Each angler had his own combination and permutation of colors. The set-ups were pre-made before one went shad fishing. The strength of the leader was a few pounds less than the main line. Typically, one would lose a dozen rigs in a few hours of fishing.

The largest shad I caught about an 8 pounds hen; it was unusual to land a large shad in the fast currents where I fished. The Connecticut state record shad weighed 9.25 pounds and was caught in the Connecticut River by Edward Cypus in 1981. The World Record is 11pounds.

American Shad Reflection
It was shad time on the Connecticut River. I was a 13 year-old, experienced shad angler that morning in mid-May. Full of energy and expectation of catch 3 to 6 pound shad

 

 

It was a several mile hike from my house in "French Town," a section of Thompsonville, along the railroad tracks to the Enfield Dam.

My backpack was loaded fishing gear and plenty of food for a young teenager. I carried my "ready-to-cast rod in one hand and a windbreaker and net in other. As I ambled along the worn path beside the railroad tracks, it took past a few back yard gardens and orchards. Several times I stopped to enjoy the colorful, fragrant apple and shadbush blossoms that heralded the arrival of shad in the CT River. As I got closer to the dam, I could hear the thundering sound of water charging over it and my heartbeat increased.

When I arrived at the dam, there were two guys fishing from the top of the dam's abutment and a there were a few anglers further down-river. I positioned myself just below the abutment. The sound of the fast, falling water was oppressive to my ears. A light westerly breeze gently washed my face with the spray from the cascading water. I put my backpack and net on the bank, buttoned up my windbreaker, pulled down the brim of my cap, cocked my six-foot fiberglass rod and held it "ready to fire." As soon as the lines of the two anglers fishing above me were three-quarters of the way down-river, I cast out directly across the current. The 1/0 bare hook, followed by six colored beads and clinch-on sinker, splashed into the foamy river surface about 100 feet away. I held my rod high and reeled in the slack line onto my Mitchell 300. My eyes were glued to where the line kissed the water. My right forefinger pressed against the butt of the arched rod to monitor its pulse for any sudden thud. I stared at the line. Thud! I jerked the rod backwards but nothing resisted. The line continued. Thud! I jerked back. Nothing there. The lure was almost directly down river below me when the tip of the rod was pulled sharply down. I yanked back. "Fish on!" I shouted. My heart began pumping double time. My mouth widened with a happy smile. The next five minutes were action packed. Alosa sapidissima tested my skill and the six pound test line. Landing that six-pound, American shad roe made my day.

Those were the good old days at the Enfield Dam. It was the 1950's. The dam was one of the best shad fishing locations on the CT River. Having a million or two shad in the river produced an excellent year at the dam. Schools of thousands of shad stopped at the
dam and then circled around below it until they found their way up-river via a small passageway in the dam. This situation made the shad easily accessible to anglers from the shoreline and boats. I had many great days there catching three to six pound shad in the river's fast currents with light spinning tackle and an 8 WT fly fishing outfit. Just remnants of the deteriorated dam remain, and they pose no barrier to the up-river migration of shad. The great shad days have diminished since the 1950's when several million shad migrated up river. Recently that number has dwindled to a about a few hundred thousand.

I know the shad will return to the river each spring, but the fishing won't be like it was in my youthful days. Fishing for shad from the banks of the Connecticut River near the Enfield Dam rekindles pleasant and sad memories.

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