Tips & Techniques
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Shad Fishing in the Central Valley
American Shad make their way up Central Valley rivers and streams
each spring for their annual spawning run. These tough
fighting fish have been called "little tarpon" for their
fighting abilities and are pursued by sports anglers across Northern
California. Native to the Northeastern United States, American
Shad have been introduced to the west coast and are now found in
large numbers in the Sacramento and Colombia River systems.
The best time to target shad in Northern California is during May
and June during the tail end of the striper run.
American Shad are relatives of the herring and spend most of
their lives at sea. The males average between two to four
pounds while the females can reach up to six or seven pounds.
They are oily, bony fish and are mostly enjoyed as a sports fish,
not as table fare. If you decide to keep some shad, they are
really good when smoked. Their roe is considered a delicacy by
many Asian cultures.
American Shad shouldn't be confused with
Threadfin Shad, which also live in the California Delta
system. Threadfin shad only reach about six inches in length
and are commonly used as bait for striped bass and sturgeon in the
Practice catch and release, and good luck!
Most people like to use about a six to seven
foot medium rod with a fast tip. Try to go light without
getting too light. Ultra-light panfish and crappie rigs are a
little too light to bring in shad out of the current. A light
trout rod is what you are looking for.
|Go with a small
to medium sized spinning reel. Most people stick with
spinning reels because the lures we will be using are light
and need to be casted far. One important factor is a
smooth drag. Shad have soft mouths and we'll be using a
really loose drag setting. A jerky drag lead to lost
|I like to use
six pound test P-Line Fluoroclear.
It is a hybrid cross between monofilament and fluorocarbon.
several lures to choose from when shad fishing. The
traditional shad dart works, but here in Northern California most
people prefer to use crappie jigs. An 1/32 oz. crappie
jig with a 1" curly tail grub is the most popular lure.
Colors can vary from day
to day. Be sure to carry lots of different color
combinations to see what the fish are hitting on that
particular day. Keep changing your colors until you find
what the fish are interested in. The standby color for
the jig head is red, followed by chartreuse or pink.
For the grub, champagne is the top color, followed by
chartreuse, white, and pink. If you buy a shad dart that
comes with a tail (like the ones shown here), trim it off or
the lure will be too big.
Curly Tail Grub
One thing to keep in mind is
that shad do not feed in fresh water. Much like salmon, they
stop feeding once they reach fresh water and begin their spawning
run. They strike out of aggression or out of instinct.
Deep Water Boat or Bank Setup
You'll need to add some weight to get your lure down into the
current. When fishing in deep or slow water, tie about a
three foot leader attached to a swivel. Above the swivel add
a 1/4 to 1 ounce barrel sinker.
Shallow Water Boat Setup
In shallow water, you can simply add about four to six
split shots about three feet above your lure. This method
works best from a boat because using it from the bank will ensure
that you get snagged on the rocks often.
Shallow Water Boat or Bank Setup
In shallow water you can replace the split shots with an 1/8 to 3/4 ounce slinky
weight. This will help to keep you out of the rocks.
Deep Water Boat Setup
When fishing deep water from a
boat, you can tie
a weight to the bottom of your rig and then tie several grubs about
one foot apart above the weight. You can tie direct using a Palomar
knot (left) and your rig will resemble a drop-shotting rig used for bass
fishing. Alternately, you can use a dropper loop
like a surf rig (right).
Shad can be
found throughout the Sacramento River system. In the lower
section of the river, Clarksburg, Freeport, Garcia Bend, Discovery
Park and Verona are all popular bank fishing venues. The
American, Feather and upper Sacramento Rivers are also great places
to catch shad. The faster running, shallow stretches of rivers
are more popular with jet boats and anglers using waders to access
Find a Spot
interesting thing about shad is that they can be found at all depths
and in all types of water.
If you are fishing in an area that
is wide and deep, you simply need to start fishing to see where they
are holding. If you are fishing of the bank in slow deep water like the
Freeport area, start out by
casting upstream at about a 20 degree angle. Let it sink for a
few seconds and slowly retrieve
your lure as it sinks to the bottom. Vary your retrieve to see
what the fish are looking for that particular day. Sometimes
the fish want a medium or fast retrieve, while other times
they want a slow retrieve. You can also vary the amount of
time you allow the lure to sink before you start your
retrieve. I usually start with a five second count and go up
and down from there until I find where the fish are holding.
When the lure gets near the shore reel quickly to avoid getting
If you are
fishing in shallow water, like the upper American River, you'll need
a lot less weight. In shallow stretches of the river, shad tend to
hold in water that is five to seven feet deep. Look for water
that has a decent amount of current running through it. Use
the split shot or slinky weight setups shown above.
Shad tend to
strike the lure fairly lightly. You might feel an abrupt bump
followed by pressure. If you feel pressure, use a short quick
hook set and start
reeling. As I mentioned earlier, shad have very soft mouths
and are easy to lose if you apply too much pressure. A huge hook
set will tear their skin and cause you to lose the fish.
Be sure to
keep a really loose drag on your reel. Your goal when fighting
a shad is to keep light and steady pressure on the fish at all
times. When the fish make a run, let your drag do its
job. It should take several minutes to land each shad.
Times that shad will bite can be unpredictable.
Most people fish for shad either at mid-morning or late in the afternoon. Sometimes
shad will bite like crazy right before
dark. Overcast days seem to be good because the shad move up
higher in the water column.