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How, when and where to pursue American shad

By Bill Adelman
The American shad, first delivered by rail to Tehama in 1871, is an extremely sought after quarry today. Should you prefer to toss and fling on foot, the Russian River is a good bet. Although it takes a bit of effort to gain access to good gravel bars, there are spots where shad can be caught. The fly guy has easier opportunities as the creek is fairly shallow and narrow. In fact, a sink tip line is all that is necessary. The across and swing cast is the best technique, starting at the top of a run and slowly working downstream. It is somewhat necessary to do slight mends in the faster flows. As shad aren’t leader shy or easily spooked, an 8# leader works just fine.

My companion, Gerry Madrid loves fighting Sacramento River shad. Photo by the author

Later on in the season, say around June 1, shad will be in the Feather and Yuba Rivers. The access points here are even more limited, however there are some and the sidecaster, both fly and spin, can do well. By mid-June, the spawners will have reached their destination on the Feather, which is directly below the outlet hole just a tad out of Oroville. This area is far more easily reached via foot, however you have to get wet. As the rocks can be a bit slippery, it’s wise to use a wading staff when fishing here.

The lower Sac is best fished by boat, at least until you get upstream a bit. There are many more shoreline options as you approach Colusa. Work your way upstream through Princeton, Butte City and points north. Quite often the launch ramp area in Butte City is alive with shad and the trailer park in Princeton offers access to some really long gravel bars. When you locate a few fish, then lose the bite, start over, or continue downstream until you reach the end of the expected holding areas. Then repeat from top to bottom.

Here I am with a nice-sized shad. Photo by Gerry Madrid

There’s no need for boxes of gear when chasing shad. A waist or fanny pack can carry everything you need, especially if you utilize those small plastic boxes. The spin fisherman will do well with the ever productive teeny rounder, which is simply a few ¼ to 1/8th ounce painted jig heads and a few different 2 – 2 ½ inch brightly colored curly tailed jigs. Add in some small egg sinkers, plastic beads, clips and a dozen shad flies, and you’re good to go. The size of the egg sinker is determined by the flow and depth of the water you’re fishing. Place the sinker on the terminal line, add a bead and tie on the clip. For a teeny rounder, the leader should be 4-5 feet in length, and for flies, about 7-8 feet. Again, work slowly downstream using the across and down swing. If it’s really hot out, you can wet wade, which really feels good. In most cases, hip boots will work as well.

I recently saw a question about gizzard shad and their eating quality. After reviewing the responses on how to cook these things, my personal shad eating program is unchanged. NEVER! If you think tuna are oily, try a shad. If you think flatheads are smelly, try a shad. There has to be a reason why the number one bait for Columbia River sturgeon is a fresh whole shad, sliced open, double hooked and slathered in scent. Anyone care to guess? So then, why do so many anglers pursue these silvery little battlers? Cuz it’s just plain fun on light tackle? That certainly would be my supposition, as well as the reason why we chase these herring every spring. Tight Lines !!!

Bill Adelman is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California. His work has appeared in the Fish Sniffer newspaper and MarketPlace magazine. He was a full time freshwater fishing guide for 20 years. Now retired he still likes to serve as a flyfishing instructor, rod builder, outdoor photographer, seminar speaker and hunting mentor.


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