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Gloucester NJ shad fishing

Gloucester NJ Shad Fishing by Thomas Eakins

The Delaware system has an excellent gradual salinity mixing zone which permits the herring to adjust to the change. The main river is still open with deep well defined channels for the fish to travel in. The upper river has lots of shallow pools for the fish to spawn and deep slow moving pools along the way for the fish to rest at night.

No other fish’s history comes closer to our heritage than the American Shad. Those who want to believe the legend that the American Shad fought their way by the British blockage to feed the starving American army at Valley Forge take heart.  Would General Washington, a shad fisherman, have commented in his endless correspondences for food and supplies admitted that his man were now fat and happy with fresh caught shad from the Schuylkill River

Depending on current, temperature and water clarity, the American Shad travel at a rate of six to fourteen miles a day. The Delaware Shad Fisherman’s Association reports that if the Trenton flow rate is above 30,000 cfs the fish will be halted. A flow of 14,000 or below is ideal for good migration.  At the Route 202 bridge, a Hydroacoutic survey (was) set up to monitor this movement.  During February, they congregate in the Delaware Bay and remain there as they become accustom to the fresh water.  At this time the fish also begin to appear in the fish market department of local grocery stores indicating the presents of commercial fishing for the fish in the bay. When the water is in the upper 40 degree range generally around end of March, and thru April the reports of shad catches begin to appear in the river near Trenton and in the lower non-tidal sections. When the main run is in the river below Easton, generally the temperature is below 50 degrees, and the success in my opinion, is limited.  By mid April to mid May they should be in water that is within excellent fishing temperature range of 52-60 degrees F between Easton and the Water Gap.  As the water temperature passes 50 degrees, the fish become aggressive and the action starts.  The month of May is the time for shad fishing between the Water Gap to Port Jervis, follow by June north of Port Jervis.  These dates are not fixed and will vary from season to season, based on water flow and temperature.  Most serious shad fisherman keep yearly journals of results, showing dates, time, place, water temperature and river conditions.  The experts on these fish talk about locating “the Main Run” think of it as a bell curve. Even though they move up the river in small schools, the interval between schools decreases at the upper end of the bell curve.  Fisherman soon learned, that once you hook the first one more will follow.  As confirm in the breeding tanks, they travel only in the daylight and rest in night in deep slow moving pools.  Once the fish enter the now warmer waters of the upper river the upstream movement begins to slow and the spawning ritual begins.


The fish will look for spawning pools or as locals call them “shad wallows” when the water nears 70 degrees.  Shad wallows are slow moving shallow pools with rocky bottoms.  In the evening the fish are visible as they move about trying to shake the eggs and sperm from their bodies.  Here they are not just susceptible to the fisherman’s hook but the archer’s arrow.  A good shad wallow can be found by the presence of a tree platform overhanging the water, much like a deer stand. The can also be detected by a V- shaped wave on the surface.

Spoon Shad dart

 The two most popular  lures are spoons and darts which are place in front of the fish. Some claim the color is important and judge there presentation on water clarity and temperature. Other say the trick is to aggravate the fish with the lures by  placing it  in their path up stream. If fishing from a boat the lure is set in the middle of a channel where one waits for the fish to come by and hit it or get caught by it.  Some shad  are caught by snagging from people fishing from the bank where the lures are cast across the current in shallow water and brought back very rapidly.  The fishing travels up the strong current with it month open.  The fisherman hopes to place the line across the open mouth of the fish. Once the fish feel the line in it’s mouth it will run up river drawing the lure into it’s mouth.  Once in the warmer water the fish will stop traveling up river and circle the slower eddies to spawn in the evenings. Here it’s appears to be a matter of just getting the dart in front of the fish. After the spawn and warmer temperatures of late June and July the fish weakens and the action draws to a close.

Hope to see you out there