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Fly Fishing for Shad

Often Overlooked, the American Shad can be a Thrill to Fly Fish for

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Fly Fishing for Shad
Jeff T. Green/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Fly fishing for shad isn't on the top of the list for a lot of fly fishers, but if you're on a river during a run it's definitely worth giving these often overlooked fish a shot.

When fly fishing for shad, a small steelhead rod with a shooting head will allow you to handle some of the bigger fish in the school.

Now we’re talking about the American shad here, not the baitfish – which is technically a gizzard or threadfin species.

The American shad can be found from Alaska to Mexico, although most shad fishing takes place on the East Coast, in the U.S. and on into Canada. They’ve also been transplanted to the West Coast, however, where they can be found in California, specifically the Delta and on the Lower American River.

American shad are much bigger and a more sought-after fish because of their fight.

While male shad are typically only in the 1- to 2-pound range, female shad can grow as large as 5 to 6 pounds – which can make them a better game fish than the rainbow trout on some waters.

Shad Fishing Season

Keep in mind the American shad is part of the herring family, and this coastal shad doesn’t usually return to rivers until temperatures are in the 50s.

They typically migrate in the spring time, when the flowers are blooming and the temperatures are turning around from April to June.

Where to Fish for Shad

While shad can be found from East to West, they're plentiful in Golden State but often get lost in the shuffle with the delta and other waterways being home to steelhead, trout and bass, to name a few.

South Carolina is another hotspot for shad, although when they run you better get on the water. Shad often times can make a run for only a matter of weeks and are usually gone within a month and a half.

The fish will technically range from Labrador to Florida and all the way up to Southern Alaska and down into Northern Mexico.

They usually spawn from spring through early summer, so that’s the prime fishing time for the shad.

Hooking a Shad

When catching a shad, be prepared for a couple aerial displays, as this can be a feisty fish that likes to showcase a couple cartwheels after they’re hooked up.

They'll break the surface, make a run or two, and if you're not careful during the fight they'll break you off.

Along with a strong fight, shad also have an entremely soft mouth that's easily torn by flies. So small flies that won't tax the fish are good idea if you can hold it.

What to Fish With

Interestingly enough, shad rarely feed when they are moving into coastal rivers to spawn. In fact, that’s the last thing on their mind. So if you plan on mimicking their food supply, think again. Dry flies and insect patterns probably won’t get you too far during a shad run.

Think of shad predators instead, because these shad are extremely territorial and protective.

That’s why spinning reel anglers often turn to crappie jigs when going after shad, so fly fishers should turn to colorful streamers or clouser minnows that will tempt reactionary strikes.

As far as line, start with a six-weight sinking tip and an 8-pound tippet.

Strip a small streamer and hang on when one of these "poorman's salmon" take you for a ride. The fish will often make their first run toward dropoffs or cover. If cover isn't available, don't be surprised if they start shooting upstream.

A net is a good idea for landing these feisty fish, to help coral them and also allow for easier removal of the hook.

Again, remember their mouths are soft, so try to use barbless hooks and catch and release fish with care.

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