American shad race in progress

The “poor man’s salmon,” as it’s been called for generations, the annual spring run of American shad is in full swing in the Delaware River.

These slab-sided members of the herring family, which includes the much smaller blueback and alewife, as well as the hickory shad, are already caught around Lambertville and points north. However, this is a staggered race with fish going up the Big D until early May and traveling north to New York/Pennsylvania to spawn.

We caught them as late as the first week of June in the Delaware Water Gap to the Montague-Milford Bridge.

Although racing has been pretty much stable in recent years, it’s no longer at its peak. In fact, the numbers have dropped to the point that the retention limit was recently reduced from three (as published on page 38 of the 2023 Freshwater Fishing Digest covering the Delaware River) to two above the Commodore Barry Bridge, the demarcation where a freshwater fishing license is required.

Under Commodore Barry’s range, the daily limit is six hickory shad. These are easily identified by their slimmer profile and elongated lower jaw. Above deck, it’s all about catch and release.

Captain Dom Troisi.

Captain Dom Troisi.

Opines Capt. Dom Troisi of Full Draw Bowfishing, which also runs shad charters, often two a day when the bite is on, “American shad numbers are not where they used to be for a variety of factors. Still, there are fish that come up and you can catch your share if you put in your time and pick your spots.

In the boat, it is “dead sticking” the featherweight shad spoons and, to a lesser extent, the shad darts, a tapered jig dressed either in calf’s tail or

bucktail (we’ve seen some with feathers), or plain, the latter in chrome or gold.

In wading darts are the main weapon, although there are those who get good results with spoons worked on a leader below a light keel weight.

It is pure light and ultra-light fishing pleasure. A hooked shad gives everything and flies away several times… a miniature tarpon, if you will. Figure the bucks (bucks) to tip the scales at 1.5-3.5 pounds, with the females (deer) to run anywhere from the premium buck mark at 7 pounds and up.

Or more. Garden State’s long-standing record is 11 pounds. 1 oz. and was caught from Delaware in ’84.

Table away? Meh. We’ve had them smoked, planked, and fried, and the meat is okay if you’re hungry. Filleting a shad with its hair-thin bones is indeed an art form, and while we may appreciate the effort, well, we all want to set them free.

Unless a roe comes to the net. Shad roe is a prime-time delicacy in our book, better than white or yellow perch roe, for sure. Rinsed, patted dry, dusted with seasoned flour and fried in bacon grease, then served on crackers and topped with a dab of sour cream and crumbled bacon bits, your tongue will crack your brains out.

The American shad is so famous in Garden State history that an annual celebration is held in its honor. This year, the 40th Annual Lambertville Shad Festival will take place on Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to the festivities, including filleting and cooking demonstrations, there is a 5km shad race on Saturday. Visit to find out more.

Shad fishing in the Delaware River is more accurately described as shad hunting, because finding where the fish (which are in constant motion upstream) will pass is like a rod or setting from a stall. It can be frustrating but ultimately rewarding. A list of public access to the Delaware River, including boat launch sites, is available at Our favorites are Washington Crossing and Bulls Island State Parks, and Worthington State Forest in the Water Gap.

A quick route to discover how intense and fun this limited time fishing is, contact Full Draw Bowfishing at 609-820-5595.

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