How to Catch American Shad – Fishing Tips

American shad are a popular fish to target throughout the East and West Coast United States. They are an anadromous fish, which means that they spend most of their lives in saltwater, but will return to freshwater rivers to spawn. If you’re new to fishing shad, we will cover everything you need to know about this species to help you catch more fish.

Shad Identification

American shad are often a silvery color with blue and green tints. They are usually white on the bottom and have rows of scales on their bellies. They have a lower jaw that fits into the upper jaw. If the lower jaw protrudes past the upper jaw, it might be a different kind of shad, such as a hickory or gizzard shad.

American Shad Identify

The average american shad can reach lengths around 17 to 24 inches. They will usually weigh between 2 to 8 pounds but can reach upwards of 11 pounds, though this is extremely rare.

Where to Catch Shad

American shad can be caught throughout the Eastern and Western United States Regions. They will spend most of their lives in the oceans but you can also catch them in coastal brackish waters. In the spring they travel to rivers to spawn

Shad tend to swim close to shore as they swim upstream. Focus your efforts on waters within 30 feet of the bank and less than 10 feet deep. They commonly will hangout just below rocks and other cover that will break the current flow.

What Do Shad Eat?

Shad commonly eat shrimp, fish eggs, worms, plankton, and occasionally other small fish.

Shad Seasonal Patterns

American shad spawn in freshwater in the springtime. When the water begins to cool in the fall, they will migrate downstream into the ocean. They spend the majority of their lives in saltwater.

Fishing the springtime shad runs can be a great time to go fishing. They will often start migrating as early as January in warmer regions. They tend to migrate in schools. Work your way up the river looking for places where the current is obstructed, like near shoals, dams, or narrow sections of the river. Once you find the school, you’ll be in for a good day of fishing.

Best Time to Catch Shad

Spring and summer are the best times to catch shad. It is much easier to catch them when they return to rivers during their spawning migration. The last hour of daylight is also considered one of the best times to target them. When the sun starts going down their action gets more frenzied and they are more likely to bite.

Shad Equipment Recommendations

Rods and Reels

Light spinning gear is all you really need for catching shad. A spinning rod around 7 feet in length is ideal. Just make sure your reel has a smooth drag that can handle a scrappy shad fight.

Lures and Baits

Shad Darts

The most popular lure choice is shad darts. Shad darts come in a variety of colors and sizes but for most American Shad, you will want to stick with a 1/16 ounce or ⅛ ounce lure. For colors stick with bright colors like green or chartreuse because these can be seen from longer distances.

Crappie Jig Heads

Many anglers also use crappie and bluegill jig heads productively for catching shad. Shad darts are definitely more widely used and will work better in most situations, but you can also use crappie jig heads in certain situations.

Live Bait

Worms, small minnows, and grubs are often used as live baits for shad. Artificial lures like shad darts are known to work better, but you might want to also carry live bait just to give it a chance.


For american shad a 1 to 1/0 size hook is a good option. A barbless hook may be a good choice since you will likely just catch and release fishing.

Fishing Line

A 4-12 pound monofilament line will work just fine for shad.

Rig Setup

If your casting from the bank into shallow waters we recommend using a basic slinky weight rig to catch shad. This rig is set up with a three-way swivel with your main line attached to one end, slinky weight (1/8 ounce to 3/4 ounce) attached to another end, and your leader and lure attached to the final end. The benefit of this rig is that when fishing the shallows you won’t get hung up on the rocks because the slinky weight is designed to slide over them.

Shad River Fishing Rig

Tips and Techniques to Catch More Shad

Fish Low or Fish High

On sunny days, shad will be closer to the bottom. On cloudy overcast days you can catch them throughout the water column. Shad are known to be light sensitive, which is why they will remain closer to the bottom when the sun is shining brightly.

Stay in The Same Spot

Shad are a schooling fish, so the important thing to remember is that as soon as you catch one of them, try working in the same area. If you’re fishing the spawning run, try to systematically work your way up the river looking for spots where the current breaks. They often move in waves up the river. If you stay patient, eventually you will find the school.

Look for Slow Currents

Shad like to remain in deeper slower currents as they move upstream. Look for flat areas with slow currents. This could be near mouths of tributaries or current seams. If you find an area that looks promising, you want to position yourself a little bit upstream and cast downstream. Try using a slip float to set your lure a foot or two off the bottom.

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