Shad can refer to herring-like fishes of the northern Atlantic, a freshwater species from the Mississippi basin, or a fierce predator of large areas of sub-tropical and temperate oceans.
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Where and When?

American shad are found along the eastern seaboard of the USA from Labrador to north Florida and were introduced to the Pacific Ocean in California where they have spread north and south. The European shad is distributed from Norway and the UK southwards to North Africa, including the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, with an important population in the Black Sea that migrates through the Bosphorus annually. Young fish move from freshwater downstream and adults live in the ocean at depths between about 5-250 m. (16-820 ft.) American freshwater shad are found in rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, plus a few more rivers on the Eastern coast. In South Africa the shad, a.k.a. bluefish and tailor, is found mostly on the east coast while in Australia they are present in most areas except the north-east regions. They are generally an inshore species that often enters estuaries and harbours. They can often be seen chasing small fish in the shore breaks and sometimes right onto the beach. They usually feed in the daytime but are renowned for suddenly “switching off” feeding for no obvious reason.

About Shad

As it often happens in the world of fishing, people sow confusion by giving the same name to a number of diverse species inhabiting different parts of the planet. So it is with the shad, which can refer to three groups of fish. The North Atlantic shad are two species of the Alosinae sub-family: Alosa sapidisimma, the American shad, and Alosa alosa, the allis shad. Both have a silvery blue to green lustre above and are shiny silver below. The American species grows to about 76 cm. (30 in.) and 5.5 kilograms (12.1 lbs.) while the European species is slightly smaller. They live for about 10 years and spawn up rivers, spending most of their time in the ocean. In addition, there are two species named shad in American rivers and lakes. This shad are plankton feeding fish that can be abundant and both may attain about 45-50 cm. (18-20 in.) The other shad species, also called bluefish or tailor (in Australia), is larger and feeds voraciously on fish throughout its up to 9-year life. They are greyish, blue to green above and lighter below with large eyes and a big mouth armed with a single row of strong, very sharp teeth. Their dorsal fin has sharp spines that point forward and can cause injury during handling. This species can grow to 120 cm. (4 ft.) with a mass of 18 kg. (18 lbs.) but normally they rarely exceed 70 cm.. They undergo large scale spawning migrations annually, spawning in the ocean in spring and summer and moving towards warmer waters in winter.

How to Catch?

The American and European shad are not usually of recreational fishing importance but, commercially, large numbers are caught in nets including in some of the inland lakes. In the USA, however, the American river shad has become popular for bowfishing, especially in the Southern states such as Mississippi. The marine shad, by contrast, is a top recreational angling species in South Africa and Australia. While the marine shad can be caught from charter boats, small skiffs and kayaks in some areas, most recreational fishing is carried out from rocky or sandy shores, cliffs or harbours. The best tackle is light to medium spinning tackle and shad will often aggressively take almost any bait from solid, heavy, shiny spoons to plastics and also both dead or live natural baits. The trick is to avoid the very sharp teeth that can easily cut even strong nylon. A wire trace is the simplest solution to avoid many “cut offs” and lost lures if shad are known to be in an area. Fly fishing for shad can be really exciting and fun and the fish are often right next to the sand or rocks. If the shad are biting the action can be extreme but don’t waste a second while they’re on the bite as they can suddenly lose all interest in taking your bait. Shad are a “seasonal” species in many areas and their arrival is greatly anticipated and often quite predictable. Lastly, be extremely careful as you quickly try and release a small shad, as they also have wickedly sharp teeth.