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American River Shad

Tackle: 6-7 foot light-med action spinning rod with 6 lb line, 6-8 wt fly rod
Lures: 1 inch pink grubs, crappie jigs, shad darts, 'shad flies'
Location: American River, Feather River, Sacramento River
Season: May and June

Shad fishing is a lot like crappie fishing. Except that shad average around 2-3 pounds and are one of the best fighting fish in California. Shad live in the ocean most the year but come up the Sacramento River (among others) to spawn in May and June. They feed on plankton only, so you can't catch them any time else. In the rivers they will strike small flies and jigs, but they don't feed at all until they go back to the ocean.

By late May the fish will be in the American River in full force. My favorite spots include Paradise Beach, Watt Ave, and Sailor Bar. Shad stay in one place during the day, and then shoot up riffles during the morning and evening. Therefore, the best fishing in the morning and evening will be in faster water, and during the day they will bunch up in deeper holes. Late in the evening the fishing is best, because they spread all out as they run upstream. But fishing during the day can be very, very good if you find out where they hole up.

I normally fish for shad with light spinning gear. They provide a terrific fight on an ultralight rod with 6 pound test. My best lure is a 1/32 oz pink jighead with a 1 inch pink (champagne) colored curly tail grub. I fish this about 6 feet underneath a small bobber. You can also effectively fish the grub by just placing a small split shot a foot or two above it. However, I like the bobber because I can see strikes better.

I always fish from shore. Chest waders and felt soled wading shoes are a good idea so you can reach the fish easier. Find a likely looking spot, and wade up to a point where you can reach it with a long cast, and so the spot where you think the fish are is directly in front of you, or slightly downstream. Cast your rig upstream and let it drift down naturally. You don't want your bobber dragging across the current, but you also have to control the slack so you can set the hook effectively. At the end of the drift let the jig swim in the current for a little while. The fish will hit it as it swings across the river at the end of the drift.

Fly fishing for shad isn't quite as effective. But is definitely more fun. You will need either a shooting head or a weight-forward sink tip line. The sink rate depends on the depth of the fish and the strength of the current. Use a fairly short leader and a 6 pound tippet. My best flies have been small, and white/pink seems to be the best color. The technique is similar to fishing the jig with a spinning rod, except you will get much more bites on the "swing" with a flyrod.


Offsite Links:
Flyfishing for shad on the American River by Alan Barnard
Spring: Shad by Alan Fong

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