Intro to Upper Bay Shad Fishing – Fish & Hunt

Intro to Upper Bay Shad Fishing

Posted on: June 3, 2020 By: FHMD

If you are looking for a way to follow social distancing guidelines and have some fun in the fresh air, it’s time to try your hand at shad fishing.

 Seasoned anglers say the time to go shad fishing is when the dogwood trees are in bloom. Hickory shad start showing in the upper bay tributaries by mid-March; the run peaks in late April and goes into early June. The larger and more sought after American shad are here and people come from miles around to get in on the upper bay shad fishing action.

American and hickory shad are a schooling fish in the herring family. They are a highly migratory species. Shad are anadromous, meaning they live in the ocean, and migrate into fresh water to spawn. Increased water temperatures and longer days prompt the arduous journey. Nearly every river on the Atlantic Coast once had a robust shad spawn. Historically, the shad runs were so abundant people believed they could never be overfished. Decades ago, some farmers even used shad for fertilizer. Poor water quality, over-fishing, and dams blocking vital spawning areas added to the collapse of shad stocks. 

American shad and to a lesser degree, hickory shad stocks are way down, and have been for some time. A moratorium on keeping shad has been in effect in Maryland since 1980. Fortunately, catch and release fishing for shad is still allowed. Hickory shad are abundant compared to American shad, but because the two species are so similar in appearance, both species are designated as catch and release.  

Anglers can catch both species of shad below Conowingo Dam and along the lower Susquehanna River from Deer Creek to Lapidum. Most shad anglers wade in the rivers wearing hip-boots or chest-waders. Others prefer to fish from a small boat or kayak. Seeing anglers reeling in hickory shad on almost every cast is a familiar sight. Some anglers use hand tally clicker-counters to keep track of their catch numbers. Counting one hundred hickory shad in a day is not uncommon. 

The Gunpowder River off of Jones Road on Route 40 is another well-known springtime shad fishing spot. It’s a short hike from the unpaved parking lot to the river. This somewhat remote wooded area is part of Gunpowder Falls State Park. Friendly and helpful Department of Natural Resources officers patrol here regularly.

Maryland has plenty of places to shad fish. Check the DNR website www.dnr.maryland.gov/Fisheries/ for shad hotspots, fishing reports, and lots of other useful information. Anglers are encouraged to participate in DNR’s online shad survey. You might win a new fishing hat in the DNR quarterly drawing.

Fighting shad on light tackle is a thrill. Shad pull hard and make acrobatic leaps earning the nickname of Poor Man’s Tarpon. I recommend a light to medium spinning rod paired with a size 1000 or 2000 reel spooled with 6 or 8lb test monofilament line. Fly anglers would do well with a 5 or 6 weight outfit.

There are many productive shad lures. One proven lure is a Tony Accetta spoon, size 13 in gold or silver. Some days, small shad darts rigged in tandem work better than Tony spoons. Catching two shad at a time often occurs using a tandem rig. Some anglers swear by the success of certain shad dart colors. Orange and green, red and white or pink and black darts all seem to catch shad with equal results. Whatever lures you choose, use barbless, single hook lures. It’s safer and much easier to release shad with the barb mashed down on the hook. 

If you are new to the sport and don’t know much about shad fishing, don’t worry. There are often experienced anglers on the river willing to share their shad fishing tips. These folks understand that passing on their knowledge is important to future generations of shad fishing fans. 

You can purchase your Maryland Fishing License online, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. 

Tim Campbell, a Maryland native, has fished the Chesapeake Bay for many years. He is an award winning member of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association. 

Be sure to visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources online for more information on seasons and regulations before heading out!

In need of additional inspiration? Check out Fish & Hunt Maryland’s latest articles written by fellow sportsmen and local partners.

When it’s time to travel again and you’re planning the next trip, check out the Plan Your Trip section of the Fish &Hunt Maryland’s website to find lodging, fishing charters/guides, and outdoor retailer options.