The American Shad is a species of anadromous fish. They are the largest of the river herring family. They are not closely related to the other North American Shads. Rather, it seems to form a lineage that diverged from a common ancestor of the European taxa before these diversified. They have a delicate flavor when cooked. It is considered flavorful enough to not require sauces, herbs or spices. It can be boiled, filleted and fried in butter, or baked.
American Shad weigh an average of around 3 lbs., with fish up to 5 lbs. They are silver-sided with a greenish-blue back. They are deep bodied from the side and narrow and symmetrical from top to bottom and head-on. Their large, easily shed scales come together at belly to form a saw-toothed edge.They also have a row of dark spots on the sides, running back from the gill cover. The upper and lower jaws are equal length when the mouth is closed. The tail fin is deeply forked.
American Shad are also valued as a sport fish that exhibit complex and little-understood feeding behavior while spawning. Unlike salmon, American Shad retain the ability to digest and assimilate food during the anadromous migration. Like other fish, their feeding instinct can be triggered by a variety of factors such as turbidity and water temperature. Anglers use both spinning and fly fishing tackle to pursue American Shad. Spin fisherman use a shad dart or a flutter spoon. Light spincasting rods and reels, with 1/32 to 1/8 oz. should be used when fishing for American Shad. Also, you should use brightly colored shad darts, spoons, jigs, or small minnow imitation lures. Some anglers use a downrigger to place the artificial lure at the desired depth and location. This is usually in the channel, or deepest part of the river. Migrating shad tend to occupy the lower potion of the water column which makes this the typical depth of choice for fishing. In the North, April through June is when American Shad spawn in coastal rivers and estuaries once water temperatures have reached 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 °C). Fishing conditions typically improve as water temperatures warm and flow decreases.
They visit the Chesapeake Bay each spring to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams, including the James, Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. After spawning, American Shad move downstream, leaving the Bay by summer. During spawning season, American Shad can be found in the rivers of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Outside of spawning season, American Shad can be found in the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.