Hickory shad is an member of the herring family Clupeidae. It is an anadromous fish species, meaning that it spawns in freshwater portions of rivers but spends most of its life at sea. It is subject to fishing, both historic and current, but it is often confused with or simply grouped together with catch statistics for American Shad.
The Hickory Shad weigh an average of around 1 lb., with a maximum of around 2 lbs. They are silver-sided with a grayish-green back and a prominent dark spot, followed by a row of lighter spots (especially when fresh) on the upper part of the side just behind the gill cover. The body is long but compressed, asymmetrical from top to bottom and the cross section is wedge-shaped. The lower jaw protrudes significantly beyond the upper jaw when the mouth is closed. Each scale on the sides has a small dark spot.
Anglers use both spinning and fly fishing tackle to pursue Hickory Shad. Spin fisherman use a shad dart or a flutter spoon. Typically, a downrigger is used to place the artificial lure at the desired depth and location. This is usually in the channel, or deepest part of the river. Much of the shad's migration places them in the lower portion of the water column which makes this the typical depth of choice for fishing.
Except in unusual conditions, Hickory Shad stay fairly deep, requiring weight on the line or fly. Many fly fishermen use an unusual 1/64 oz. "micro-jig", that resembles a tiny casting bass jig, although it commonly has short nylon feathering to the rear. Hickory Shad can be taken either by slow trolling or drift casting, i.e. casting upriver and letting the lure drift with the current. Most fishermen use a Y-shaped "shad rig", consisting of two lures spaced one to two feet apart, with a weight on a swiveled line between them or in front of them. The two lures are either two "shad darts" -- a very small bright jig (as small as 1/64 oz., but usually 1/4 oz. and about one inch long), or a shad dart in front and a spoon spinner in back. Sometimes a live grub is threaded onto the dart. The Hickory Shad stay near the bottom unless the water is unusually high, so the rig is designed to keep the lure a foot off the bed.
Hickory Shad ranges from northern Florida to the Gulf of Maine. The largest populations occur in Chesapeake Bay and coastal North Carolina. It is a schooling anadromous species that inhabits marine waters, probably never far from land. Adults enter estuaries and freshwater tributaries from the St. John's River, Florida, to the Patuxent River, Maryland,to spawn during the spring.