Feel like a road trip? Then head west to experience an on fire fishery that’s occurring on the Delaware River from Trenton north to Worthington State Forest in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Going into its second weekend of rod’n reel migration mayhem, the annual springtime “Shad Run” will continue through the Memorial Day weekend and possibly beyond, and there are already reports of this acier-toned, well-muscled migrant fresh in from the Atlantic already being caught up at the Montague-Milford Bridge in Sussex County.

Big numbers of American shad, the largest member of the herring clan, are on the upriver spawning trek, and these movements usually occur in waves, with bucks (males) first followed by females (roes). The initial push is in progress, with a second most likely underway, as there are reports of fish being caught around Bordentown below Trenton. The later run will have a mix of bucks and roes.

The bucks will average 2-3.5 lbs., with roes generally in the 4.5-7 lb. class, although they can be heavier predicated on the load of roe they are carrying.

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The current New Jersey record is 11-lbs. 1-oz, and was caught in 1981.

This is primarily a boat fishery, but there are devotees of the shoreline walk-and-cast game. Exponentially more shad will be caught from a floater anchored mid-river and/or bordering a channel with darts and flutter spoons in dead stick mode, but if you happen upon a deeper hole or run within casting distance of the bank, some good scores can be made. Besides flutter spoons and darts, we’ve experienced good results casting metals such as the Phoebe, Little Cleo, and Mepps Syclops.

This a light and ultra-lite tackle endeavor, and as the shad move and/or hold just above the bottom, be aware that the loss of hardware is guaranteed. Shad go absolutely bat-bleep crazy when hooked and will frequently launch skyward. This is a light tackle (some go to ultra-light) endeavor, and as the shad move and hold close to the bottom, be aware that the loss of hardware is guaranteed.

Captain Dom Troisi from Full Draw Bowfishing runs daily charters for shad out of Trenton in between nighttime bow safaris, and so far he’s pleased with the action. Says the skipper, “This spring’s run has been very steady and the fishing is getting better by the day. More fish are on the way up, so the hot bite should continue into May.” Troisi’s consistent success in the Delaware River’s shad game is well-known among anglers and fellow guides.

Capt. Dom Troisi
Capt. Dom Troisi

Those wanting to try for shad from their own vessel will find numerous launching sites along the river, some free and some with a fee. Google Delaware River Boat Launching sites for information.

Bank access is hit-or-miss, with Washington Crossing State Park, the D&R Canal State Park, the stretch of Route 46 East in Columbia, the Kittatinny Beach section and Worthington State Forest shoreline in the DWGNRA all choice locations.

The daily limit is three fish.

Are the notoriously bony shad good to eat? We like the roe even more than those of the yellow and white perch. Insofar as the flesh itself, we’ve had planked shad, baked shad, grilled shad, and fried shad, all prepared so as to minimize the nuisance of the hairline bones. It’s okay, but suffice to say unless it’s a roe-laden female, the fish is going back.

To learn more about this “poor man’s salmon” and updates on the migration, visit the Delaware River Shad Fisherman’s Association website.

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