By Boots Johnson
As the old saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers” which also applies to migrating fish in local rivers. One of these is the Shad which arrives in the Feather and Yuba River in late April. We all know when the cotton pods drop from the trees that it is time to go fishing for shad also known as the poor man’s tarpon.
Shad were not a native fish and were placed in the Sacramento River in 1871. Like the salmon and steelhead plants in the Feather River they headed downstream to the ocean. When they returned to the river they have expanded their presence in all rivers and can be found throughout California and Oregon.
Shad are aggressive fighters. When one hits your lure most anglers are surprised to see the size of the fish when it is landed. A two pound male will fight like a four or five pound striped bass. Most male shad run up to two or three pounds but the female has been reported to get up to eight pounds. The males arrive ahead of the females sort of like the striped bass runs each year.
Shad do not spawn and die like the salmon, but spawn and return to the ocean to then return again and again. Some folks can testify they thought they had on a striped bass and it turned out to be a shad. Shad are fast, very fast in the water and are suckers for lures, spinners, darts and spoons, but will hit bait on a hook. However, their mouths are small and paper thin so it is highly unlikely a person will catch a shad on striped bass gear.
We who live in this area are in prime shade country. The Feather and Yuba River are excellent for shad as well as the American River and the Sacramento. The best time to fish these waters is early in the morning or late in the evening hours. Shad tend to move close to shore during this time and can be caught right next to the bank at the right time of day.
We have fished for shad from shore in the Feather River as well as other areas and by boat. All is needed is a spinning outfit, some shad darts and enough weight to reach the bottom. Cast upstream and follow the lure as it moves with the current. A strike is usual at the end of the drift as the line turns and heads to shore. A fast retrieve will also bring results. Over the years I have caught hundreds of shad, returning almost all to the water.
The biggest shad I caught was in the Feather River a couple of hundred feet downstream from the Fifth Street Bridge. The fish was a female and measured at 23 inches. When she hit my shad dart I thought I had a snag……..but the snag moved and it moved upstream. There were other people on the shore fishing, but only one upriver. He reeled in his line and stepped out of the way. The fish turned and headed downstream. What followed was utterly crazy. Anglers were reeling in and jumping out of the way as I passed with my Mitchell 300 reel drag singing. I had placed the small reel on the fiberglass rod which was filled with four pound test line.
I stumbled and talked to the fish as I continued working my way downstream. People were yelling and some had already thought I had a striper or salmon on the end of the line. It was a couple hundred feet before I managed to bring the big shad to dry land. Everyone around me wanted to see the fish as I quickly measured her and gently placed her back in the water. She laid motionless for a few seconds and then was gone in a flash. What a thrill that evening was!
Boots fishing tip for the week: “If you go shad fishing this year make sure your reel has a loose drag.”