How To Fish For Shad

Shad, particularly the American shad, are a popular target among freshwater anglers due to their spirited fight and historical significance. These migratory fish return to freshwater rivers to spawn, offering anglers a unique fishing opportunity each spring. Fishing for shad requires understanding their migratory patterns, preferred habitat, and effective fishing techniques. This guide will delve into the essentials of shad fishing, including the fishing setup, the best baits and lures, effective fishing techniques, the optimal times to fish for shad, where to catch them, and the recommended fishing gear and tools.

Shad Fishing Setup

The most common tackle to catch Shad involves light to medium action rods paired with spinning or baitcasting reels. An ideal rod length is between 6 to 7 feet, which provides the necessary sensitivity to detect Shad’s light bite and the flexibility to handle their energetic fights. Reels should be spooled with 6 to 10-pound test line, which offers a good balance between strength and the ability to cast small lures and rigs effectively.

The best setup for Shad fishing typically includes using small jigs, spoons, or spinners that mimic the appearance and movement of the small baitfish Shad feed on. A popular choice is a 1/16 to 1/8 ounce jig head paired with a 2 to 4-inch plastic grub or shad dart. The lightweight setup allows for precise casting in areas where Shad are likely to be found, such as near riverbanks, eddies, or below dams during their spawning runs.

The best rig for Shad is often considered to be the Shad dart rig or a tandem rig setup. This involves tying a shad dart on the end of your line and then attaching a dropper line 12 to 18 inches above it, to which another jig or dart is tied. This setup increases your chances of catching Shad by presenting two lures at different depths simultaneously. It’s effective because Shad travel in schools, and having two lures can mimic a small group of baitfish, making it more attractive to the Shad.

Best Bait For Shad

Shad primarily feed on small fish, crustaceans, and various aquatic insects, making their diet quite diverse. This feeding behavior allows anglers to use a variety of baits and lures to target them effectively.

The best live bait for Shad includes small minnows or grass shrimp, which closely mimic their natural prey. When using live bait, it’s crucial to hook the bait in a way that keeps it alive and swimming naturally to attract Shad. For small minnows, hooking them through the lips or the back near the dorsal fin works well, while grass shrimp can be hooked through the tail. These baits are best presented under a float or bobber, adjusted to keep the bait at or just above the depth where Shad are feeding.

When it comes to artificial lures, small spoons, spinners, and jigs are among the best lures for catching Shad. These lures imitate the small baitfish Shad prey upon. A 1/16 to 1/8 ounce jig head paired with a soft plastic body in silver, white, or chartreuse can be particularly effective. The key to using these lures is to retrieve them in a manner that mimics a fleeing or distressed baitfish. This can be achieved through a combination of steady retrieves, occasional jerks, or pauses, which can provoke a reaction strike from the Shad.

Shad Fishing Techniques

Casting and Retrieving Small Lures

One of the most common and effective techniques for catching Shad is casting and retrieving small lures. This method involves using lightweight spinning tackle to cast small jigs, spoons, or spinners. The setup typically includes a light to medium action rod, 6 to 7 feet in length, paired with a spinning reel spooled with 6 to 10-pound test line. The ideal lure size ranges from 1/16 to 1/8 ounce. This technique is most effective in areas where Shad are actively feeding, such as near the surface or around structures in the water. The key is to mimic the movement of small baitfish, using a steady retrieve with occasional pauses or twitches to attract the Shad’s attention.

Drifting with Natural Baits

Drifting with natural baits, such as small minnows or grass shrimp, is another highly effective technique for Shad fishing. This approach involves allowing the current to naturally carry the bait through areas where Shad are likely to be holding or feeding. A simple setup can be used, consisting of a light to medium action rod, a spinning reel with 6 to 10-pound test line, and a small hook with a split shot sinker placed a foot or two above the hook to keep the bait at the desired depth. This technique is particularly effective in rivers during the Shad’s spawning runs, as it presents the bait in a natural manner, mimicking the behavior of the prey that Shad feed on.

Trolling Small Lures

Trolling small lures behind a moving boat is an excellent technique for covering larger areas of water and locating schools of Shad. The setup for trolling includes a light to medium action rod and a reel spooled with 6 to 10-pound test line, using small spoons, spinners, or crankbaits as lures. The speed of the troll should be adjusted to ensure that the lures are moving just fast enough to maintain their action, mimicking the movement of small fish. This technique is most effective in larger bodies of water, such as lakes or large rivers, where Shad might be scattered, and pinpointing their location requires covering more ground.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for Shad can be both challenging and rewarding, using lightweight fly rods and reels with floating or sinking line, depending on the water depth and conditions. Flies that mimic small baitfish or aquatic insects, such as streamers or small nymphs, are effective. This technique involves casting upstream and allowing the fly to drift down through areas where Shad are feeding, with occasional stripping of the line to give the fly movement. Fly fishing for Shad is most effective in rivers during their spawning runs, offering a unique and exciting way to target these fish with a high degree of finesse.

Best Time To Catch Shad

Shad spawn in the spring, making this season the best time of year to catch them. This period is ideal because Shad migrate upstream to freshwater rivers to spawn, making them more accessible and concentrated in specific areas. Anglers take advantage of this migration by targeting rivers and streams where Shad are known to run, using various fishing techniques to catch them.


During spring, the best time to catch Shad is in the early morning or late evening. These times are when Shad are most active and likely to feed, making them more susceptible to lures and baits. The best technique for spring Shad fishing is casting and retrieving small lures, such as jigs and spoons, in areas where Shad are spawning or traveling upstream. This method allows anglers to mimic the small fish and insects that Shad feed on, enticing them to bite.


In summer, Shad can be found in deeper, cooler waters of rivers and lakes after their spawning season has ended. The best time to catch Shad during this season is during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Trolling small lures or drifting with natural baits in deeper channels and near underwater structures can be particularly effective, as Shad tend to congregate in these cooler, oxygen-rich areas during the heat of the day.


Fall can still offer good opportunities for catching Shad, especially early in the season before they begin their migration back to the ocean. During this time, focus on fishing during the warmer parts of the day, as Shad will be more active in seeking food to build energy reserves for their journey. Using techniques such as casting small lures or fly fishing with streamers can be effective, particularly in areas where Shad are starting to group together for their migration.


Winter is the least favorable time to catch Shad, as most have migrated back to the ocean or are holding in deep, slow-moving waters where they are less active. However, in regions where Shad populations remain in freshwater systems year-round, targeting them in deep holes with slow-moving jigs or weighted flies can sometimes yield success. It’s important to focus on the warmest part of the day, as this is when Shad are most likely to be active.

Where To Find Shad

The best locations for Shad in the US are primarily on the East Coast, where rivers and estuaries provide ideal spawning grounds for these migratory fish. Notable hotspots include the Delaware River, the Hudson River, and the rivers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, such as the Potomac and James Rivers. These areas offer abundant Shad during their spring migration, making them prime locations for anglers.

Delaware River

The Delaware River is renowned for its excellent Shad fishing, especially during the spring migration. Here, casting and retrieving small lures like jigs and spoons from the riverbanks or boats is highly effective. Anglers often find success near tributary mouths and areas with slight current breaks, where Shad tend to congregate.

Hudson River

The Hudson River offers another fantastic venue for Shad fishing, with the area around the George Washington Bridge being particularly productive. Fly fishing with streamers that mimic small baitfish is an effective technique in this location. Anglers should focus on slower-moving water adjacent to faster currents, where Shad pause during their upstream journey.

Potomac River

In the Potomac River, trolling small spoons or jigs behind a slowly moving boat can yield excellent results. This technique allows anglers to cover a lot of water and find active schools of Shad. Areas near falls or where tributaries enter the main river are hotspots for Shad fishing.

James River

The James River is well-suited for drifting natural baits, such as minnows or grass shrimp, under a float. This method is particularly effective in slower, deeper pools where Shad rest during their migration. The natural presentation of the bait can entice even the most reluctant Shad to bite.


In Ohio, Shad can be found in several rivers and reservoirs, with the Ohio River being a notable location for Shad fishing. While not as famous as the East Coast rivers for Shad runs, the Ohio River and its tributaries host populations of shad, including both gizzard and threadfin shad, which serve as important forage for other game fish. Fishing for Shad in Ohio often involves using techniques suited for still waters, such as casting small jigs or spoons from shore or boats.

Best Shad Fishing Gear And Tools

The best fishing gear for Shad includes a specific set of equipment tailored to the unique challenges of targeting this migratory species. Each piece of gear plays a crucial role in enhancing the angler’s ability to locate, hook, and land Shad effectively.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for Shad should be light to medium action, allowing for the sensitivity needed to detect the subtle bites of Shad and the flexibility to handle their energetic fights. A rod length of 6 to 7 feet is perfect for casting small lures or baits with precision, especially in crowded spawning rivers or along banks. Such a rod enables accurate casting of lightweight lures and provides enough backbone to manage Shad effectively once hooked.

Fishing Line

A monofilament or braided fishing line with a test strength of 6 to 10 pounds is best suited for Shad fishing. The line should offer a balance between being strong enough to withstand the fight of a Shad and thin enough to allow small lures and baits to move naturally in the water. A thinner line also helps in making longer, more precise casts, which is often necessary when targeting specific areas where Shad are known to congregate.

Fishing Reel

A spinning reel matches perfectly with the light to medium action rod recommended for Shad fishing. The reel should have a smooth drag system to handle the sudden runs Shad are known for. A reel size of 2000 to 2500 is ideal, as it provides enough line capacity for long casts and enough retrieval speed to keep up with fast-moving Shad, while also being lightweight to maintain overall gear balance.

Fish Finder

A fish finder is an invaluable device for locating Shad, especially in larger rivers or reservoirs where they can be difficult to find. The ideal fish finder should offer clear sonar imaging to identify schools of Shad and distinguish between different types of underwater structures. Features like GPS mapping can also be helpful for marking productive fishing spots. A portable fish finder with good battery life is best for beginner anglers who can spend more time fishing and less time guessing where the fish are.