Shad: because they’re there

A shad is reeled in by an angler on the Columbia River. Well over a million American shad run up the Columbia each summer.
A shad is reeled in by an angler on the Columbia River. Well over a million American shad run up the Columbia each summer.

CAMAS, Wash. – Shad have been labeled as herring on steroids and the piscatorial Rodney Dangerfield.

Although some anglers eat them, they are better as crab bait or fertilizer buried in the rose garden.

Still, shad should get some respect. They are good sport when caught on light gear, and no other fish is streaming up the Columbia River by the millions this month.

“I like to go out, catch a dozen or more, then I’ve had my fix until next year,” said Dick Borneman, a Vancouver angler. “They are kind of fun to catch although they can be maddening, too.”

Shad are fickle. A location might produce a boatload of shad today and none tomorrow.

In 2009, there were 21,217 fishing trips for shad in the lower Columbia with a kept catch of 81,144 and 3,748 released.

Eighty-nine percent of the catch came near Bonneville Dam, 4 percent in the Camas-Washougal area and the remaining 7 percent was split throughout the balance of the lower Columbia.

Small lures called shad darts produce good catches. Size 1 Dick Nite thin-bladed spoons work well, particularly nickel and brass finishes with either a red or chartreuse head.

Guide Jack Glass of Troutdale, who fishes for shad in the Camas area, said outgoing tides are best.

“At Camas, the river runs harder on an outgoing tide,” Glass said. “Shad seem to run harder and bite better then.”

When the Columbia is high, he anchors in 10 feet. If the water is lower, 17-18 feet is about the right depth.

Wil Morrison, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Vancouver office, has developed a simple set-up that works very well for shad:

•Start with a No. 6 open-eye siwash hook.

•Slide a No. 7 gold barrel swivel on the hook and pinch the eye closed.

•Tie this on a 58-inch leader of 12-pound-test line.

•Slide on a 7/32-inch solid brass bead.

•Tie it all to a three-way swivel and add a 20-inch dropper.

“It’s really a sunny-day lure,” Morrison said. “On a dark day, pull off the brass bead and put on a red one.”

Shad like current. Fish where the Columbia is moving along at a good pace, not in the soft water.

Use a landing net if you want to keep shad. They have a soft mouth.

Also, bleed them right away if planning to eat them. Tear a gill right after you catch them so the heart pumps the blood out through the gills.

On the net: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has published a complete primer on fishing for shad online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/ (Search “shad”).

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