Despite sharing the water with similar fish in the Atlantic Ocean, where they originate from, the current west coast variety of American shad are the only documented anadromous shad in the Pacific, meaning that they must migrate during their spawning season into fresh water.
Spawning starts at the beginning of spring as shad begins its journey to the rivers far upstream.
Anadromous species of shad can live for as long as 6-10 years in their preferred habitats, although the travelling during migration can be the cause of death for many fish given the often harsh conditions they must face on the journey.
American Shad History
Noted in accounts spanning many centuries of American history, the appearance of the American Shad as a viable food source was first documented in 1778 when George Washington and his men caught some shad while fishing in Delaware’s Schuylkill River. Washington was also documented as saying that had it not been for the capture of these fine fish then he and his troops would’ve struggled to survive the harsh winter.
A similar account can be found from the Civil War, with the fish making an appearance at the Battle of Five Forks in 1865. Major General George E. Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were noted at the time as attending a shad bake, a small-town tradition where shad are caught and cooked in great quantity, which unfortunately caused them to be unprepared for an ensuing enemy attack.
The fish eventually became part of a Virginia-based ritual called shad planking in which townsfolk gather for to witness the shad bake and then celebrate the occasion by eating the fish while also consuming beer and tobacco.
It wasn’t until 1871 that American Shad were officially delivered to the Pacific Coast and it is here that they still reside today.
Where and How to Fish for American Shad
Now American shad is widely available to be fished in the West Coast locations including Oregon and Washington states. The best time for shad fishing is the spawning season in the spring and early summer when you will find plenty of fish that are easy to catch.
A great tip for anyone on the hunt for shad is to face the strongest current possible as it’s the easiest way to catch fish swimming upstream. The most commonly recommended equipment for this type of fishing is weight from 1 to 3 oz. and hooks with yellow-green or white-red jigs as these are the most attractive to the fish.
The Columbia River has the largest shad run with millions of shads passing the Bonneville Dam. Other places for shad fishing: John Day Dam, Willamette River below Willamette Falls, Umpqua River, and Siuslaw River.
American Shad is rich in protein, unsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. Physicians recommend eating cold water fish at least two or three times per week to prevent cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression. Shad is considered relatively less likely to be contaminated by hazardous substances such as mercury, PCBs, dioxins. and pesticides.
American shad is a stable species that continues to be a favorite for Oregon anglers and has even become a symbol of an impressive history of fishing in America.
How to cook?
The meaty and juicy fish with high oil content has one disadvantage - a lot of small bones. Properly filleted shad and shad roe are considered the great delicacies on the East Coast and in Europe and unutilized on the Pacific Northwest. American shad may be grilled, baked, fried, steamed and smoked.
Shad Roe Frying
Wash the skein carefully, not to break the membrane;
Dry with paper towels;
Dust the roe with all-purpose flour, lightly coating;
Melt butter or margarine over medium heat;
Place roe on the pan and cook both sides, until it is brown (about 10 minutes);
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Shad Fillets Barbecuing
Barbecue fillets on perforated foil over direct heat;
Use Lemon-Butter or Basil-Parmesan Marinade.
Shad Fillets Frying
Season fillets to taste with salt and pepper;
Cover them with all-purpose flour, crumb or cornmeal;
Place a frying pan over medium heat;
Add oil (2 tablespoons) and heat until oil ripples;
Add butter (2 tablespoons) and wait until it is melted;
Place shad in the pan;
Cook both sides, until it is brown (about 10-15 minutes).