American Shad Fishing - Bonneville Dam

• American shad was introduced to the West Coast from the East Coast in 1871
• The Columbia River has the largest shad run in the Pacific Northwest

Seth Green introduced American shad to the West Coast from the East Coast in 1871. Affectionately nicknamed the poor man’s salmon, the fish is known for having exquisite meat with a delicious taste.

Despite its origins in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the current West Coast variety of the American shad is the only documented anadromous shad in the Pacific. It means that, even though this species can live for 6-10 years in its preferred habitat, it has migrate into freshwater during spawning.

The spawning starts at the beginning of spring as shad begins its journey to the rivers far upstream. However, the journey’s conditions are harsh, and many fish do not survive.

American Shad History

American shad appeared in the accounts throughout American history. However, only in 1778 was American shad documented as a viable food source. George Washington and his men caught it in the Schuylkill River in Delaware. Washington was also quoted as saying that had it not been for this fine fish, he and his troops would have struggled to survive the harsh winter.


Similar accounts can be found during the Civil War. For example, American shad was mentioned in relation to the Battle of Five Forks in 1865. Major General George E. Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee attended a shad bake, a small-town tradition, where shad is caught and cooked in large quantities. The attendees were so engrossed in the process that they missed the enemy attack.American Shad Bonneville Dam

The fish eventually became part of the Virginia-based ritual called shad planking. The townsfolk would gather to witness the shad bake and then celebrate the occasion by eating the fish. The process was accompanied by the consumption of beer and tobacco smoking.

It was not until 1871 when American shad was delivered to the Pacific Coast.

Where and How to Fish for American Shad

Today, American shad is widely available for fishing on the West Coast,including Oregon and Washington. The best time for shad fishing is the spawning season, which occurs in spring and early summer, when you will find plenty of fish that is easy to catch.

It is recommended to face the strongest current, as it is the easiest way to catch fish going upstream. The commonly recommended equipment for this type of fishing weighs from 1 to 3 oz. and hooks with yellow-green or white-red jigs to attract the fish.

The Columbia River has the largest shad run, with millions passing through the Bonneville Dam. Other places for shad fishing are the John Day Dam, Willamette River below Willamette Falls, Umpqua River, and Siuslaw River.

Shad fishing map Columbia River

Nutrition Facts

American shad is rich in protein, unsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. Physicians recommend eating cold-water fish at least twice or thrice weekly to prevent cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression. In addition, 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 remains a favorite of Oregon’s anglers. Moreover, it has become a symbol of America’s impressive fishing history.


Cooking Tips

This meaty and juicy fish with lots of beneficial properties has one big flaw– it contains a lot of hard bones. Properly filleted shad and shad roe are considered delicacies on the East Coast and in Europe. Those are, however, almost completely ignored in the Pacific Northwest.

American shad may be grilled, baked, fried, steamed, or smoked.

Shad Roe Frying

  • Wash the skein carefully in order not to break the membrane
  • Dry with paper towels
  • Dust the roe with all-purpose flour, lightly coating it
  • Melt butter or margarine over medium heat
  • Place roe into the pan and cook both sides until it turns brown (about 10 minutes)
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shad Fillets Barbecuing

  • Barbecue fillets on a 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 the fish into the pan
  • Cook both sides, until it is brown (about 10-15 minutes).

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1 Comment

  1. I am learning to fish for shad on the Umpqua River and catching a few. However, my neighbor is a fisheries scientist and retired from ODFW says that shad from the Pacific (not the Atlantic) contain a parasite and should not be eaten by humans. Is he correct? Is it dangerous to eat shad from Oregon rivers?

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