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Shad Run and Shad Flies

Judy Van Put
Posted 5/16/23

The trout fishing has been picking up, with water levels now down a bit below the average flow, making area rivers and streams easier to wade. During Mid-May a whole spate of flies should be hatching …

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Shad Run and Shad Flies


The trout fishing has been picking up, with water levels now down a bit below the average flow, making area rivers and streams easier to wade. During Mid-May a whole spate of flies should be hatching – from small Blue-Winged Olives to Blue Quills and Hendricksons to the larger March Browns – lots of flies are being seen that are encouraging trout to rise and trout fishers to have successful outings.

Mid-May is also is the time of year for the Shad Fly hatch – a prolific hatch of caddis flies that is aptly named, as it coincides with the annual run of American Shad up the Delaware River to spawn. (In addition to the Shad fly, the Shad Bush or Juneberry is also named for the Shad run; it is recognized this time of year for its delicate yet showy white blossoms that clearly stand out against the backdrop of the light green leaves and dark bark.) 

With other caddis flies hatching as well, the Shad Fly can be identified by its dark blue color and visible green egg sac. At times the hatch is so heavy that it appears in swarms, especially over roadways (which are often mistaken for a river or stream in which to lay their eggs) and vehicles and windshields will be covered with the flies and their prominent green egg sacs. Fishing is usually good during the Shad fly hatch, as has been the case recently.

American Shad are anadromous fish, meaning that they are born in freshwater (in our area, the Delaware River), then migrate to the ocean where they will spend three to five years, most of their lives. (The Delaware is an important waterway for American shad, as their spawning success is greatly increased by the fact that the mainstem Delaware contains no dams to hinder their travel.) While in the ocean, shad will migrate along the coast, from as far north as Newfoundland down to Florida (and those introduced on the west coast travel from as far north as Cook Inlet in Alaska down to Baja in Mexico). 

They will feed heavily in the ocean; as on the journey back to their home waters to spawn in the river in which they were born, they do not eat. Amazingly, an American shad may migrate 12,000 or more miles during an average life span! 

Shad are the largest member of the herring family in North America, commonly reaching four to eight pounds in size, and were an important and dependable source of food for Native Americans and early settlers alike, as they migrated by the tens of thousands each spring.

Especially after the long and hard winters of the Northeast, settlers from as far back as the early 1700s invented ways to harvest as many shad as possible, utilizing nets, seines, weirs and fish racks. The large fish were eagerly caught and were salted down in great numbers to preserve them for as long as possible. 

Today Commercial and sport fishermen fish for the delicious full-flavored shad, which are sold to and prepared by top chefs in some of the finest restaurants. Interestingly, the Latin name for the American shad, Alosa sapidissima, translates to “most savory fish”, and they are often referred to as the “Poor Man’s Salmon”; the roe or eggs from the females (Shad roe) are considered a delicacy

This coming weekend marks the Second Annual Festival of the Founding Fish along the Upper Delaware. The festival’s name is a nod to author John McPhee’s excellent book, The Fouding Fish, devoted to the American Shad. 

The Shad Fest begins Friday evening, May 19 with a benefit performance from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Starling Cabaret.  Saturday’s lineup includes events at the Barryville Farmers Market offering music, food and free samples of shad prepared by a Celebrity Chef. 

On Sunday the DRBC and National Park Service have coordinated with fishing groups and guides at the Angler meetup at Fort Delaware, offering tips on equipment and fishing  information. The fun continues that evening at Ft. Delaware’s Shad Shindig, featuring a dance, a live DJ and Shad food offerings. 

The following Sunday, May 28, marks the 20-Year Designation of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway as well as the closing of the Festival of the Founding Fish. 

To commemorate both events, Sullivan County Historian John Conway will guide and lead a special voyage along the byway; the 71-mile ride will begin in Port Jervis at 11:00 am, and travel to Hancock, NY, arriving between 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. with a lunch stop at  Cochecton Fire Station along the way. The return trip will end up back in Port Jervis at 6 p.m., with stops in Callicoon and Pond Eddy for drinks and treats. 

For more information, please visit https://www.festivalofthefoundingfish.com/


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