American Shad

American Shad

Alosa sapidissima

Other Names: Alosa sapidissima, meaning “most delicious of herrings


What Is American Shad

American Shad is a species of herring fish who live most of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean but travel upriver to spawn in brackish or freshwater rivers

They are part of the anadromous clupeid species meaning they migrate upriver from the sea to spawn in freshwater, similar to salmon. They are the largest member of the family of ray-finned clupeid fish. 

The American shad weighs anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds and is not closely related to other North American Shads. The Shad migrate more than 12,000 miles during an average five-year lifespan at sea.


American Shad Habitat

American Shad are schooling fish who travel coastal areas until mature. During the spring, summer, and fall, you could see thousands of American Shad at the surface. They tend to go deeper during the winter before the spawning season and are hard to find. 

Those who survived the spawn return to the ocean while leaving their young in the freshwater until fall. The young Shad then spend a year downstream in brackish estuaries before relocating to the sea. They often get hunted by marine predators such as striped bass and harbor seals. 

American Shad Feeding Habits

The American Shad primarily feed on plankton, similar to other herrings. They will also eat small shrimp, fish eggs, worms, and the occasional small fish. During their spawn travels, shad may filter feed but generally eat very little if at all during their journey. They can retain digested food during their migration to survive. 

Shad larvae will feel on their yolk sac for 4 to 7 days after hatching before finding food. Young shad will then feed on insect larvae and zooplankton during their time in the freshwater. 


Spawning Habits of American Shads

American Shad adults travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the east coast rivers of the United States and Canada to spawn. They spawn in Florida’s rivers as early as November or as late as June in northern waters, depending on the temperature. 

Males travel upstream first as the water temperature reaches an optimal 50 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by the females. The peak temperature for spawning is 65.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Shad spawning occurs overnight, starting at sundown and continuing after midnight. Adult females can release up to 600,000 eggs per season. The adults usually leave the tributaries not long after spawning. 

Shad in the North are iteroparous, meaning they will continue this cycle and spawn multiple times throughout their lives. However, the shads native to the south are semelparity, meaning they only participate in a single reproductive season before death.

How to Catch American Shad

Shad often put up a good fight and fall under the sportfish category. Males may jump multiple times during the fight, making them exciting gamefish. Their unique spawning feeding behaviors also add to the excitement. Spring and summer are the best times to catch Shad. It’s easier to catch them when they have returned to the rivers during their spawn migration. As the sun starts to go down, they will get more active. 

Deeper waters often produce more success. They tend to migrate to schools. Work upriver looking for obstructed currently. Like many fish, shad are sensitive to their environment. Cloudy waters and temperature can affect their feeding instincts. 

Where Do Shad Fish Live

The Shad lives across the Atlantic Coast from St. Lawrence River, Canada to St. John’s River, Florida. Over time they have become spread throughout river systems on the West Coast of North America after being introduced to California in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento River system in the 1800s.


Typically light spinning gear with a 4 to 8-pound test line is used by anglers when fishing for Shad. Bright-colored shad darts, spoons, jigs, or small minnow imitation lures along with the light spin rods and reels are best. 

Fly-fishing for shad with a small flashy-tailed Clouser-minnow is becoming increasingly popular. Fly anglers will use different wet flies, including darts, and gold or white soft-bodied streamers. Since shad may not actively feed on their return journey, they are fished for with unique ‘dart’ lures instead of typical bait.

Florida Map Icon


American shad fishing was extremely popular in Central Florida, and the arrival of the first run of the poor man’s salmon was a much anticipated event.
Anglers from across the state of Florida and the eastern Atlantic seaboard swarmed to the St Johns River for the shad run
North Carolina America Shad


Every year, in an event that heralds the coming of spring, large numbers of American shad make their way up several of North Carolina’s coastal rivers to their historic spawning grounds, where shad fishermen eagerly await their arrival. The American shad, commonly known as white shad
Connecticut American Shad


The American shad is the largest of Connecticut’s herring species. In 2003, the American shad was designated Connecticut’s “State Fish.” Until the mid-1700s, eating shad was considered “disreputable,” but the fish gained favor during the Revolutionary War as salmon numbers dwindled.
Canada American Shad


The scientific name of American shad is Alosa sapidissima, meaning “most delicious of herrings.” East coast of Canada and the United States. American shad are broadcast spawners and spawn multiple times. As adults, inhabit the Atlantic Ocean and migrate to east coast rivers of Canada