Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat (Fishing the Delaware Shad Run)

Fishing the Delaware Shad Run, Delaware River, Trenton, NJ

(610) 954-0577 (Shad Hotline)   Website   

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Every Spring, as the water begins to warm up, American Shad start schooling in Delaware Bay. When the water warms sufficiently (usually by the end of March or early April) the fish start to move upstream, a trickle at first, and then by the tens of thousands, preparing for the long swim up to the headwaters of the Delaware and their spawning grounds.

In a good year, nearly a million fish will pass underneath the Calhoun Street bridge. When the run is peaking, you’ll see dozens of boats anchored in the current, filled with fishermen hoping to hook into one. Many of the fish range between 4 and 6 pounds…and even a small one will give an angler a wonderful fight, especially on light tackle.

The American shad is a heavyweight among freshwater fish, a bruiser that, pound for pound, can outslug any trout or bass. It hits a lure with wrist-jolting force, makes gear-jamming runs, and rarely concedes a battle even when it’s whipped. (Dennis Scholl, Delaware River Shad Fisherman’s Association)

Shad make great eating. It was the shad run up the Schuylkill River that relieved the famine at Valley Forge, and allowed Washington’s army to regain fighting fitness (despite the English army’s attempt to string nets to keep the fish downstream). Historically, in the Delaware Valley, Shad has been an important protein source. Today, it’s considered a delicacy, especially the Roe (which turns up as an appetizer at the Four Season’s menu in New York City for about $40).

Best fishing access is using a boat, though you can wade some parts of the stream, or fish from the banks, especially on the Morrisville, PA side (your NJ license is still good). If you want to use a canoe, your best bet is to set up a car shuttle and launch north of town, then drift down into Trenton. You definitely don’t want to try to paddle any distance against the current.

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