American Shad Freshwater Fish

The Shad lives across the Atlantic Coast from St. Lawrence River, Canada to St. John’s River, Florida.




Features and behaviors from the American Shad Freshwater Fish Identifier

American shad school swimming right in the Connecticut River, Holyoke, Massachusetts

American Shad Freshwater Fish of America are like salmon, shad are anadromous, spending most of their lives at sea. The water temperature is around 50-55℉, the mood strikes and shad return to the freshwater rivers of their birth to spawn. These “shad runs” back to their native rivers usually begin in January in the St. John’s River in Florida, and proceed, south to north, all the way up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, ending sometime in June.

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.

The American shad has been described as “the fish that fed the (American) nation’s founders”. Adult shad weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 kg (3 and 8 lb),

American Shad Freshwater Fish
American Shad Identifier

American Shad Identifier

Shad, is the largest member of the herring family.

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.

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.

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. 

  • Shad are elongated deep bodied from the side, but quickly tapering near the tail
  • Upper and lower jaw are equally terminal when the mouth is close
  • Silver in color along the sides, with hues of purple and blue in certain lighting
  • An elongated anal fin in the shape of a sickle
  • A sharp keel along the underside

American Shad found in the freshwaters and estuaries feed on zooplankton and insect larvae. Adult American Shad primarily consume shrimp. Occasionally they will eat other organisms such as small fish when they migrate throughout the Atlantic Ocean.


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. 


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.

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