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Shad Fest 2020!

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

It's Shad Season int the Pacific Northwest!

June is the month when American Shad migrate up the Columbia River, so I left work around 4:00 today, and headed up to Bonneville Dam to see if I could catch a few of these feisty fish.

Here is a little information on Columbia River Shad according to Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s website: You can link to this information HERE

"Unlike salmon and steelhead, shad are not native to the Columbia. They were introduced to the Pacific Coast from the Atlantic coast by a man named Seth Green, one of the nation’s first and best-known fish culturists. Green planted 10,000 in the Sacramento River in 1871. Five years later shad were being captured in the Columbia River and in 1880 the shad invasion was confirmed by fish scientist David Starr Jordan, who sent a specimen to the Smithsonian Institution where it is preserved to this day.

Like salmon and steelhead, shad are anadromous. Biologically part of the herring family of fish, they spawn in the mainstem Columbia River primarily above Bonneville Dam and also in the Willamette River of Oregon. Shad go to the ocean as adults, returning to spawn when they are three to five years of age. The run peaks in June. Unlike salmon and steelhead, shad spawn in open water rather than laying eggs on gravel. Also unlike salmon, shad can make the round trip to the ocean several times and spawn additional generations."

Last year over 7.5 million shad crossed over Bonneville dam. This has created an amazing sport fishery that is great for kids and adults. If you are looking for a great way to introduce your kids to fishing, I highly recommend paying for a 1/2 day trip with a guide. The action is constant, and it is a great way to get kids hooked on the sport! You can also take them to Bonneville, but it is pretty snaggy and the action will not be as good as fishing out of a boat.

Although some people like to eat shad, I freeze it and use it for crab bait. This is another way to get kids involved in the outdoors. Using the fish they caught for crab bait is a great way to have kids see how what they caught can translate into a great family meal of fresh Dungeness Crab!

Columbia River Shad at Bonneville Dam, Washington

Upon arriving at Bonneville (on the Washington side of the river) It was obvious that the shad were running because there were lots of fishermen lining the bank. I found an empty parking spot, grabbed my gear and headed down to the bank. I claimed my spot between two other anglers, tied up my gear and I was ready to go. For my presentation I rigged a 9’ Wright McGill Steelhead Spinning rod with a 3/4 ounce Eagle Claw Trolling Sinker, and a 5 foot leader attached to a size 1 Dick Nite spoon. To make it more enticing for the shad, I put some Pautzke Garlic Fire Gel on to help stimulate the bite.

Bill Matthews Outdoors
Dick Nite Spoons with Pautzke Garlic Fire Gel and Eagle Claw Hooks getting it done on Columbia River Shad!

I landed 4 shad in about an hour, which was pretty good compared to the other anglers around me, and called it a day. I really think the Pautzke Garlic Fire Gel made a big difference!

Bill Matthews Outdoors
Shad Fest 2020!

Before I put the fish in the freezer I made a Gyotaku of one of the Shad. Here is how it turned out. I love the detail on the scales!

Still learning how to do this, but I love how the scales turned out of this shad!

It was a fantastic way to spend my evening, and I hope to do it again before the run is over.

Thanks for reading.



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