Wednesday, March 19, 2003 Bucks County, Pennsylvania

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Gary Mauz has been fishing the Delaware River since he was a child. As an adult, he has made his love for fishing pay off as proprietor of Delaware River Fly Fishing Guide Service. The American shad is the largest member of the herring family, with adults reaching four to eight pounds. As we approach the shad season, we present Gary's shad wisdom and some tips on landing this popular game fish.

Spring is on the way and so are the shad. As the snow melts and the spring river flows start warming, the shad will begin their annual spawning migration from the Atlantic Ocean up the Delaware River. Every spring I know the shad are running when I see the yellow Forsythia bloom in March and April.

The season for shad is March through May. Water temperatures are still on the colder side, and it is easy to get hypothermia if you unexpectedly enter the water, so it is very important to consider the safety of yourself and others. Dress warmly, and wear a safety belt around your waist to prevent cold water from entering your waders. A life preserver is a must whenever you are fishing the Delaware River.

Fishing for Shad

Shad - Poor Man's SalmonThe shad are looking for the easiest way to make their journey up the Delaware River. They're usually in the deeper part of the main channel, where the current isn't as strong. When the river has high flows you can also find the shad along the river bank. Shad is sometimes called "poor man's salmon" for its fierce fighting ability. Because the shad are running up the deeper areas of the river, we're using full sinking fly lines. A stripping basket is necessary because it helps store the fly line and provides longer casting distances. Full sinking fly lines are difficult to cast. The standard way of casting a fly line is with a tight loop. With the sinking fly lines, it is important to cast with an open loop; this will cause less tangling and fewer knots in the line.

I start off with a cast up and across stream, letting the line and fly sink to the bottom and dead drift. If I don't get any hits I will do the same thing but this time impart movement on the fly. The shad like a moving fly, so as the line sinks and is drifting down stream I will start to strip (retrieve) the fly with a hand over hand strip. Never stop stripping until the fly is ready to be cast again, because the shad sometimes follow the fly all the way in and hit at the last moment. It's important to always watch your fly line while casting and retreiving, so when the shad hits it will help you know where the fly was and where to cast again.

Sometimes you can sight shad "porpoising"; when they're on the water surface you'll be able to see the dorsal fin and backs of the shad. When this occurs I switch to a floating fly line and a long leader about twelve to fourteen feet long.

Brightly colored flies in chartreuse, flourescent orange, yellow, red, white, silver and gold in sizes #6, #8 and #10 are a good choice for shad. Another good choice of shad flies is the "flutter spoon", which is commonly used in conventional fishing but may also be used with a fly rod. Shad are not known to feed during their spawning run, so when they hit the flies it's usually out of aggression, although I have had the shad hit on big streamer flies that are imitating minnows, so who's to say they are not feeding during the spawn . . . only the shad know.

These tasty fish are often cooked in the oven about six to eight hours to melt the smaller bones. When the fish is caught, it's good to determine if it's a roe (female) or buck (male). Squeeze the belly; if milk comes out it's a buck, if eggs (also called roe) come out it's a roe. When I have caught a roe, I will bleed the fish by cutting the gills and hanging the fish in the water to let it "bleed out", so you can enjoy the true flavor of the shad roe, known as a delicacy since the 1800s. I like to wrap the roe in bacon, breaded, seasoned and cooked in the frying pan.

For more information on fly fishing for shad and other species in the Delaware River, visit Gary's website or call him at 215-343-1720.

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