Every few minutes, an angler standing waist deep Wednesday in the frigid American River would holler, “YAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAA!” and his buddies would laugh.
The angler would lean back, his rod bowed as his line zipped out. Hooked on the other end was a fork-tailed fish the size of an adult’s forearm – an American shad.
As the setting sun painted brilliant splashes of red, purple and orange on the water, anglers in Sacramento waded along both sides of the river in the hopes of catching these remarkably hard-fighting fish that run up Central Valley rivers this time of year to spawn.
American shad, the largest member of the herring family, are originally native to the East Coast. Like the striped bass, these fish were introduced to California in the late 1800s to start a commercial fishery and are now a prized game fish on both fly and spinning rods. The largest ever caught was a 7-pound, 5-ouncer fished in 1985 from the Feather River.
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Adding to the fun of catching fish that zip and zag and jump, anglers can really catch a lot of them when they get into schools of shad. It’s not uncommon to catch a couple of dozen shad in a short time. On this evening, two boys and their dad caught nearly two dozen shad in just a few hours.
While many anglers catch and release shad because they’re exceptionally bony, others consider the fish prized table fare when properly poached, smoked, pickled or fried. Sacramento-area wild-food blogger Hank Shaw has a nice primer on how to prepare them.
If you’d like to give shad fishing a try, any local bait and tackle store will give you pointers on what gear to use and suggestions on where to go. Once you get to the river, the shad schools shouldn’t be too hard to find. Just listen for the sounds of anglers having a blast.