It’s primetime for shad fishing on the Columbia River! This year’s run is about a third less in size so far than the mammoth runs we’ve seen in recent years but with 40,000 plus shad crossing Bonneville Dam on June 2nd alone, the big push is definitely on and should continue into July.
The American shad is historically a popular food fish along the east coast and was introduced into California’s Sacramento River in 1871. Within five years shad, which look like overgrown herring weighing anywhere from one to five pounds, began showing up in the Columbia River. Today, shad numbers in the Columbia have exploded. The ten-year average run is over three million fish and last year some six million shad came back to the Columbia River to spawn.
Shad are scrappy fighters and ready biters, and it’s not uncommon to catch a couple dozen in a morning of fishing. Because of their fighting quality and relatively large size compared to trout and panfish, shad fishing can be a whole bunch of fun for kids and young at heart anglers who just like to tussle with a bunch of fish.
There are several places to cast for shad on the Columbia. During the month of May some anglers will fish off the docks at Washougal. In June and July, the river just below John Day Dam near Rufus is a great place to catch shad. However, the best (and most popular) place to get into a bunch of shad is just below Bonneville Dam. Hundreds of anglers congregate here every morning when the shad are running and the action can be fast and furious with multiple anglers hooking into shad at once.
The nice thing about shad fishing is that you can easily catch them from shore. The standard rig is to attach a singer to a swivel or above the swivel. Depending on the current a ¼ to ¾ ounce weight will work fine. Then tie three feet of leader below the swivel and attach your lure. The most common offering is a shad dart, a uniquely shaped jig head above a hook. 1/16th ounce or 1/8th ounce jigs work best. No bait is necessary and neither are trailers. The jig head color does matter though. white and red, green and chartreuse or white and green are all effective color schemes. These darts can usually be bought in sporting goods stores or bait shops along the Columbia River. Other lures to try are Shad Killers, available at Gorge Outfitters Supply in Rufus, Oregon by the John Day Dam or Shad Slammers, from Mack’s Lure.
1. Russell Johnston caught this shad below the John Day Dam – J. Kruse
Once you are rigged up simply cast out slightly upstream and reel slowly keeping your jig off the bottom. Often the bite will come just as the line starts swinging towards shore. If you don’t get a bite, real in rapidly once the jig is directly downstream and cast again.
Quite often the shad will surge forward upstream in schools and you’ll see anglers begin to hook up downstream from you. Be sure to get your line in the water in a hurry because they’ll soon be swimming past you!
If you are going to fish from a boat you can launch from Beacon Rock State Park to try for the shad below Bonneville Dam or from Giles French Park on the Oregon side of the Columbia River below John Day Dam.
Marc Bush, the owner of Twisted Waters Guide Service, catches shad out of the boat by rigging up an 18-inch dropper to a Brad’s Wiggler Crankbait, then tying 30 inches of leader behind that where a small Dick Nite spoon entices the shad to bite. As for where to fish, Bush recommends motoring over to the Oregon side of the river below Bonneville Dam by the Shad Rack or just look for where the boats are congregated and the anglers are reeling in the fish and you’ll be in the right place.
Then there is the question of what to do with these fish. They are oily; really, really, oily, but some people do keep them to eat. Others harvest shad for sturgeon bait while still others, myself included, keep a dozen or so for crab bait. Whether you keep them or just catch and release them though you’ll likely be in for a fun-filled and exciting day of fishing and catching on the Columbia River from now until mid-July!
Written by John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
2. A shad in the net – J. Kruse