Shad Diet

Discussion in 'Blue Catfishing' started by Steve W, Feb 22, 2006.

  1. Steve W

    Steve W New Member

    I've been catching shad fairly consistently at one location. It seems that the shad are attracted to the mouth of an over flow channel for water coming out from a soy bean field in to the Arkansas River. When I gut the shad their stomacks looks green almost like micrscopic algae. Does anybody have any ideas about what the normal diet of gizzard and/or threadfin consist of ?. Are they vegetarians? Maybe there are there smaller organism in the algae that i'm not seeing?
    Question #2: I read an article where the guy was talkin about finding the shad in a cove, an area of a lake where the wind had blown the shad.
    Why would the wind affect the location of shad. If the shad are underwater,as they usually are in Arkansas, how could the wind cause them to change location. It doesn't seem possible that the wind could have any affect more that 1 or two feet below the surface. Maybe the wind is blowing the food stuff and the shad are following? Any thoughts?
  2. davesoutfishing

    davesoutfishing New Member

    Menominee Michigan
    Sixty years ago, when Bob Gabrielson started fishing the Hudson, he was one of 33 commercial fishermen working out of the neighboring New York river towns of Nyack and Piermont. Shad—a larger member of the herring family, much prized for its delicate roe—was a mainstay of their catch. Today the shad, caught in these waters since pre-Colonial times, are dwindling, and Gabrielson, now 70, is the only fisherman left on this stretch of the river. A year ago his rough plywood fishing shack, the last faint echo of a vanished way of life, was torn down as part of an urban renewal project. But on this sunny, breezy spring morning, the day holds promise: The shad are running.

    At about ten o'clock, two gleaming Harley-Davidsons roar up—Bob's son Robert, with his friend Donald Smith. They quickly put on rubber boots and oilskins and fire up the motor on Gabrielson's skiff. I climb aboard with them, and five minutes later we are downriver from the Tappan Zee Bridge, coasting towards the line of Clorox jugs that marks 800 feet of Robert's nets, floating just below the surface.
    Timing is crucial. The lower 150 miles of the Hudson is an estuary, and as the shad head upstream to their primary spawning grounds near Kingston, the flood tide helps push them into the nets, where they're caught by the gills. The trick is to leave the nets in the water as long as possible to get the biggest catch, and then pull them up just before the ebb tide begins to carry the fish back out again. The tide is about to turn, and Robert and Donald furiously haul the nets up, yanking fat greenish-silver shad, each weighing three to five pounds, from the tangled skein and tossing them into the stern. It is backbreaking work, especially since the net yields three times as many 20-pound striped bass as shad, and these can't be fished commercially so they have to be thrown back. (Toxin levels in bass are deemed too high for public sale. Shad have much lower levels, perhaps because they don't eat during their spawning runs.) ''This is light for stripers,'' Robert says with a shrug. ''Sometimes it's much worse.'' Today's shad haul is good: about two hundred fish, a total of more than 800 pounds.

    Back on Nyack's riverbank, some locals have gathered to buy shad, especially those plump with delectable roe, off the Gabrielson boat. Because the nets are designed to trap thicker shad, about 90 percent of these fish have roe; they'll sell for $6 each, while buck, or male, shad go for $2. Most of the catch will be trucked to Manhattan's Fulton Fish Market, where the roe will be sold separately ($4 to $7 a pound) and the fish ($3.50 to $5.50 a pound) will be boned and fileted. This is no mean feat: There are precisely 769 bones in a shad, so many that Native Americans who lived along the river had a legend about the fish being a porcupine turned inside out.
    Bones notwithstanding, the American shad—also called white shad—that runs in the Hudson is a superb fish. Larger and more flavorful than the hickory shad that spawns in rivers further south, its sweet, rich, delicate flesh more than justifies the fish's Latin name, Alosa sapidissima—''most delicious of herrings''. And although there are also American shad runs in other northeastern rivers, most notably the Delaware and the Connecticut, the Hudson River population has long been considered the market standard. That's why the Hudson provided the shad fry to seed the first West Coast shad hatchery in the Sacramento River in 1871. (Today shad are found from San Diego to Alaska's Kodiak Island.)
    Like salmon, shad is anadromous, meaning that it spends the majority of its life in the ocean but when it spawns it must return to the river in which it was born. Hudson River shad roam the Atlantic as far north as the Bay of Fundy and as far south as the Carolinas, and make their first migration back up the Hudson when they are about 4 years old. Keyed by a rise in water temperature, the shad run coincides with spring flowerings on land; the earliest fish arrive with the budding of the forsythia in April, and during the final part of the run, when they can weigh as much as 13 pounds apiece, they're called lilac shad after the plant that blooms in May.
    The story of shad in the past century or so is a tale of booms and busts. In 1889 the Hudson River shad catch exceeded 4.3 million pounds; by 1916 the take had plummeted to just 40,000 pounds, probably due to the combined effects of pollution and overfishing. By the 1940s shad had come back, mostly because fishing had decreased, and during World War II the fishery was important enough commercially to earn draft deferments for shad fishermen. Overfishing during the war again depleted the shad, and the notorious riverine pollution of the 1960s and 1970s likely kept their numbers low; but the Clean Water Act of 1976 helped revive the fishery, and in 1980 the catch hit a million pounds.
    Today, Hudson shad is again in serious trouble. Power plants suck larval fish into their cooling systems, killing an estimated 20 percent of them annually, and even more heavy industry is proposed for the river. Also, in the last decade offshore fishing boats equipped with high-tech detection systems have been intercepting shad runs before they reach the Hudson.
    ''Ten years ago,'' says Christopher Letts, a naturalist with the Hudson River Foundation, a research group, ''we had shad coming out of our ears. There's been a huge diminution of the bucks—and the big fish that signify a healthy breeding population just aren't there.'' The situation has gotten so desperate that some fishermen on the river are no longer throwing back ocean-bound shad—fish too thin to be sold as anything but crab and lobster bait or pet food. ''It's just idiotic,'' says Letts, who fears that the June catch will irreparably damage the already hobbled population by culling out what would normally be the hardiest members of the species. A potential saving grace: This year the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will begin enforcing a five-year phaseout of ocean-intercept shad fishing.

    During the shad's Hudson River heyday, virtually every river town could boast at least one big annual shad bake—the Hudson's equivalent of the New England shore dinner. New Yorker essayist Joseph Mitchell, in his 1959 piece ''The Rivermen'', calls these bakes ''gluttonous springtime blowouts'', and remembered when huge bakes were given by churches, lodges, labor unions, and local politicians.
    Letts has been holding springtime shad bakes of his own for 20 years in parks lining the Hudson. Like the river and the endangered way of life they are meant to celebrate, the bakes are impressive for both their vigor and their disquieting ability to make you feel as if you've arrived at a magnificent parade just in time to watch the last band go by.
    One overcast day I catch up with Letts at a bake near Croton-on-Hudson. Letts goes about his business with a reverence you'd associate with a clergyman preparing for a Sunday service. He lines up dozens of 18-inch-long hand-hewn oak planks, arranges a few shad filets on each, straps the filets with strips of bacon, then tacks them in place with straight nails right through the flesh. Letts props the planks up, facing a bed of glowing coals.
    Soon oil is dripping from the filets and sizzling down the planks, and an appetizing smell of shad, bacon, and oak blankets the riverfront. ''The first taste is with the eyes,'' Letts says with a wink. That may be true, but the second taste, the kind you take with a fork, is what I'm waiting for. At last he moves the planks away from the fire, lays them reverentially on a bench, pulls out the nails, and divvies up the filets. The fish is delicious, with a slightly smoky flavor offsetting its richness. But just as satisfying is the sensation of having connected with the river and reclaimed a piece of its history—a tradition I hope won't die as long as there are rivermen like Letts and the Gabrielsons around.