Shad Fishing on California’s Lower Sacramento River

By: Dick Recchia

Warning: If you are a fly fishing purist who believes the sport is reserved for trout fishing in pristine waters, then don’t read this article.

On the other hand, if you enjoy pushing the fly fishing envelope to include 30 or 40 hard hitting…hard fighting fish, then you may want to read this report on my Shad fishing adventures on the lower Sacramento River.

Yes…that’s correct…Shad!!!… an anadromous fish which ascends California’s coastal waters to spawn. Their weight ranges from 1 ½ to 6 lbs., with the average being about 3 pounds, but they fight like twice their weight! And are they fun to catch on a 8 weight rod with sinking line (200- 225grms) and a fly that somewhat resembles a Crazy Charlie (bonefish pattern).

The flies we used were tied by our guide, and utilized mylar, chenille and bead chain and barbell eyes. The best patterns had either a green or orange body. But in all honesty, the Shad weren’t too choosy and I believe other colors or patterns may work very effectively.

These are a very beautiful fish with bright silver sides and a stripe of blue/green along their backs. They move up the Sacramento River in small medium and large schools, beginning in mid April and continue through July. They generally are most active when the water temperature is close to 60 degrees…but we found plenty of activity when the water measured 56 degrees.

There is some fishing early in the day, but the real “push” always seems to start late in the afternoon (4pm) and continue through the evening. On the three days I fished near Red Bluff, California we averaged about 20-30 fish (landed) per rod. We fished from an anchored boat, casting slightly downstream and using a “tug and release” motion on the line to give the fly a jerking movement.

It not rocket science…and it not delicate fly fishing… but it boy is it effective! The Shad hit hard…in fact sometimes very hard. And they give a really good fight…partly because of their strength…and partly because they turn their (flat) bodies sideways in the current. All this combines to gives the Shad the reputation as the poor man’s (or woman’s) steelhead or tarpon.

So the question is: As a lifetime flyfisher would I fish for Shad again? Answer: IN A HEARTBEAT!

Travel details:

The Sacramento River: is located near Redding, California