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Delaware River Shad Fishing Report 2004

The information below is compiled by Mark Boriek, Principal Fisheries Biologist at the division's Lebanon Field Office. Previous years' reports were from Gary Conner, the voice of the Shad Hotline. Please call the Shad Hotline 610-954-0577 or 610-954-0578 for the latest shad updates on the Delaware River.

Information about the yearly hydroacoustic study in the Delaware River is also available. Using the hydroacoustic technique of echo integration, American shad upstream passage is monitored from the Interstate 202 Toll Bridge piers at Lambertville, NJ. See the Delaware River American Shad Hydroacoustic Reports for more information. (Spans 1 and 2 are closest to the Pennsylvania shoreline, span 5 is closest to the New Jersey shoreline.)

5/21 Report
5/14 Report
5/7 Report
4/30 Report
4/27 Report
4/23 Report
4/20 Report
4/19 Report
4/14 Report
4/12 Report
4/5 Report
4/2 Report
3/31 Report
3/29 & 3/30 Reports
3/16 Report
3/10 Report
3/5 Pre-season Report - Delaware Bay
3/5 Pre-season Report
2/27 Pre-season Report

SHAD REPORT - 5/21/04

Steve Meserve’s haul seining continues to capture small numbers of American shad, as well as catfish, striped bass, smallmouth bass and sunfish. Tomorrow will be his last netting for this year. He is down about 200 shad compared to last year.

Last week’s American shad passage at the Route 202 bridge was preliminarily estimated at only 5,000 to 10,000 fish. The total 2004 American shad population estimate is expected to be 100,000 to 150,000 fish. Last year’s population estimate was 296,600 American shad.

Historically, the main spawning area was in Burlington and Gloucester counties. When the pollution block of little or no dissolved oxygen began to form near Philadelphia in the early 1900s, the unpolluted upper river became the main shad spawning grounds. Now there is no such pollution block in the lower river and American shad spawning has been documented well below the Route 202 bridge. This year, as the water temperatures have warmed to the upper 60s, perhaps much of the American shad run has spawned in the lower, tidal freshwater river. As the lower river has returned to its natural, unpolluted state, the shad too, are back to using their preferred spawning grounds.

Anglers at Trenton this past weekend caught shad while fishing for herring. Philadelphia Water Co. reports the most A.shad and river herring that they have ever electrofished at the mouth of the Schyukill River, all spawning. Sampling for stripers, PA electrofished A. shad at the Tacony/Palmyra Bridge which is very unusual. NJ electrofished some A. shad and alewife herring 1 mile up Assincunk Creek, Burlington Co., where they had not previously been documented. Anglers in the river below Trenton should look for and report any American shad spawning activity at the water’s surface in the evening into the night.

The fact that adult Hickory shad, a protected species thought to be rare in the Delaware River, have now been documented at the mouth of the Schyukill River and at Washington Crossing State Park may be indicative of the above mentioned switch to historical spawning grounds.

Striped bass catches continue, now expanding upriver through the Delaware Water Gap. American shad catches continue from the DWG well up into NY state now. Smallmouth bass, walleyes and channel catfish are all active now, many being caught by those persistent American shad anglers.

SHAD REPORT - 5/14/04

Steve Meserve’s haul seining continues to capture small numbers of American shad. The large numbers of roes that usually appear at this time of year have not materialized. He will continue to net through this weekend.

There are large numbers of striped bass and herring in the Trenton area. Striped bass of over forty inches are being caught and released. American shad catches still continue up river to Port Jervis and Narrowsburg. One boat angler at Sandts Eddy landed 9 out of 17, which included his largest shad ever, at 9.1 lbs. The shad that he lost either broke his line or straightened the hooks on the microdarts that he was using with downriggers.

It now appears that the largest pulse of American shad moved past the Route 202 Bridge on 4/18/04, which coincided with the first real warm up of the water. Some of the larger reported catches occurred near this date from 4/16 – 4/18.

The majority of the schools of American shad passing the route 202 bridge so far this year have been small and the individual fish were not tightly packed. It was similar to past years in that the shad migrated as the flows were declining and water temperatures were increasing. The hydroacoustic monitoring will continue through the end of May, but as the water has now warmed to the upper 60’s the shad will not be migrating and will be spawning wherever they are throughout the river. Therefore, no significant additional numbers of shad are expected to pass the Route 202 bridge. The 2004 Delaware River American shad population estimate will be significantly less than the 2003 estimate.

SHAD REPORT - 5/7/04

Most reported catches are coming from the Delaware Water Gap area. One guide near there has been averaging 9–12 shad per five hour trip. He had to pull anchor and back down on one shad as it was dragging line out fast. He brought it to the boat, but lost it, estimated at over 9 lbs. Another angler reported landing 16 large roe (6 – 8 lbs.) below Portland.

Steve Meserve haul seined more bucks than roes last night and the roes are far from being ripe. Steve is down about 30 shad compared to last year at this time and feels that it is possible that the main run is still coming. The majority of fishing guides believe this, as do biologists.

As stated in earlier reports, many anglers down river have stopped shad fishing as they are now targeting the easier to catch striped bass. One persistent shad angler, fishing in the evening from shore at Bull’s Island, landed 15 roe in two and one half hours. The fish were 6-8 lbs. each. These fish are hard to figure out. This frustrates some anglers, while others view it as a challenge.

The Hydroacoustics marked only about 5,000 shad from 4/26 through 5/2. If the predicted main run does not materialize within the next coupe of weeks, the 2004 population estimate will be much lower than 2003.

SHAD REPORT - 4/30/04

The river flow at Trenton has dropped to 16,900 cubic feet per second which is near average. Water temperatures are warming and catches have started to pick up in the Easton area and upriver there continue to be reported catches. A guide, north of Port Jervis, reported catching 5 bucks and lost another, possibly a roe. An angler from the Milford area reported catches of mostly roes. Not many reports of shad anglers in the Trenton area as they have switched over to striped bass. One angler from that area, however, continues to target American shad, and has been very successful, catching mostly bucks.

Steve Meserve’s report below of haul seining more bucks than roes continued last evening when he netted 9 bucks and 5 roes. Many of the bucks are small, and required a close inspection to determine that they were, indeed, American shad and not river herring or Hickory shad.

An angler, who knew he was catching Hickory shad for some time at the mouth of the Schyukill River, forwarded photos that have been confirmed as that species. Hickory shad can get as long as 20” and have a lower jaw that protrudes beyond the upper jaw. American shad have jaws that are equal in length. Hickory shad can be this far up the river, but are considered to be rare and must be released. Please report any catches to 908-236-2118 or to

There has been a mix of bucks and roes in good numbers upriver and more bucks than roes down river. The main run, with more roes, is still to come and it will be in the channel as flows are near normal.

SHAD REPORT - 4/27/04

It still appears that the best catches of American shad, so far, occurred during the weekend of April 18th. River water temperature increased from 48 degrees F on 4/15 to over 55 degrees F on 4/18. River discharge peaked at over 26,000 cubic feet per second on 4/15, declining to 17,500 cfs by April 18th. Past Hydroacoustic studies have shown that large pulses of American shad occur at the Route 202 Bridge as the river flow is declining and this did, indeed happen, on 4/18 when American shad estimated in the tens of thousands passed the bridge. Catches on and near 4/18 included : 26+ shad on in the morning and evening in Lambertville; 20+ on above Easton Toll Bridge; 44 on in 5.5 hours above Sandt’s Eddy; 15 on (shore fly fishing) at Belvedere; over 40 on at the Delaware Water Gap. After 4/18, the river continued to drop to 12,400 cfs and the temperature increased to 62 degrees F. Catches continued but not apparently in the numbers mentioned above.

The American shad should still be hitting now with the water temperature at 56 degrees F and a few are. The numbers migrating through have probably lessened, the majority holding in deeper areas, awaiting the decline after a predicted increase in flow. Yesterday’s rain increased the river discharge from 12,900 cubic feet per second to a peak of 20,700 cfs. The flow has now decreased to 19,200 cfs. Look for a large pulse of American shad to occur towards the end of this week as flows continue to decline . The average flow for this time of year, as measured at Trenton, is approximately 15,000 cfs.

Again, the schools will probably be long, narrow and ribbon-like, directly in the channel, where all of the above mentioned catches were on the weekend of 4/18.

The gill netter in the upper bay off of the Cohansey River is still catching shad, although he plans to quit by the end of the week. Recently, he has been catching almost 700 pounds, 30 lbs. of which were bucks. The largest roe are 8 to 9 lbs. He claims that the run is late, later than last year, because of the weather (cold and east winds). He said that the shad will move upriver on the upcoming sunny days.

Steve Meserve haul seined a total of 16 shad (more bucks than roes) in two nettings on 4/24. Six bucks were netted on 4/25. Steve, too, feels the run is later than last year, and that the main run is still to come.

SHAD REPORT - 4/23/04

Shad Run almost over in Delaware Bay

The commercial gill netter in lower Delaware Bay off of the Maurice River Cove reported that he caught 100 lbs. of American shad comprised of mostly roes (5 to 7 lbs.) and some bucks. The warmer water has brought in the Atlantic Menhaden which are starting to plug up his nets. The commercial gill netter in the upper Bay off of the Cohansey River caught 500 lbs. of American shad. There were only four bucks in his nets. The roes weighed from 5 to 7 lbs. These netters feel that the shad were more abundant this year because they were easier to locate.

Bait and tackle shop owners in Trenton, NJ and Morrisville, PA stated that most of their customers are targeting the river herring, live lining them for the stripers that are now in the river. Some anglers are complaining that their Sabiki rigs (multiple hook rigs used to catch herring) are being broken off by big roe American shad.

Steve Meserve had a good haul seine on 4/20 catching 31 American shad, 22 of which were roes. The net, however, ended up with some large holes in it. So, most of the smaller bucks probably escaped. A large roe plugged up one of the holes.

As of 3:30 p.m. on 4/23/04, the large school marked at the Route 202 Bridge on 4/18/04 has not yet arrived in the Easton area of the river. As the river is low, boat anglers will have to be right on the channel in order to intercept these long ribbon-like schools. Shore anglers will have to find areas of the river where the channel is within casting distance.

SHAD REPORT - 4/20/04

This year’s run appears similar to 2002’s in that there were declining flows and a period when the water warmed rapidly during the middle two weeks of April. That year 70.8% of the run passed the Route 202 Bridge in just eight days. These large fish passage events (greater than 15,000 American shad) occurred on April 6, 7, 10, 12, 17, 20, 21, and 27.

In 2004, there were no such large shad passage events noted prior to April 12. When the river temperature reached 50 degrees F on 4/16, and the flow continued to drop, the Hydroacoustics began to mark some American shad schools moving through. The numbers increased on 4/17, and even more so on 4/18 when American shad schools estimated in the tens of thousands passed the Route 202 Bridge, many in Span 3. So it appears these large pulses of American shad are occurring about one week later in 2004. This means that the last two weeks of this April will most likely be when the majority of the 2004 American shad spawning run passes the Route 202 Bridge. In 2002 this was determined to be approximately 282,637 American shad. Easton area shad fishermen estimate that the large schools of American shad marked on 4/18 will arrive there around 4/23, swimming about 8 miles per day.

SHAD REPORT - 4/19/04

The best American shad fishing is happening right now.

Declining flows to just below average, and warm water, 56 degrees F, have put Delaware River American shad on the move and on the hooks. Catches of over 20 shad per day have been reported from Trenton into New York state.

Eighteen schools of hundreds of shad that were marked by the Hydroacoustics array from 3/12 through 4/11 had been providing good action in the warm water effluent of the Portland Power Plant and farther north. This past weekend and now, there are probably schools of thousands of shad moving past the Hydroacoustic array at the Route 202 Bridge.

As the Delaware River is slightly below average flow, the shad are in long ribbon-like schools following the channel. This is evidenced by one boat angler, who over the weekend near the mouth of the Lehigh River, caught 20 + shad, while boat anglers to his left and right, caught few and none. Shore line anglers usually do not fare as well in normal to low flows, unless they find a spot were the channel comes close to the shore. They do better in higher flows which bring the shad schools close to the shoreline, out of the fast moving water in the main channel.

The above mentioned boat angler caught 3 bucks to every 1 roe (largest 5 lbs.), indicating that it is the early part of the run. It is still early down river too, at the haul seine fishery, just below the Route 202 Bridge, where Steve Meserve is catching 2 bucks to every 1 roe (largest over 7 lbs.). Best haul of 19 bucks and 10 roes was on 4/15.

A commercial fisherman in the upper bay, who drifts his 600 ft gill nets a total of five miles from the mouth of the Cohansey River to Madhorse Creek, a distance of five miles, caught 1,200 lbs. of American shad early this morning (1:30 AM). There were only 50 lbs. of bucks (the largest roe was 10 lbs.). He is within, what he considers to be the mid-point of the run. More of what he terms “Black-backed roe shad”, as they become darker on top, or “May Chunks” or “Hubcappers”, because of their size.

The commercial fisherman in the lower bay, out of the Maurice River, reports as you would suspect, the latter part of the run. Today he caught 1000 lbs., all roes, averaging 9 to 11 lbs. He is the one who, a week ago, released two American shad over 11 lbs. In the beginning of the month he caught and kept a 13.5 lber and a 14.5 lber.

More big roes to come. The New Jersey State Record is an 11 lb. 1 oz. fish caught in the Delaware River in 1984. The World All Tackle Record is an 11 lb. 4 oz. fish caught in the Connecticut River in 1986.

SHAD REPORT - 4/14/04

The Delaware River is now expected to reach a discharge of over 33,291 cubic feet per second as measured at Trenton. At the Route 202 bridge the hydroacoustics has shown that, as the river begins to drop, shad will move, apparently from below the wing dam, in a long, ribbon shaped school about 6 ft. wide closest to the Pennsylvania side of the river. Something to do with hydrodynamics, the lead fish are the only ones pushing against the current, the others tucked in behind. At some advantageous point above the bridge, this school probably spreads out to hug both shorelines and continues to avoid the high velocities in the middle of the river. As the river drops further, the school will again seek out the main channel.

The river below Easton is very turbid from the muddy flow of the Lehigh River. Shad will not be able to see the lure when the river is muddy and debris fouling the line and lure will discourage strikes. There have been reported catches up to the Delaware Water Gap, but especially just below the Portland Power Plant where the water from the discharge has raised the temperature to 50 degrees F.

A commercial fisherman from lower Delaware Bay, off of the Maurice River, reported that he caught 3000 pounds of American shad on 4/12 that weighed 5 - 9 lbs. each. He released two shad that each weighed just over 11 pounds. He feels that this was probably the main part of the run, although there should be additional, smaller schools moving through. Another commercial fisherman, in the upper bay, drifts his gill nets from Artificial Island to Madhorse Creek, a total of 5 miles. He has been catching American shad since the end of March. Recently, before the rain and cold sent the shad to deeper water (evidenced by most of the catches near the lead line), he had been catching up to 2000 lbs. per day, 400 lbs.of which are bucks. He said that number of bucks indicates that there are more roes to come as soon as the weather warms. The roes were 8 - 9 lbs. He has a theory that many of the shad he catches come through the C & D Canal.

Steve Meserve has recently haul-seined four bucks and one roe.

SHAD REPORT - 4/12/04

River discharge is a factor which affects American shad upstream migration. American shad are not able to counter high discharges but wait until it drops to near 25,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) before continuing their upstream migration. So far the river conditions for American shad passage in 2004 have been ideal compared to last year at this time. In 2003 the discharge began below average but increased to over 79,000 cfs. The haul seine fishery, one mile downstream of the sampling site, was not able to net until the discharge had subsided, collecting their first American shad (total : 19) when discharge was 26,287 cfs. on 4/15/03. This year discharge began at just over 18,000 cfs and has continued to drop, remaining below average. American shad were first haul seined when the discharge was approximately 16,000 cfs. In this below average, river discharge they haul seined American shad two weeks earlier than in 2003, collecting a total of 40 shad in three days (3/30, 3/31, 4/01/04). The largest haul of 30 shad occurred on the same day, 4/01/04, that the Hydroacoustics marked a migrating school.

It is interesting to note that in both years, these first catches of American shad occurred when the water temperatures approached 50 degrees F, the same temperature at which American shad strike at anglers’ lures. At temperatures below 50 degrees F shad will usually not strike at lures and the upstream migration will be slowed but not completely stopped.

The Hydroacoustics is still showing only a few American shad schools migrating through. The small, loosely packed schools consist of hundreds of shad, not thousands. These shad are the ones that are being caught as far upstream as the Portland Power Plant where they are congregating in the warm water effluent.

From mid-March through early April the Easton fish ladder to the Lehigh River has passed trout, muskies, and large numbers of suckers. A cold front has since halted this migration. No American shad have as yet been viewed in the ladder.

As mentioned above, American shad are not able to counter high discharges but wait until it drops to near 25,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) before continuing their upstream migration. River flows are now at 10,000 cfs, well below average (22,460). Predicted rainfall is expected to increase the flow to 73,231 cfs by mid-week. Look for a large pulse of American shad as the river is dropping from this predicted increase.

SHAD REPORT - 4/5/04

There was a report of some shad caught from shore below Easton near the wastewater plant discharge before the cold front arrived. Steve Meserve's haul seined two roe and three bucks on Friday, three bucks on Saturday. This cold front has slowed the migration down. The commercial gill netter in lower Delaware Bay reiterated the same. He said that the main school of shad are in deep water off of Fortesque awaiting a warming trend before moving upriver.

SHAD REPORT - 4/2/04

The commercial gill netter in lower Delaware Bay near the Maurice River Cove reported that American shad are still moving through, catching 7 to 9 lbers. One he weighed at 13.5 lbs. He feels that the shad are more abundant compared to last year, as he has been catching similar numbers using half the amount of net. He said that the number of stripers has decreased and that Atlantic Menhaden (bunker) are showing up, signaling that the first schools of shad have moved further up the bay to deeper waters off of Fortesque.

Last night, April 1, Steve Meserve haul seined 30 shad. Returned 11 to the river, kept 9 roe and 10 bucks. "There were some big fish in there."

SHAD REPORT - 3/31/04

Steve Meserve of the Lewis Fishery reports his haul seine yieled 2 bucks, 12 suckers, 2 carp and 1 catfish.

SHAD REPORT - 3/30/04

The commercial gill netter in the lower bay (Maurice River Cove) said that schools of shad are still moving through despite the east wind. He said he was getting 9 and 10 pounders. Also, a 14.5 lb. roe. Largest he ever saw was 15 lbs. Steve Meserve of the Lewis Fishery seined the first A. shad of the year, 2 roe and 6 bucks.

SHAD REPORT - 3/29/04

The commercial gill netter in the upper bay off of the Cohansey River drifted 800 feet of the light gauge (A. shad can detect heavy gauge monofilament) monofilament for one mile. His net was ripped up by striped bass, although he did catch 100 of them that he released. Caught a total of 7 A. shad in the ends of the net. There are so many stripers that they fill the net first, the larger ones tearing through it. The shad avoid the entangled stripers, swimming the length of it and escape around the ends, a few are caught there.

SHAD REPORT - 3/16/04

A seafood buyer stated that American shad were again available from S. Carolina, but now they are all roes. The shad that he purchased from the same source in previous weeks were both bucks and roes.

Like last year, all of the ice with its associated debris has kept the commercial gill netters out of Delaware Bay. Nets set in those conditions become fouled, or even torn apart, by the debris. Buck shad have, and are, migrating through the bay unimpeded by nets. They have moved upriver at least as far as Trenton, as evidenced by reports that small buck American shad of approximately 2 lbs. were caught in the warm water discharge at the Mercer Generating Station there on 3/14 and 3/15. Buck shad are probably migrating further upstream, but as the main river water temperature is 41° F. these fish will not be hitting. The water temperature has to be at least 50° F. to prompt a strike.

The hydroacoustics contractor set up the monitoring equipment last week at the Route 202 Bridge. It was up and running on 3/12 and will continue through May to determine the 2004 American shad population estimate. This will include weekly updates of American shad passage at the site.

Steve Meserve of the Lewis Fishery plans to conduct his first haul seine on 3/20, weather permitting.

Good catches of walleyes have been reported from the upper Delaware River.

PRE-SEASON REPORT - Delaware Bay - 3/10/04

The NJ Bureau of Marine Fisheries has caught, tagged and released 300 striped bass in 3 days in nets set off of Bidwell’s Ditch and Reed’s Beach in Delaware Bay. The largest striped bass was 18 lbs. The first American shad, a small female, was caught. Water temperature reached a high of 48° F.

A Seafood buyer stated that American shad was again available from South Carolina. He was able to purchase 345 lbs. He continues to think that the A. shad run will be late, like last year.

The Hydroacoustics contractor plans to begin setting up the equipment tomorrow at the Route 202 Bridge for the mid-March through May American shad population estimate. This will include weekly updates of American shad passage at the site.

Steve Meserve of the Lewis Fishery plans to conduct his first haul seine on 3/20/04.

PRE-SEASON REPORT - Delaware Bay – 3/5/04

The NJ Bureau of Marine Fisheries set nets off of Bidwell’s Ditch and Reed’s Beach in Delaware Bay catching tagging and releasing 175 striped bass 18"–30”, the largest of which was 18 lbs. Windowpane Flounder were also caught, but no American shad. Water temperature was 41–46° F. A single American shad was reportedly caught by a commercial white perch netter in Upper Delaware Bay. The bureau plans to do more extensive netting for striped bass in Delaware Bay early next week.

Seafood buyer stated that there were no American shad available for him to purchase but lots of big white perch, due to these past two winters that had much of the water ice covered.

PSE&G said Trenton Power Plant Gate is open, and will remain open. If the security alert is raised it will be closed.


It is usually at this time of year that reports are made by Delaware River American shad anglers taking advantage of the warm water effluent at the Mercer Generating Station in Trenton. Later, there are reports from other NJ rivers of “shad” jumping dams. They are shad, usually Gizzard shad. for more information see the Comparison of Gizzard/American Shad. (75kb in PDF format which requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe's Web site)


A Delaware Bay contact said that South Carolina commercial netting began on 2/1, and no shad were caught until this week, 2/23. He was able to buy 300 lbs, slightly less than he bought from them last year at this time and feels that the run will be late, like last year.

In 2003 there were no shad landed by commercial netters in upper Delaware Bay prior to March 16th due to the cold water temperatures. The bucks may have stayed deep (because of cold water) below the nets. The big landings didn't start until the end of March through mid-April and they were mostly roes as everyone fished 5.5" mesh (too big for bucks).

2004 is similar to last year with all the snow and ice melt, keeping the water below 50 F. Shad will be migrating at these cold temperatures, but will not be hitting. Remember, anglers that trolled (giving the lure more action, covering more water) seemed to do better in cold water last year than boat anglers whom remained stationary. One stationary boat angler that uses down riggers, claims that the few shad he does catch, below 50 F, are hooked on the outside of the mouth. The shad are just slapping at the lure, not hitting it aggressively. It is no news, that, if the river remains fishable but cold, the first shad will be caught in the warm water near the Trenton Power Plant and later, upriver at the Portland Power Plant.

No shad in Delaware Bay yet, but, the Division’s Bureau of Marine Fisheries plans to make sure, sampling there later next week.


More information can be found in Mark's article on The American Shad Spawning Run. Boat access information is also available.

2003 Reports
2002 Reports
2001 Reports

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Last Updated: August 18, 2004