Pennsylvania's Delaware River Shad

Aggressive management strategies mean more and better shad fishing on the Keystone State's fabled Delaware River. Discover where and how to find these popular spring-run battlers.

Photo by Vic Attardo

Even though recent shad runs have not produced the numbers and size of fish that were seen during the mid-'90s, anglers are still walking away from the Delaware River happy and satisfied after doing battle with one of these great, silvery scrappers.

Despite poor returns over the last three seasons, biologists are hopeful that a five-year phase-out of commercial fishing, put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, will have a positive effect on this important fishery. The total closure of the ocean intercept enterprise occurred in December (2004).

Anyone who fished for shad on the upper Delaware last season knows that spawning schools were relatively scarce, but that the density of the fish within individual schools was at normal numbers, most likely owing to the shad's need to gather in sufficient strength for the spawning ritual. What was a surprise to many river watchers later in the season was the number of dead shad -- a normal occurrence of the spawning run -- seen lying along the riverbanks. Certainly there were more of these spent fish than most anglers expected, alluding to the possibility that, perhaps, anglers are giving up on the migratory run way too early. Last year, fishable schools of shad were still in the upper Delaware at Damascus on June 20 -- a pleasant surprise.

The upper Delaware is generally considered to be the area above Matamoras, Pennsylvania, and Port Jervis, New Jersey. The federal government has defined much of the river north of this point, a stretch of nearly 74 miles, as the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreation River.

A key to catching shad on the upper Delaware is to find the "pinch points." These are places where the river channel narrows and forms a kind of funnel through which the anadromous fish must travel to continue their upstream migration. Another key location, particularly when the shad are performing their nightly spawning dance, is large mid-depth pools in which they transcribe continuous circles.

When you combine these sites with public access spots, you should find some of the best shad fishing in the upper river.

PORT JERVIS TO LACKAWAXEN

The first thing that visitors to the upper Delaware should be aware of is that there are important access points on both the Pennsylvania and New York sides of the river. Fortunately, both states recognize each other's fishing licenses on the Delaware River, so an angler can go from shore to shore with impunity.

Access from either side of the river between Matamoras and Shohola is limited. There is one boat ramp on the Pennsylvania side, the Matamoras ramp on Delaware Drive (Route 549), about one mile north of the Route 209 bridge. There is no easy access on the Pennsylvania side and much of the riverbank along state Route 1017 is posted. However, some adventurous anglers will use the parking areas in Pennsylvania's State Game Lands 209 and hike down Pond Eddy Creek to the river.

On the New York side, there is a good boat access at a New York Department of Environmental Conservation site at Sparrowbush off Route 97. Approximately three river miles north of Sparrowbush, there is a relatively new DEC site at Mongaup, also off Route 97. On the New York side, there is another DEC access at Highland, north of Barryville off Route 97.

Because much of the New York side of the river between Barryville and Port Jervis is bordered by a steep, manmade rock wall, often 8 feet high and built with large flat stones, one of the best pieces of equipment to bring along on a trip is a rope suitable for climbing. Some New York anglers scale these walls in waders to reach largely untapped fishing sites.

For the southern portion of the upper Delaware River, the normal access routes are Interstate Route 84, which crosses the river, and state Route 97, which tightly parallels the river from Port Jervis to several miles below Masthope.

LACKAWAXEN TO CALLICOON

Between Lackawaxen and Callicoon there are excellent opportunities for both wading and boating anglers.

At the mouth of the Lackawaxen River, shore-anglers can cast into the narrow channel and shallow riffles that often hold shad preparing to leave the Delaware and go up the Lackawaxen. Boat anglers can use the easy ramp in front of the Zane Grey Museum and head to the top of the famous Zane Grey Pool.

Just a little farther downstream, boat anglers should anchor toward the last trestle opening above the Roebling Bridge to find the shad's migration channel. However, don't attempt to go above the Zane Grey Pool unless you're using a jet motor. The riffles there are particularly strong and river rocks are close to the surface.

In the area around the village of Lackawaxen, the standard routes are state Route 590 from Hawley to state Route 4006, or the lower road, state Route 4006, along the Lackawaxen River.

On the New York side, Route 97 is next to the Roebling bridge and continues to closely parallel the river from Barryville to north of Minisink Falls.

North of the village of Lackawaxen to Narrowsburg, there is no public access on the Pennsylvania side of the river. However, on the New York side, there is a small boat ramp at Tenmile River off Route 97. Tenmile River will put boaters into a very good section of the river where numerous low class riffles develop pinch points.

The town of Narrowsburg has good spots for both wading and boating anglers. Also, there are two ramps in close proximity to each other. One is on the Pennsylvania side below the Narrowsburg bridge, while the other is above the bridge on the New York side.

The Keystone State access ramp at this location also has several hundred yards of very good shore-fishing. The channel comes close to the Pennsylvania side of the river, so even normal casters can reach the hot zone with shad darts and flies. Also, just downstream around the river curve, there are good pinch points that can be reached by wading if the river is not high. Wading from the New York side is not productive, because the channel is too far away.

In the area centered around Narrowsburg, the major access roads are state Route 652 from Beach Lake into Narrowsburg and well as state routes 97 and 52.

There is a good ramp and long shoreline area at Pennsylvania's Damascus access on Route 371. Besides ample parking, the wading angler can walk a consid

erable distance downstream from the ramp and find sites to cast. The river here breaks into a couple of small channels and the shad are likely to follow numerous routes.

Route 371 leads directly into Damascus from the west. If you're in the Narrowsburg area, take New York's Route 97 from Narrowsburg to Cochecton. It's much shorter than doubling back.

CALLICOON TO HANCOCK

The area from Callicoon to Hancock contains numerous places where the river is relatively shallow with pinch points and pools adjacent to wadeable water.

In the Callicoon area, you'll find commercial and public accesses on both sides of the river, but a favorite is the PFBC access about one-half mile south of the bridge on a small river road. From there it's possible to wade a considerable distance through pinch points and spawning pools.

Upstream the channel below Kellams Bridge, with parking on the New York side, but with no ramp, is too deep for easy fly-fishing. You're better off working downstream at Callicoon.

Farther upstream at Lordville, New York, across from Equinunk, there is public parking below the bridge and a long stretch of water above the access that is suitable for wading. This pool is a good spawning site.

Access is also available on the Pennsylvania side at Buckingham, off Route 191. Walk downstream from the ramp about one-half mile to just above the bend, where there is a series of pinch points. At the Shehawken access off Route 191, you'll need to get out of the fast water at the ramp to find suitable places to fish.

For the northern part of the upper Delaware River, the standard access is state Route 191, which leads to several secondary roads from Callicoon to Lordville and then closely parallels the river past Buckingham and Shehawken.

For more information, call (845) 252-7100 to reach a recorded 24-hour river hotline between April and October. Also, call the federal Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania, at (570) 685-4871 or go to the Web site at www.nps.gov/upde.

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