Shad numbers are on the rise in the Delaware River, which should make 2007 another year of great fishing. Here's where to find them from shore or boat this spring. (March 2007)
Not bad . . . not bad at all! That was many veteran anglers' assessment of last year's Keystone State shad run.
Photo by Vic Attardo
After several years of disappointing spring migrations, sportfishermen saw the first effects of stricter ocean limits and, as a result, enjoyed a solid shad season in 2006.
To prove this is not just whistling across the Delaware, there's one sure way to gauge the shad run: by looking at the number of fish passing through the fish ladder into the Lehigh River at Easton.
In 2004, 754 shad were counted. In 2005, the number dropped to 607. But Dave Arnold, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Area 5 fisheries manager, reported that in 2006, 1,853 shad were observed climbing the rungs. When you add in a very low 375 count in 2003, that's more than the previous two years. The 2006 shad run was greater than the previous three years combined, proof that last year's run was something to be optimistic about.
Hoping for more of the same, here are some top places where anglers can make their own assessments of the 2007 migration:
CENTRAL BUCKS COUNTY
The shad season heats up first in central Bucks County from Tinicum downstream to New Hope. Some shad are caught before they reach this area, but often the early-season water temperature below central Bucks County isn't conducive to a strong bite. Typically, migrating shad reach the Tinicum-to-New Hope zone in the first or second week of April. The bite gets progressively solid with warmer weather.
Throughout the area on the Pennsylvania side of the river, there is only one public boat launch available, and that is at Tinicum. However, a number of ramps are available on the New Jersey border along Route 29.
The Tinicum access is off Route 32 between Upper Black Eddy and Erwinna in a broad, flat area of the river.
Though launch sites are limited, this stretch offers good shore access. Anglers will find limited parking from Point Pleasant south to the area parallel with Stockton, N.J. Sites include Lumberville and the Virginia Forest Picnic Area north of Stockton on the Pennsylvania side, all along Route 32.
UPPER BUCKS COUNTY
The buzz gets louder as shad reach upper Bucks County from Upper Black Eddy, through Narrowsville and Durham and into Riegelsville. When the shad reach this zone, the water temperature is often a more bite-friendly 52 degrees.
There is a launch ramp at the PFBC's Upper Black Eddy on Route 32 just below the Milford bridge. Boaters use this site to head upriver, above the bridge, to fish the fat water and narrower channel in that zone.
The farther you go above the ramp, the greater the number of channel pinch-points, which funnel shad to more confined chutes. Downstream of the ramp, the river is wider and less hospitable to shad anglers.
For shore-anglers, there's the PFBC access at Riegelsville. There is no ramp here, only walk-in fishing. At this river bend, however, the channel is too long a cast for wading anglers. Hike up or downstream, using the canal wall to find other spots.
In fact, if the river appears close to the canal, it's a good idea to walk the inner bulwark to find suitable sites.
Anglers may also park at Durham, at the T-intersection of routes 32 and 611, to access the canal wall.
In addition to this spot, there is a canal parking area beside the Palisades, a few miles down from the route 611/32 split. A large, old factory on the New Jersey side marks the location. Work this spot if the river is low and the first island split is fordable. Cross behind the island, and the pinch points are a long cast toward New Jersey.
The heat is on when the shad get to the Pennsylvania river city. Not only is the Delaware's temperature often conducive to a good bite, but the number of anglers pursuing shad increases exponentially.
These days, the Easton area provides three boat ramps, two of them just above the confluence of the Lehigh River. The third lies farther north on Route 611.
The first launch is on the Pennsylvania side below the city park. To launch, boaters must maneuver down a high-gradient curved ramp with no room for error. There is limited lawn parking at the site.
The Phillipsburg access, just across the river and above the Free Bridge, is easier for trailered boats to maneuver and boasts a large parking lot.
Boaters in this zone are restricted to the Easton rapids downstream of the lower railroad bridge and the Bushkill Creek Rapids above the toll bridge -- unless you are in a jet boat.
Still, there are numerous traditional hotspots for boaters in this area. Try under the middle arches of the Free Bridge, and also from above the first railroad bridge to downstream of the second railroad bridge below the Lehigh River.
Upstream is the PFBC's Sandts Eddy access on Route 611. This site has a large lot and a good ramp.
With the cleanup of a major ash spill into the Delaware River from the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company's Martin's Creek plant, anglers are again fishing the river below Foul Rift.
Boat access in this zone is from the PPL ramp, which allows boaters to travel a good distance downriver. To find the ramp, turn right at the Route 661 split above the village of Martins Creek and follow state Route 1004, which leads to Riverton-Belvidere. Turn at the PPL access sign on T-661, which curves down to the parking area and ramp.
Above Martins Creek, there is an undeveloped PFBC access in Riverton at Doe Hollow. Shore-fishing is available at the site and according to PFBC information, there is an access ramp. But there's no parking lot, so anglers must park along the roadway.
Above the river turn that sends the Delaware on a tilted northeast course, the Met Ed access is above Portland. This site has a fine ramp and large parking area, providing boaters access to some good shad water.
For the most part, the channel and its pinch points are closer to the Jersey side, so -- unfortunate
ly for potential waders -- this is not a hotspot.
However, boaters often sit above the line of shad moving from the warmer waters around the power plant toward the Delaware Water Gap. When water temperatures in the central Northampton County zone are in the 50s, shad catches are often very good.
MONROE & PIKE COUNTIES
For many shad anglers, the area from Matamoras downstream to the Delaware Water Gap is their favorite part of the river. Generally, the shad reach this zone in the last week of April or first week of May. With that timetable, the days are longer, allowing for more fishing time. And the water temperature is usually above 58 degrees, provoking a good bite.
Access for boaters is much better in this area, and there are shore-fishing spots available at the Gap National Recreation Area and, on the Jersey side, at Worthington State Park.
In Monroe County, a large parking area and boat ramp are at Smithfield Beach on River Road about three miles north of Shawnee On Delaware. Heading upstream, there's boat access at Bushkill, Eshback, Dingman's Ferry and Milford Beach. These four spots lie along Route 209.
The Delaware River has many personalities through the Monroe-southern Pike stretch. It varies from the pools of Smithfield Beach and Walpack Bend to the riffle-rich water of Bushkill and Eshback, and to the broad, straight stretch at Milford Beach.
Shore-anglers will find good wading and casting conditions at Bushkill, Eshback and north of Dingman's Ferry.
Farther north of Milford through central Pike County, the river contains plenty of deep flat-bottom pools that are not particularly conducive to shore-fishing. But if you are looking for one more launch area, the hot place to go is the pinch point above the Zane Grey Pool at Lackawaxen. There's a launch ramp with limited parking in front of the Zane Grey Museum off Route 590.
For additional information, call the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at (717) 705-7800, or visit the agency's Web site at Fish.PA.US.
For trip-planning aid, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.