Still one of the Northeasts most productive shad fisheries, Pennsylvanias Delaware River is the place to be this spring for hot action from shore or boat. (March 2008).
Photo by Vic Attardo
While shad stocks along the East Coast are not "recovering," according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the same agencys assessment of the Delaware Rivers shad run is one of "stable stock abundance."
Mark Mulrine, chairman of the Forks of the Delaware Shad Tournament, the largest shad contest on the river, said that last year featured "another good run" and that "winning weights are up over the last two or three years."
This half-empty, half-full scenario is what Delaware River shad anglers have faced for a number of seasons. But that hasnt put a damper on their expectations of hooking and landing a powerful shad in the mighty currents of the Delaware River.
Here are some of the best places to go to tangle with the fast-running, high-jumping, bulldog-powerful and -- when flavorfully smoked -- great-tasting American shad:
No matter what the annual status of the shad fishery, the Easton-Phillipsburg area remains a premier hotspot for catching spring shad. Its also angler-friendly, with a succession of boat ramps and wading spots.
The short distance between Bushkill Creek and the rapids below the Easton railroad bridges can be traversed by a small boat with a propeller engine. But to get above the Bushkill Creek rapids, or the stretch below the bridges, a jet boat is required.
Actually, there are three bridges that make fishing worthwhile in the Easton-Phillipsburg area. The channels beneath the "Free Bridge," the northernmost crossing, are known shad interceptors.
Another good spot is the channel that swings out of the Lehigh River and crosses under the first railroad bridge. This cut can be worked by anglers wading along the Easton bank, a sufficiently legal distance from the Lehigh River fish ladder.
Below the Lehigh River dam and the channel on the outside of this knoll running toward the first railroad bridge, theres a tiny spit of an island, or shoal thats quite good for boaters.
Another hotspot for small boaters in this section is downstream of the second railroad bridge. The water flattens out for a distance before the long riffles upstream of the Easton water treatment plant.
This can be a good location when shad are schooling before going into the churning Lehigh runs.
Most anglers who focus on the fishing bridges launch at the Phillipsburg boat ramp rather than the old ramp beneath Scotts Park in Easton. (Continued)
This year, the Forks of the Delaware Shad Tournament is scheduled for Saturday, April 26 through Saturday, May 3.
Last years winning fish weighed 6.76 pounds and measured 23 inches.
EASTON TO FOUL RIFT
The Delaware River grows thick and wide after crashing through the narrow chute of Foul Rift, in the shadow of the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company power plant.
Winding its way southward, the river makes a hard turn before forming the deep, slower waters near the Sandts Eddy access. From this Pennsylvania ramp down to Easton, the river is punctuated by huge emerged boulders, fast powerful runs and deep churning channels. It is a great place to fish for shad.
Tournament director Mark Mulrine said that access is good for boaters and waders in the area. Last year, he noted, the river was running low, so wading anglers were able to enter the river in various areas along the Pennsylvania shore. One hotspot was below the Scenic Overlook on Route 611 in Forks Township. Another was farther north at the Con Agra plant.
For anglers with small boats, the Sandts Eddy Access in Northampton County with its large parking area remains a favorite. Sandts Eddy is five miles north of Easton on Route 611. Travel upstream to a marvelous riffle where the river is momentarily choked to half its downstream width. Shad anglers call these "pinch points" -- always dependable hotspots.
The next boat launch north of Sandts Eddy is the PPL ramp at Martins Creek. To reach this launch, travel north on Route 611 until the highway forks onto state Route 1004 toward Belvedere, N.J.
Along state Route 1004 are signs for the ramp at the T-intersection of T-661. Take winding T-661 to the access area. If you go past the power plant, you have gone too far.
The PPL ramp is downstream of an old bridge and Foul Rift. Wise boaters will not venture much farther than the bridge. However, the channel that contains the beefy shank of the shad run lies along the New Jersey side, very close to the shoreline.
On a busy day, boaters will line up just outside the Jersey channel toward the Pennsylvania side.
The border of the Pocono Mountains changes the face of shad fishing on the Delaware River. Except in isolated locations, there are few deep boiling riffles or channels 30 feet deep. With mountains on its east and west banks, the Delaware River widens and gets considerably shallower.
At least there are many more shallow locations in the Monroe and Pike county section of the river than there are downstream. Because of this, anglers planning to wade for shad have more opportunities.
Once above the Delaware Water Gap, waders can get into the river at known hotspots such as Walpack Bend, Eshback and the Jersey shoreline of Worthington State Forest, as well as many locations along Route 209 and rural New Jersey roads.
There are also good spots along the federal lands north and south of Dingmans Ferry.
No matter what the annualstatus of the shad fishery,the Easton-Phillipsburg area remains a premier hotspot for catching spring shad.
In Monroe County, the largest boating access for many river miles is Smithfield Beach, about three miles north of Shawnee-on-the-Delaware within the Delaware Water National Recreational Area on River Road.
The ramp at Smithfield has immediate access to some thick, deep water, but a short trip up or downstream will put boaters into shallow but swift pinch points.
In Pike County, there is a ramp at the Milford Beach access. The flat-faced cliffs at Milford keep the deep Delaware channel close to New Jersey, and you can easily discern the outside edge of the cut by the straight line of boats that anchor along the drop. The Milford Beach access is south of the town of Milford off Route 209. The town is a good place to find tackle and amenities.
The Dingmans Ferry Access contains large parking areas and good ramps in the shadow of the Dingmans Ferry bridge. The river makes a wide turn in this stretch, and the best pinch points are on the Pennsylvania side.
Upstream from the access point on Route 209, there are short driveways in the woods where anglers who want to wade can find entrance. The Dingmans Ferry Access is off Route 739, about a half mile east of Route 209.
To continue north on Route 209 and into Pike County, theres a boat ramp at the Bushkill Access directly off the highway. The Bushkill ramp is centered on a convoluted section of river thats not as deep as certain downstream sections.
In this section of the river, it is possible to stretch boats horizontally across the Delawares currents as well as vertically downstream. Depending on the river flow, the shad run can extend to one side to the other.
After the Delaware River makes a hard turn to the northwest, boating anglers will find the Matamoras Access to be most convenient. This site is on Delaware Drive about one mile north of the Route 209 bridge. Shad use the pools around Matamoras as a temporary resting place and later as spawning grounds, making this a good spot during the height of the run and again during the spawning ritual.
Much farther north in Pike County, boater access is available at the Zane Grey access in the town of Lackawaxen. This area is a hotspot for shad because migrating fish use the pool below the long, stretch of shallow riffles as a staging area.
For boaters, the hotspot along the Zane Grey Pool is undoubtedly on the New York side of the river, north of the rebuilt Roebling Bridge.
The Lackawaxen River enters the Delaware River just above the Zane Grey House and Museum. Shallower water and the Lackawaxen River flow attract some shad into the tributary. At the curve on the Delaware River below the Lackawaxen River, wading anglers may get their licks at a few shad. But the vast majority of fish will be on the New York side, in water too deep to wade.
For additional fishing information on Pennsylvanias Delaware River shad fishing, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Harrisburg at (717) 705-7800.
For travel information, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.