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Pennsylvania's Delaware River Spring Shad

Pennsylvania's Delaware River Spring Shad

Now's the time to start wading and drifting for Delaware River shad. The outlook for 2003 is excellent, according to biologists, and some of the year's best fishing takes place this month.

By Vic Attardo

Many Pennsylvania anglers consider the American shad to be the most powerful fighter in our major rivers. Indeed, few other fish can sustain a fight like an adult shad. Shad refuse to come to the net prematurely. For every pound of weight on a shad's iridescent flanks, you can multiply the minutes in a fisherman's fight by two.

While Keystone State biologists work to enhance spring migration runs in the Susquehanna River watershed and elsewhere, it's still the Delaware River that plays host to the largest and most available shad. In recent years, the spring shad migration seems to have diminished, but the shad's range in the Delaware River system is expanding and there is hope for the future.

The number of fish climbing up the Lehigh River ladder in Easton continues to increase. Fisheries biologist Dave Arnold reported that 3,290 shad had climbed the Easton Dam fishway at the junction of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers by the end of the counting session in late June. In addition, passage upstream through the Lehigh River's Chain Dam fishway "remains most impressive," according to Arnold.

After modifications of the Chain Dam were completed in 2000, shad passage in 2001 and 2002 more than doubled the highest pre-modification passage in 1998. By the end of June, 1,463 shad had climbed the Chain Dam. It's important to remember, the shad that went through both Lehigh River fishways first had to come up the Delaware River.

The Schuylkill River, another important tributary of the Delaware River, also has had a return of adult fish to its lower reaches.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been stocking shad fry in the Schuylkill River in Berks County since 1999. While early results on returning shad have been promising, biologists expect a more substantial number of 4-year-old males and females to return in 2003 and 2004.


However, the big news regarding shad is that the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has approved a 40 percent reduction in the ocean-intercept fishery of shad for 2003 and a complete elimination of the shad-directed fishery by the start of 2005. Along the Delaware River, sport fishermen are hoping these changes will bring back the huge shad runs of the '80s and early '90s.

While shad runs have had their ups and downs in recent years, the places to fish for shad have hardly changed. The best places to fish are where the river narrows or the channel forces the shad to funnel into a smaller area, called "pinch points."

This year, some dams and power plant launch areas may be suddenly closed for security reasons. These days it is wise to check ahead. Meanwhile, here's a sampling of Pennsylvania's best spring shad hotspots.

Each season, the first reports of shad catches come from the area around Trenton, New Jersey.

In this region, anglers fish from both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey shores. There is a reciprocal agreement between border states, so a license from either state is valid on the Delaware River both for shore- and boat-fishing.

On the Pennsylvania side, the first major launching facility is the Yardley access on Route 32 at the north end of Yardley. This ramp allows anglers to travel north to Scudders Falls above the Route 95 bridge and south to around Rotary Island. Shore access is available on the New Jersey side along Route 29.

From a boat, the best areas to fish are below the Scudders Falls dam and around the highway bridge. Through this section, try fishing close to the downstream end of islands because currents there tend to concentrate the shad.

Fishing just above the tidal zone is usually good through April.

Some shore-fishing is available in the Washington Crossing area along Route 32. However, the channel is too far away for anglers on the Pennsylvania shoreline. For the shorebound angler, better April spots are a little north; however, there are good boat opportunities in this area.

Public launch facilities are on the New Jersey side off Route 29 in the town of Lambertville. Just below Lambertville is a wing dam and boulder field that hinders fish passage in low water.

The main channel in this section hugs the Jersey side, so anglers should concentrate their efforts off the east shore. The densest runs of shad usually take place in this area during the last week in April.

This three-mile area offers the best chances for successful April fishing in the lower river. Both shore and boating opportunities are good in this zone, but boaters do best.

A hotspot is the Lumberville wing dam around Bulls Island. When the shad run is on, boaters concentrate along the eddies at the edge of the channel. Access points are above and below the dam at Bryan and Bulls Island. Both access points are on Route 29 on the New Jersey side.

Shore-fishermen gain access on the Pennsylvania side of the river along the Delaware Canal just above a footbridge. At this site, a long point restricts the river's flow so wade-fishermen get a chance to intercept the run. Some anglers also do well fishing from the New Jersey side in the current just above the footbridge.

The Delaware River is more than 1/4-mile wide through most of this zone, but a number of islands constrict the flow offering good pinch points for mid- to late-April and early-May fishing.

The old bridge abutments at Point Pleasant are prime boating locations. Shore-fishing is possible around the Point Pleasant Pumping Station in seasons with low to moderate flows. Working in boats, anglers should concentrate on the New Jersey side above and below the islands.

Access to this area is from a launch site at Tinicum Park off Route 32 on the Pennsylvania side. An additional access is directly across the river south of Frenchtown. With the best channels on the New Jersey side, shore-fishing around Frenchtown can be good.

On the Pennsylvania side, north of Tinicum and Frenchtown, Upper Black Eddy is a small but very popular launch site off Route 32. Upper Black Eddy provides acce

ss to great boat fishing above and below the Milford bridge.

This is still one of the most popular sections of the river to fish. The main reason this section is hot is because the river is considerably narrower than downstream sections and the channels are more compressed

Shore-fishing is often excellent in this stretch. Well-known shore spots include the pool below the Rieglesville bridge, the Easton sewer plant and city park, the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, Eddyside Park in Easton and the old cement plant north of Easton on Route 611.

In this stretch, the majority of boat ramps are on the Pennsylvania side. Launch sites include a hand-carry site at Rieglesville near the intersection of routes 212 and 611, a shore and hand-launch access at Frost Hollow Park, a paved ramp at Scott Park in Easton and a large ramp facility at Sandts Eddy on Route 611. In New Jersey, the rebuilt Phillipsburg ramp now provides access to the Easton city bridge channels.

This region provides good fishing from the third week of April until mid-May.

For more information on fishing from Trenton to Easton, contact the PFBC Area 6 office at (610) 847-2442. For fishing opportunities from Easton to Portland, contact the PFBC Area 5 office at (570) 588-6388. For accommodations, contact the Lehigh Valley Visitors Bureau at (800) 747-0561.

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