For non-stop action for two- to eight-pound American shad—fishing from shore, no less—you can’t beat the Annapolis River. The abundant herring-like shad spend most of their lives in the ocean but return briefly to freshwater rivers to spawn, and the Annapolis is a key destination. From mid-April to late May, 50-fish days are possible, especially near Middleton. Though no one really knows why these plankton feeders even hit lures and flies, hit they do.
In 2011, Best for American shad
No other East Coast anadromous fish offers as much steady action as the Annapolis River’s American shad. Averaging two to eight pounds (the all-tackle world record is 11 pounds four ounces), these plankton eaters enter the river by the thousands during their spawning run. Some days, I’ve even walked away from a pool with the shad still biting—there’s just that many.
Shad have soft mouths, so expect plenty of missed takes and long-distance releases. They’ll frequently go off the take after being hammered for a while, so you won’t get big numbers wearing concrete boots. We’ll typically hit four or five pools during a day’s fishing, or even more when canoeing the river. Catch-and-release anglers should note that releasing shad unharmed takes a little extra care. Although apparently hardy, they take a few moments longer than expected to fully revive, even when landed quickly.
American shad are usually available from early May until late June. Since they’re plankton eaters, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why they take lures and flies; it could be the fish see them as a threat to their spawn. I find shad at their best in the early season when they hold in deep pools and their tailouts. Once actual spawning begins, the fish move into shallow riffles and are too easily foul-hooked. As I said, there’s just that many fish.