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Shad Fishing on the American River

The thrill of the fight is what most fly fishers are looking for when casting.  The speed a fish can rip a fly and peel off line, send your reel zinging is the jackpot we look for with the placement of each cast.  Species are known for their turbo runs, steelhead are renowned, and for saltrodders there is of course the bonefish and their jaw dropping rips.

One other species, much less sought after but pound for pound are one of the best fighting fish, is the American Shad. The Lower American River in Sacramento CA area is one of the fly fishers’ prime opportunities to go after these fish.  Arriving in the river around late April to the end of May, after spending most of the year in salt water, the males enter the system first.  The larger females follow closely behind after delaying a bit.  Shad’s arrival luckily coincides with some usually very wadeable water levels, in between high winter flows and pre-agriculture irrigation flows.

Shad fly fishing is usually done early in the morning and in the last hours of daylight, when shad spread out or push upstream.  With the sun high in the sky shad go to deeper water, making fly fishing more difficult.  Two handed spey rods can aid during midday allowing for long distance casts and long deep swings.

Swinging flies is by far the most common technique used.  As the season progresses shad have become more wary heavy patterns like the California Comet and Clouser Minnow become more popular because they get deep fast without split shot.

Dry fly fishing is gaining some traction in the afternoon.  Try Goddard Caddis in waning daylight.

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