American shad (Alosa sapidissima)

Category: Fish
Common names: Shad

Shad have a colorful history. Long before being imported to the Pacific side of the country, they were getting a name for themselves. As far back as the Revolutionary War they helped the cause of the future United States. After suffering through a tough winter, General Washington's undernourished troops at Valley Forge welcomed the bounty of a large shad run on the Delaware River. The volunteers filled out their diet with smoked shad.

The historic story of interest to Washington anglers, however, is when shad were introduced into the Sacramento River in 1871. The transplanted shad thrived, and soon traveled to more northerly waters. But even before shad fry were deliberately planted in the Columbia River drainage system in 1885, some of the original immigrant population strayed north from California and homed in on the Columbia River. Shad may have been caught as early as 1876, and U.S. Fish Commissioner records document that mature shad were taken from the Columbia in 1880.

Learn more about shad fishing in this June 2023 WDFW blog post.

Description and Range

Physical description

The back is metallic-blue to greenish, shading through white to silvery on the belly. A row or rows of dark spots decreases in size toward the tail. These spots are not always visible, but show up when the fish are scaled. A very distinctive characteristic is the saw-like serrated edge along the midline of the belly.

Like salmon and steelhead, shad are anadromous. They enter freshwater rivers in the spring to spawn. Unlike Pacific salmon, they do not necessarily die after spawning. Many shad continue to spawn annually.

Shad measure up to 30 inches in length and weigh up to 12 pounds, but usually measure up to 20 inches and weigh about 5 or 6 pounds. Females are larger than males.


Licenses and permits

Anglers age 15 and older must have an annual freshwater, combination or Fish Washington fishing license. Licenses can be purchased online; by telephone at 1-866-246-9453; or at hundreds of license dealers across the state. 

Where you may encounter american shad

If you want to catch shad in Washington, the place to fish is the Columbia River. And if you're fishing from shore, the only sure-fire location is below Bonneville Dam. The popular fishery at Camas Slough is mostly a boat show outside the entrance to the slough, although some shad are taken from the steamboat landing dock (in Washougal), where there is limited access.

To find good shoreline access, travel east on Highway 14 about two miles past the town of North Bonneville. Here are four specific sites to try in the Bonneville area:

  • The northside shoreline below Second Powerhouse Dam: Start at the deadline and work the shoreline a few hundred yards downstream.
  • Transmission towers: A good spot to try when the water is high.
  • Boat ramp area: Downstream from the Hamilton Island boat ramp to the end of the access road, try any little point or eddy. Walking upstream from the boat ramp, there is about a three-block piece of shoreline with good spots all along.
  • Below John Day Dam: Some shore access is available between Maryhill Park and John Day Dam. Access is primitive, however.

Lakes where this species may be found

Benton County
Clark County
Klickitat County

State record

WeightAnglerLocationDate Caught
3.85 lbs Tom Magnuson Columbia River, Clark County June 21, 2005

See all sportfish records