Denis Peirce: Shad on the Lower Yuba River
There is a cycle to fishing. Each year in the spring the stripers come up the Sacramento River followed closely by shad. The stripers get more attention due to their size but the shad are a great sport fish in their own right.
Essentially shad are a giant herring that was introduced to the Pacific Coast from the Atlantic in the 1800s. They live in the ocean and come back to freshwater rivers to spawn in the spring.
We are fortunate to have one of the best shad rivers in the state below us in the valley. There are good runs on the Sacramento and Feather rivers. When conditions are right, thousands of Feather River fish make the right turn at Marysville and come up the Yuba.
For the angler, fishing the Lower Yuba for shad has a lot to do with river flows. For the last month it has been flowing about 1,000 cfs which is prime for anglers. The previous two years we had heavy winters and high spring flows. A year ago on this date the flows were over 6,000 cfs. Really high water makes finding the fish difficult and they can be in areas you can’t reach from shore. At 1,000 cfs it is possible to cross the river and fish either side.
About half way between the Feather River and Englebright Lake is Daguerre Dam on the Yuba. It is an irrigation dam, diverting water to valley farms. It has a fish ladder system that salmon and steelhead can navigate but shad do not. The shad run is confined to the lower river.
I was invited by Bill McCrea to fish with him on Wednesday. We were not in a rush to get there at dawn. We did not get on the water until after 9 a.m. The best action is in low light early and late in the day. In the right conditions you can hook dozens of fish in short order. But a good fishing trip can be as much about camaraderie and good conversation as body counts. Bill has private access above the dam. We forded the river and hiked down about a half mile, ending up below the dam where the shad were stacked up. The regulations do not permit fishing right at a dam, you have to go downstream.
This time of the year the water is in the lower 60s and wet wading with shorts is quite comfortable. If you went out to waist deep water you could see the shad in the river around you.
I am not sure what shad eat when they are in freshwater but anglers present small day-glow flies or lures in hot pink, chartreuse or fluorescent orange near the bottom. I tried to hook fish that were visible within a few feet of me, but that didn’t work. I was only able to hook up fish that were beyond eyesight, 40 to 50 feet away.
A nickname for these shad is “a poor man’s tarpon.” These fish pull hard and jump when hooked. In a few hours I landed half a dozen fish and Bill almost doubled that. Bill got ahead of me on a red fly while I fished orange to no avail. When I switched to hot pink the action started for me. Orange can be “the color” but the fish are fickle on any given day. You need to bring options.
The shad run fills a niche for river anglers. When the Sierra rivers are high and cold during the snow melt, the shad run is at its peak in the valley where the air and water are very comfortable. A good rule of thumb is the shad run will be fully on at Memorial Day in May. I have seen them as late as August on the Feather River. What usually heralds the end of shad fishing is not the lack of fish. Rather it is the onset of the prime Sierra stream fishing in June.
Fishing is an annual cycle and we still have some good shad fishing in the valley as the Sierra river fishing is coming on strong. I got a great report of a stonefly hatch on the North Yuba this week. We have some very good options.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com.
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