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Hickory Shad

Updated on May 7, 2011

Hickory shad are members of the herring family and closely related to American shad. Hickories are smaller than American shad, typically reaching 14-20 inches in length.

They are caught by anglers using shad darts or other small lures on ultra light spinning tackle. They are also caught with fly rods and are popular among fly fishing enthusiasts.

The best shad fishing often occurs at dawn and dusk, when anglers are sometimes seen fishing in close proximity. During spring spawning runs, hickories are usually caught together with river herring.

Unlike some members of the shad and herring family, hickories are often caught after the spawning migration ends. During early summer thru fall, these acrobatic fish may appear in coastal bays, inlets or creeks, sometimes feeding on the surface in large schools.

Hickory shad are anadromous; they spend their adult life in the near shore waters of the Atlantic ocean and coastal bays, ascending Atlantic Coast streams and rivers each spring.

Strong spawning populations exist in areas such as tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, with the Susquehanna, Gunpowder, Patuxent and Choptank Rivers being known for their spring shad runs.

Several coastal states have implemented restocking efforts, and shad populations have increased in some areas. As populations have grown, hickory shad have re-established spawning runs in many of the historically important rivers where they had all but disappeared.

a classic red and white shad dart
a classic red and white shad dart

What are Shad Darts?

Shad darts are the classic lure for catching members of the shad family, including American and hickory shad as well as river herring.

These simple but effective jigs also catch freshwater species such as shiners, crappie, sunfish and yellow perch.

Painted shad darts have a pattern of two contrasting colors, without eyes. The tip is painted on an angle which matches the jig head's wedge shape.

Shad dart patterns include a white or light colored base tipped with red, orange, green or other contrasting colors.

Some shad darts feature a gold or silver metallic finish. These shiny darts reflect light under water, which helps attract shad and river herring.

For catching shad and herring, these jigs can be casted and bounced along the bottom. They can also be jigged vertically from boats, bridges, piers, or other structures.

Anglers often have strong opinions concerning rigs, colors and techniques for catching shad and herring. Some anglers prefer a single shad dart, while others use tandem rigs or other setups.

When rigging tandem shad darts, anglers often experiment by pairing jigs of dissimilar weights or colors. These specialized rigs can help control lure depth and allow anglers to compensate for variations in current, depth and other factors.

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