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The Most Common Types of Shad That Anglers Fish For.

shad is a type of herring that many people consider a bait fish because they work so well for catching trout, bass, and other species.

different types of tarpon in a fishing net

Most types of shad live in saltwater, but seek inland places with fresh or brackish water to spawn, such as rivers and estuaries.

The shad survive on a diet primarily of plankton. They also eat the eggs of other fish, worms, shrimp, insects, and sometimes small fish.

Different species of shad like American shad and blueback herring are delicious when prepared in a way that minimizes the large number of bones found in this oily fish.

Types of Shad

  1. American shad
  2. Threadfin shad
  3. Gizzard shad
  4. Alabama shad
  5. Hickory shad
  6. Alewife
  7. blueback herring

American shad

American Shad, scientific name salty shad, is a type of herring that lives in the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to the southern tip of Florida. This fish is the best known of the different species of shad.

American shad have slender bodies, shoulder spots, and shiny scales ranging from silver to green to blue with a forked caudal fin.

Average weight is 3 to 8 pounds, but the world record for shad came from the Connecticut River in Massachusetts at 11 pounds, 4 ounces.

American shad roe, or shad eggs in the lobe-shaped egg sacs found on female shad in spring, used to be an eastern US delicacy.

Threadfin shad

Dorosoma Petenense or Threadfin shad live primarily in lakes and rivers in the southeastern US. These fish provide a food source for larger game fish such as bass and trout and are a popular fishing bait fish sporty.

They cannot survive in water below 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit and live in shallower water where sunlight can penetrate.

They also live in brackish open water and can tolerate full salt water, but do not reproduce well in high salinity conditions.

These fish average less than 4 inches in length and have silvery scales with a darker greenish-black color on the forked caudal fin.

gizzard shad

Gizzard shad, scientific name Dorosoma cepedianum, also called mud shad and lives in fresh and brackish water in the United States. This fish is one of the types of shad commonly used as bait.

gizzard tarpon used for fishing bait

Gizzard shad have silvery scales and a distinctive dark spot just behind the upper edge of their gills.

This purplish-black stain fades with age but remains visible. The average weight is less than a pound and less than 1 foot long.

The largest known gizzard shad catch weighed 4.12 pounds and came from South Dakota’s Lake Oahe.

alabama shad

He alosa alabamae it is one of the types of shad that is becoming increasingly rare due to overfishing and the construction of dams that block access to spawning grounds.

Alabama shad weigh between 2 and 3 pounds and have silver sides with a blue-green back.

Like the American shad, these fish live in the ocean and move to rivers and freshwater to spawn. They live in salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to the southeastern United States.

This shad is Alabama’s only clupeid fish (a fish with ray fins made of bony spines and webs of skin) that moves from saltwater to freshwater to spawn.

hickory shad

He Alosa mediocris or hickory shad lives on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is often confused with American shad as they can be similar in size and color.

Hickory shad are typically smaller, averaging 1 to 3 pounds, and typically have a darker tinge to their scales with almost green-black or green-gray fins. The current record catch in Georgia in early 2022 weighed in at 2 pounds, 10 ounces.

Hickory shad also have a protruding lower jaw which helps distinguish them from hickory shad and blue herring.

The body will be less symmetrical with a more prominent belly than any of those different species of shad.


He Alosa pseudoharengus or alewife is a baitfish that lives in the Atlantic Ocean and moves inland to freshwater to spawn. Some live full time in fresh water, notably the alewife population in the Great Lakes.

an alewife tarpon swimming underwater

Alewife and American shad migrate to spawn in the spring and are often mistaken for each other.

Although similar in appearance, the alewife is more of a gray-green with an average weight of around 7 to 9 ounces, so they are often smaller than the American shad.

They also have paler fins, no spots on the upper half, and a more rounded jaw area with a more protruding lower jaw than other types of shad.

blueback herring

blueback herring, scientific name alosa aestivalis, also called summer shad or blueback shad. This herring is one of the types of shad that inhabits the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida.

Mostly silvery, their backs are bluish-green and much less gray than the alewife, which is one of several different species of shad that is easy to mix with the blueback. Blueback and alewife are so similar in size and features that they are often collectively called river herring.

The blueback herring has smaller eyes and thicker bodies than the alewife and is commonly cooked or smoked for human consumption.

Related: Mastering Fly Fishing: 15 Essential Tips for Beginners.

final thoughts

These different species of shad are all members of the herring family, usually caught in the spring as they move inland in schools to spawn.

Whether anglers want to bag some blueback herring to eat or smaller types of shad to use as bait, shad can be a fun and rewarding type of fish to catch.

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