American Shad

Illustration: Duane Raver
(Enlarge image)

Scientific Name: Alosa sapidissima

Classification:  Game Fish

Abundance: Coastal rivers during spring spawning runs.

Species Profile  (pdf)    


American shad female (collected by Commision fishery biologists on the Roanoke River during spring sampling)

American shad (collected by fisheries biologist on the Cape Fear River during spring sampling)

American shad state record - 7 lbs., 15 oz. from the Tar River on 4/10/1974 by R.S. Proctor

Additional Information

Native to Atlantic slope basins, American Shad are an anadromous species, meaning that they spend the majority of their adult life in the ocean and only enter freshwater in the spring to spawn. Each spring, American shad ascend the Roanoke, Chowan, Neuse, Tar and Cape Fear rivers in North Carolina. The American Shad, commonly known as white shad in North Carolina, is a member of the Clupeidae, or herring family. Members of the herring family are thin fishes with silvery scales and bluish backs. They have a saw-toothed ridge along the belly and a row of one or more spots along both sides immediately behind the operculum. 

The American Shad is often confused with the Hickory Shad as they are relatively similar in size and both have a row of 4 to 6 dark spots along both sides. However, the lower jaw of the Hickory Shad protrudes beyond the upper jaw, whereas the upper and lower jaws of the American Shad, are relatively equal and meet terminally. The American Shad also has a silvery patch on its cheek that is deeper than it is long, just the opposite of the hickory shad. When juvenile American Shad live in fresh water, their diet consists primarily of small aquatic insects and crustaceans such as copepods and dipterans (flies, midges and mosquitoes). Adult shad feed primarily on the larger zooplankton (copepods) but also consume fish eggs and small fish. During the spawning run, adult American Shad typically do not feed yet they do strike at artificial lures (darts and small shiny spoons). 

Learn more by reading the American shad species profile.

American shad are anadromous fish found in both inland and coastal waters.

The following inland fishing regulations are effective Aug. 1 of each year.

Inland Fishing Regulations
Regulatory authority between the Wildlife Resources Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries. Inland game fish regulations include Manner of Taking, Seasons and Using Trotlines and Set-hooks.

Warmwater Game Fish
Game fish size and creel limits. Also, Bass and Morone (striped bass) Identification Charts.

For coastal fishing regulations, visit the NC Division of Marine Fisheries

Fishing tips:

American Shad generally do not feed during their spawning migration, so it has always been a mystery why they will strike shad darts and spoons. Anglers typically fish for American Shad on light spinning gear rigged with 4- to 8-pound test line, although increasing numbers of anglers are refining their fly-fishing skills for shad. A favored fishing technique with darts and spoons is to cast upstream along current breaks and retrieve as they sink and drift downstream. For fly-fishing anglers, the fly of choice is often a small Clouser-minnow with a flashy tail. Although many anglers harvest a creel limit of 10 shad, the practice of catch and release is popular.

Good places to fish

The Cape Fear and Tar rivers support an excellent American Shad recreational fishery. On the Cape Fear River, three locks and dams are located on the river (near Tarheel, Elizabethtown and Riegelwood) and are choice spots during the spring shad run. Good spots for boat and bank anglers on the Tar River are near Battle Park in Rocky Mount and Bell’s Bridge, north of Tarboro. Although not as abundant as hickory shad, American Shad may be caught on the Neuse River at Ferry Bridge near Goldsboro (Wayne County), Anderson Point Park in Raleigh (Wake County) and on the stretch between Wilson’s Mills and Clayton.


2021 - Cape Fear River Anadromous Fish Stock Assessment, 2019 (23-page Final Report)

2021 - Neuse River American Shad Survey, 2019–2020 (9-page Final Report)

2015 - Cape Fear River American Shad Survey — Final Report (PDF) 

2015 - Neuse River American Shad Survey — Final Report (PDF) 

2015 - Roanoke River American Shad Survey — Final Report (PDF) 

2015 - Tar River American Shad Survey — Final Report (PDF)

2014 - North Carolina American Shad Habitat Plan (PDF)

2012 - North Carolina American Shad Sustainability Plan (PDF)

Summaries (One-page Fact Sheets)

2018 - Roanoke River American Shad Spawning Stock Survey (PDF)

2016 - Assessing Spawning Activity of Anadromous Species in the Cape Fear River (PDF)