Where Do Shad Go, When They Aren't Around Here?
|BAY OF FUNDY|
S ome day, we're going to clean up our rivers, and then maybe the shad will come back. Since every female shad produces a couple hundred thousand eggs a season, when the shad come back, there could be a lot of them. We now know some things George Washington didn't know about shad. For example, they all go to the Bay of Fundy, once a year. All of them, whether they spawn in North Carolina, the Delaware, or the Connecticut River.
By tagging them, it was learned that shad swim at a depth of several hundred feet, apparently seeking a certain amount of darkness, which is in turn related to the growth of algae and plankton, their favorite food. So, when the surviving shad go back down a spawning river to the ocean, they head North in a huge counter-clockwise ocean rotation, adjusting their depth to the degree of darkness. Just about the time summering Philadelphians start packing for Bar Harbor, the shad also reach the Bay of Fundy, which is muddy and dark. Fundy is famous for its unusually high tides, so the turbulent water achieves the shad's desired degree of murkiness at about thirty feet instead of the normally deeper waters of the cyclic migration in the open ocean. People who know about these things say that just about every shad on the East Coast passes through the Bay of Fundy in late spring. In the fall, the fish turn around and start to go South again, maybe following the sun, maybe seeking a desired temperature, or both. Somehow or other, this pattern of migration helps them escape predator sharks and seals, as judged by that wholesome entertainment, the examination of stomach contents. Look out for sharks and seals in the open ocean, but striped bass are the big enemies of fingerlings in the spawning rivers. The Hudson River curiously has lots of striped bass lurking among the abandoned piers, and so does the Chesapeake. The Delaware also has a few stripers around the mouth of the Rancocas Creek; go ahead and fish 'em out.
All of this brings us to a suggestion for our tourist bureau. Shad don't eat much when they are on a spawning run, but they will strike at a lure. That is, you don't use worms, you do fly-casting. If we ever got anything approaching the old shad runs in the Spring, you could expect thousands and thousands of eager fly-casters to flock to the Delaware, filling up our marinas, hotels, restaurants and cabarets. You wouldn't need to advertise a river teeming with eight-pound action-eager fish; the news would spread like magic. The best proof of this claim can be found on the only river on the East Coast which continues to have a classic shad run. The existence of this river was told to me as a sworn secret, but the invitation to try it was given with the assurance that "every single cast results in a strike".
And here's the zinger. Except for that one secret stream, the Delaware is the only major river on the East Coast that doesn't have a dam between the ocean and the spawning grounds. Once these fish have picked a river, they keep coming back to it, forsaking all others. The situation positively cries out for Federal assistance, and the lure-casting fishermen of America demand no less. Presidential elections have been won and lost on less important issues than this one. But just one dedicated congressman could do it, particularly if he sits on the Committee on Fisheries. Bring back our shad and get rewarded with lifetime incumbency that even Gerrymandering can't dislodge.