American shad are a giant relative of the herring first introduced to the Pacific from the East Coast in the late 1800s.
These silvery sport fish soon established spring spawning runs into rivers in Oregon, Washington and California.
How to Catch Shad in Oregon and Washington
Shad are eager biters and hard fighters.
They will aggressively strike a variety of small lures, including shad darts and soft crappie jigs, tiny spoons and spinners.
Shad will even readily strike bare Siwash hooks on a swivel or simply decorated with bright beads strung to the line so they rest against the hook’s eye.
Fly fishing can be effective for catching shad.
“With the constant action and great fight, shad fishing is a great way to introduce someone new to fishing!” said former fishing guide Bill Green.
The Northwest’s shad runs really get going in May and often peak in June. Worthwhile fishing can continue into early July some years.
Check your regulations before fishing to determine whether keeping salmon and steelhead is legal.
For starters, know that special harvest cards are required for those larger fish that you don’t need for shad.
Also, there is a Columbia Basin endorsement for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon that would apply to the Columbia and tributaries like the Willamette.
Typically, you should look for shad in fairly swift water that’s not much more than about 10 feet deep (and often shallower), usually within about 30 feet from shore.
This makes shad easily accessible to bank anglers, but boaters can often anchor right in the fish-traveling lanes and catch large numbers.
Make sure you have the knowledge and equipment to anchor in strong current, which can be hazardous for the unprepared.
Pacific Northwest shad often weigh 2 or 3 pounds, with larger specimens regularly going to about 5 pounds and the jumbo shad up to 8 pounds.
Shad are anadromous and like Oregon’s steelhead they potentially can return for more than one spawning run, growing to the larger size in the process.
Shad get mixed reviews as table fare, due to their bony bodies and oily flesh.
Some people find shad tasty when properly prepared and cooked, and others also eat shad roe.
The following three rivers are where you will find the best shad fishing in Oregon and Washington:
Columbia River Shad Fishing
The Columbia on the border of Oregon and Washington has the Northwest’s largest shad runs, and for practical purposes this is Washington state’s only great shad fishery.
How great: The number of shad counted at Bonneville Dam often run into the millions, literally filling the fish ladder with silver.
The first decent numbers of shad appear in late May, after the season typically opens.
There may be enough fish arriving to give shad fishing a whirl over the Memorial Day weekend.
But better fishing will come in June, with the peak of the run typically occurring in the second or third week of June, when there are often more than 100,000 shad (and sometimes over 200,000) passing Bonneville per day.
Shad fishing in the Columbia River is typically awesome around Father’s Day.
Shad can be caught in plenty of places on the Columbia, but some of the very best fishing is typically below the dams, where the shad tend to bottle up before climbing the fish ladders.
The most popular fishery is in the heart of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge below Bonneville Dam on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the state line.
For Washington anglers, try Cascade Island just below the dam, especially the spillway side.
Other great spots around this area are the north (mainland) shore below the Second Powerhouse Dam and also at the transmission towers.
Downstream just a little ways, try casting from the bank on either side of the Hamilton Island boat ramp near the community of North Bonneville. This is a good spot for boaters to launch for shad fishing trips.
Boaters interested in fishing farther downriver might also want to give Camas Slough, Government Island or other nearshore areas a try. They can be very good.
Another spot to go without a boat is the steamboat landing in Washougal.
Farther upriver, try to locate spots below the dams of the Columbia and Snake rivers. One place definitely worth a try if you’re up that way is below the John Day Dam, a short drive up Highway 14 from Maryhill.
Oregon anglers also concentrate below Bonneville Dam, often from the north shore of Bradford Island. Shad anglers also gather on the mainland bank around Tanner Creek, just below the fish hatchery.
Boat anglers do well throughout this area, often anchoring is relatively shallow water along mainland and island shorelines. One of the launches on the Oregon side closest to the action is at The Fishery, a private marina at Dodson.
There is an interesting and sometimes productive fishery from the old locks at Cascade Locks, a short drive upriver from Bonneville Dam.
Most people use fairly heavy rods and weights to swing their lures close to the lock’s concrete walls immediately below them. It’s fun to watch even if you aren’t fishing.
There’s a boat launch at the lower end of the locks with access to the Bonneville Pool’s sturgeon, salmon and other fisheries.
Upriver on the Oregon side, another good place to catch shad from the bank or boat is at Giles French Park, near Rufus on the shoreline below John Day Dam.
Learn about the wealth of fishing options in the river at our overview page, Columbia River Fishing.
Willamette River Shad Fishing
A healthy chunk of the Columbia River’s might shad run never makes it to Bonneville Dam because many of these fish hang a right turn into the Willamette.
The most popular fisheries on the Willamette are upstream from Portland, just below Willamette Falls (between Oregon City and West Linn).
As with dams on the Columbia, shad tend to concentrate below the falls, which have a fish ladder but still slow down fish migrations.
The main shad fishery stretches from the legal deadline below the falls down past the mouth of the Clackamas River toward Cedar Island Park (West Linn).
There are ample boat launches in this area on both sides of the Willamette, and boats tend to anchor up in water with a good current that isn’t too deep.
Bank anglers have a few options in this area as well, with some of the best success coming from Clackamette Park at the mouth of the Clackamas River (Oregon City side on the south).
You can also look for a place to cast at Meldrum Bar, located immediately downriver (north) of the Clackamas mouth in Milwaukie.
A less hectic place to catch shad, mostly for boaters, is down on the Multnomah Channel (Slough), which takes part of the Willamette’s flow down the west side of Sauvie Island.
Probably the best place to intercept shad coming up the channel is along Coon Island, a boat fishery reached from several public and private launches on this waterway.
Read about more Willamette River and Multnomah Channel fishing opportunities.
Umpqua River Shad Fishing
Outside the Columbia River Basin, the most reliable shad fishery in the Pacific Northwest is located on the Umpqua River in southwestern Oregon.
This river is one of the most productive and diverse systems anywhere, with strong runs of salmon and steelhead as well as a fantastic smallmouth bass fishery and noteworthy opportunities for sturgeon, sea perch and even striped bass. Read our overview of Umpqua River Fishing opportunities.
Sometimes lost in all of that is a very good shad fishery.
One of the bonuses of fishing for shad in the Umpqua, compared to the heavier waters of the Columbia below its dams or the Willamette below its falls, is that you can employ lighter gear to take full advantage of this little tarpon-like battler.
There are some good bank fishing spots for shad on the Umpqua.
You might start around the town of Elkton, located at the juncture of Highways 38 and 138. Upriver, there are popular spots at Yellow Creek (on Highway 138) and farther up at River Forks County Park, an easy drive from Roseburg.
Downstream from Elkton, toward Reedsport along Highway 38, the first place many anglers intercept shad coming up from the Pacific Ocean and through the Umpqua’s long tidewater section is Sawyer Rapids.
Just below this major rapids can be a good spot for shad.
Regular anglers report that the bottom of Sawyer Rapids can be particularly good when the Umpqua is running low and shad passage through the rapids slows, forming a natural bottleneck where large numbers of shad wait to migrate upriver.
More Pacific Northwest Shad Fisheries
The above rivers offer your best shot at shad in Oregon and Washington, but there are a few smaller runs around.
The most notable are the Siuslaw River upstream from Florence, the Coquille River, and sometimes the Coos River.
Those runs have been modest many years, although the Coquille has had some nice runs recently. With the Umpqua River fairly close by, that’s often a surer bet for catching shad.
In Washington, fisheries managers have noted reports of shad coming into the Chehalis and Snohomish rivers, but this appears to be an irregular event and probably not something to count on.
If you’re in Washington, it’s almost surely better to head south to the Columbia River’s massive run.