Shad fishing is just starting to heat up on the Merrimack River. Last week we wrote about the fish and where to catch it. Here are a few tips on the equipment and techniques you might use to catch these tasty denizens of the deep.


There are a wide variety of rods you can use, but the best choice might be a light spinning rod with a fairly sensitive tip like you might use for freshwater bass fishing. I use a 7 1/2 foot rod rated for 1/8 to 3/8 ounce lures. This is short enough to get around with and light enough to be fun when you get a hit. If you are a fly fisherman, a 5 wt. rod is all you need.


The best reel for me is a light spinning reel that is geared to a 6-8 pound line. The fish you are catching are not monsters, so anything above 8 pound line is going to cost you casting distance and is just not necessary. I love braided line for this type of fishing. The thinner line allows you more on the reel and they break less easily. 

Setting Your Rig

There are a number of ways to set your terminal tackle depending on how you like to fish, but there are some basics. To the end of your 6 pound test line slide on a small 1/8 to 1/2 ounce in-line casting barrel sinker. This weight will depend on the flow of the river where you fish, but you want to get your rig down into the water column, so experiment with different weights. You cannot use lead in the river, so tungsten is the preferred choice.

To that tie on a small swivel in the No. 10 size.  This swivel will reduce the twist that a flutter spoon or dart will cause during the retrieve. Be sure to use a good quality swivel. Below the swivel tie on a 18 inch or so piece of 6 pound fluorocarbon line. This line is a bit expensive and probably mono works almost as well. To that end tie on a medium size micro snap. I find a micro snap makes it easier to change lures. A lot of folks use a uni-loop knot that allows the lure more freedom of movement. Just look up uni-knot on the computer for detailed instructions on how to tie it. It’s not hard and works well.

For fly fishermen. the rig is almost the same. Use a heavy sinking tip line with about a five foot leader section. I like the heavy bass tippets you can buy. I even use a small split shot about a foot up from the terminal end of the line, but often the sinking tip is enough. Again, a uni-knot works well to attach you fly, flutter spoon or dart.


Shad darts are the common lure used. They can range in weight from 1/64 ounce to 3/4 ounce. The very light darts will need a sinker on the rig to be able to cast them and to get them down in the water column. The heavier darts will probably have enough weight for the river. You might try fishing the light-weight versions in tandem. I have had great success doing this. Tie on a heavier dart in front and a smaller one in the back. The shad usually strike the one in the rear. You seldom need a dart over 1/4 ounce in the Merrimack. 

Everyone along the river seems to have his or her own theory on what darts to use when.

There is a wide variety of flutter spoons available. The flutter spoon is really just a willow blade with a hook attached. They are very light so you will have to use a weight in your terminal tackle. These spoons do as their name suggests...they flutter in the current as you retrieve them. The best size for this river is probably a 0 or one. There are a variety of colors available. Start with rd/white or chartreuse but have a variety of colors available and experiment until you get a hit.

Another very effective combination is a grub and jig like you would use for walleye or pan fish. Using a jig weighing anywhere between 1/16 and 1/8 ounce, slide on a one inch grub. There are again a wide variety of colors available. Start with a yellow or red and experiment. 

For flies try using Clousers that have gold color to them. Pink and white also work. The big eyes seem to be the attractor here. 


The easiest way to fish for shad is to cast straight out from the shore line and let the dart or spoon get to just above the bottom. Do not retrieve too quickly. If you are not hitting the bottom or snagging up once in a while you are not fishing deep enough. I am a twitcher, but some folks like a slow steady retrieve. Again, experiment with different techniques until you find the right one for the day. But, keep the lure near the bottom of the river. Add or subtract weight to do so. 

You might find others at the places I described last week. There is usually plenty of room especially during the week. Take your time, find a space and cast away. Don’t be afraid to ask others how they fish for shad. Most folks are quite willing to share. And as always, take away from the stream’s edge any trash you find there. 

See ya out there!

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