Field and Stream Guide: The American Shad

Since pre-Columbian times, the March blossoming of the shad-bush along the Eastern Seaboard has heralded the beginning of the spring shad run. The American shad (Alosa sapidissima) wasn't widely recognized as a gamefish until lauded as the "poor man's salmon" by the legendary outdoor writer Frank Forester in 1849. It remains a prized catch. --JACK LARSON

EYES: The crustaceans that make up the shad's diet in the ocean are brightly colored and even bioluminescent. Shad are thus very sensitive to color and react best to bright flies and lures.

LOWER JAW: The American shad can be differentiated from the closely related hickory shad by its lower jaw. The former's lower jaw meets its upper jaw squarely; the latter's extends beyond it.

STOMACH: In the open ocean, the American shad feeds on plankton and minuscule crustaceans. But during its spawning run up-river it does not feed at all, which is why bait fishing for shad is all but useless.

POSTERIOR BELLY: A "roe" shad is laden with as many as half a million eggs. This is good news not only for the preservation of the species but for the adornment of the table: The roe is considered a delicacy.

BODY: The American shad has an elongated, deep, compressed body shape. In the late 1800s, there were reports of specimens weighing up to 14 pounds, but by today's standards an 8-pounder is a monster.