Shad are a type of herring many people regard as a baitfish because they work so well for catching trout, bass, and other species.
Most types of shad live in saltwater but seek out places inland with freshwater or brackish water to spawn, like rivers and estuaries.
Shad survive on a diet of mostly plankton. They also eat the eggs of other fish, worms, shrimp, insects, and sometimes small fish.
Different species of shad like the American shad and blueback herring are delicious when prepared in a way that minimizes the many bones found in this oily fish.
Types of Shad
- American Shad
- Threadfin Shad
- Gizzard Shad
- Alabama Shad
- Hickory Shad
- Blueback Herring
American Shad, scientific name Alosa sapidissima, is a type of herring that lives in the Atlantic Ocean from Canada down to the southern tip of Florida. This fish is the most well-known of the different species of shad.
The American Shad have thin bodies, shoulder spots, and shiny scales ranging from silvery to green and blue with a forked tail fin.
The average weight is 3 to 8 pounds, but the world record American shad came from the Connecticut River in Massachusetts at 11 pounds, 4 ounces.
American shad roe, or the shad eggs in the lobe-shaped egg sacs found in female shad in spring, used to be an Eastern US delicacy.
The Dorosoma petenense or threadfin shad lives mostly in lakes and rivers in the Southeastern US. These fish provide a food source for larger game fish like bass and trout and are a popular baitfish for sportfishing.
They can’t survive in water below 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit and live in shallower waters where the sunlight can penetrate.
They also live in brackish open water and can tolerate full saltwater but don’t reproduce well in high saline conditions.
These fish average less than 4 inches long and have silver scales with a darker greenish-black color in the forked tail fin.
Gizzard shad, scientific name Dorosoma cepedianum, is also called the mud shad and lives in freshwater and brackish waters across the United States. This fish is one of the types of shad commonly used as bait.
The gizzard shad have silvery scales and a distinctive dark spot just behind the upper edge of their gills.
This purplish-black spot fades with age but remains visible. The average weight is less than a pound and less than 1 foot in length.
The biggest known gizzard shad catch weighed 4.12 pounds and came from South Dakota’s Lake Oahe.
The Alosa alabamae is one of the types of shad becoming increasingly rare because of overfishing and dam construction blocking access to spawning areas.
The Alabama shad weigh between 2 to 3 pounds and have silver sides with a greenish-blue back.
Like American shad, these fish live in the ocean and move into rivers and freshwater to spawn. They live in saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico up the southeastern US.
This shad is Alabama’s only clupeid fish (fish with ray-fins made from bony spines and webs of skin) that moves from saltwater to freshwater to spawn.
The Alosa mediocris or hickory shad live on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and often get confused with the American shad since they can be similar in size and coloring.
The hickory shad are usually smaller, averaging 1 to 3 pounds, and typically have a darker tint to their scales with almost green-black or green-gray fins. The current record catch in Georgia in early 2022 weighed 2 pounds, 10 ounces.
Hickory shad also have a protruding lower jaw that helps distinguish it from the American shad and the blueback herring.
The body will be less symmetrical with a more protruding belly than either of those different species of shad.
The Alosa pseudoharengus or alewife is a baitfish that lives in the Atlantic Ocean and moves inland to freshwater to spawn. Some live full-time in freshwater, notably the alewife population in the Great Lakes.
The alewife and American shad migrate to spawn in the spring and often get mistaken for the other.
Though similar in appearance, the alewife is more gray-green with an average weight of about 7 to 9 ounces, so they’re often smaller than American shad.
They also have lighter fins, no spots on the upper half, and a more rounded jaw area with a bottom jaw that protrudes more than other types of shad.
The blueback herring, scientific name Alosa aestivalis, is also called the summer shad or blueback shad. This herring is one of the types of shad that populates the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida.
Mostly silver, their backs are bluish-green and much less gray than the alewife, which is one of the different species of shad that’s easy to mix up with the blueback. Blueback and alewife are so similar in size and features they’re often collectively called river herring.
Blueback herring have smaller eyes and thicker bodies than the alewife and commonly get cooked or smoked for human consumption.
These different species of shad are all members of the herring family, usually caught in the spring while moving inland in schools to spawn.
Whether anglers want to bag some blueback herring to eat or smaller types of shad to use as bait, shad can be a fun and rewarding kind of fish to catch.