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Nature's Bounty Hickory Shad
This Hickory Shad shows how beautiful these silvery travelers from the sea can be.
This Hickory Shad shows how beautiful these silvery travelers from the sea can be. © James River Association

Hickory shad range from Florida to Maine, with largest populations occurring in Chesapeake Bay and coastal North Carolina. It is a schooling anadromous species that inhabits marine waters, probably never far from land.

Hickory Shad
Hickory Shad Classification

Hickory shad (Alosa mediocris)


River herring family, averaging around 1 lb., with fish up to 2 lbs. common. Silver-sided with grayish-green back and a prominent dark spot, followed by a row of lighter spots (especially when fresh) on the upper part of the side just behind the gill cover; body long but compressed, asymmetrical top to bottom and in cross section it is wedge-shaped; the lower jaw protrudes significantly beyond the upper jaw when the mouth is closed. Each scale on the sides has a small dark spot.

Best Fishing

Rivers: Rappahannock (fall line area in Fredericksburg), James (Richmond fall line area), Appomattox, Chickahominy (below Walker's Dam), Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Nottoway. (It is now illegal for any person to have river herring in their possession, including blueback herring and alewife. For more information about this regulation, see the VMRC website.)

Fishing Techniques

Mid-March into May with spring spawning run, arriving earlier than American shad. Light spin casting using very small, brightly colored shad darts, spoons, jigs, or minnow imitation lures. Fly fishing with darts, gold or white streamers, and other wet flies. Often taken near the surface, will "tail-walk" and sometimes jump. (Check current regulations for restrictions and limits.)

Feeding Habits

Adults in the ocean feed on squid, small fish, fish eggs, crabs and other small crustaceans. Like the American shad, they feed very little, if any, during their spawning run.


Hickory shad are anadromous; adults live in coastal ocean waters, until they are sexually mature, and then move into freshwater to spawn. After spawning, surviving adults return to the ocean. Newly hatched young remain in fresh and brackish water for a short time before moving out to the ocean.

Spawning Habits

Spawning takes place in early spring and is believed to occur at night when water temperatures reach about 61°F; eggs are slightly adhesive and then neutrally buoyant and drift downstream with the current, hatching in 48 to 70 hrs.

Life History

Hickory Shad spend most their life at sea except during spring when they spawn in freshwater. Hickory shad spawn in freshwater. Adults return to the ocean to feed once spawning ends. Eggs hatch two or three days after fertilization and they are carried by water currents until they hatch.

Fun Facts

  • Hickory and American shad were once thought to be a hybridized.
  • Hickory shad are identified by their jutting jawline.
  • Hickory shad are a popular recreational species.

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For More Information, Contact:

Gabe Silver

James River Association

9 South 12th Street, 4th Floor

Richmond, VA 23219

Phone: 894-788-8811

[email protected]

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