Blooming Shad Bush A Reliable Harbinger

As the annual fiddlehead-picking season fades into its brief overlap with that of asparagus this week, vocal word arrived in the Upper Meadows of Greenfield that a shad bush down road not far from Greenfield Community College is in bloom, signaling the real start of the Connecticut River shad run.

Yeah, yeah, it’s true that American shad started running up valley two weeks ago, when the annual spring spawning migration was detected in insignificant numbers at a couple of Connecticut monitoring sites, plus a few here and there were getting hoisted by fish lift over the Holyoke dam. Now, with the shad bush down the road in its full white splendor, numbers indicate that the Connecticut Valley’s most populous annual anadromous fish run is underway and building to a grand, full-steam-ahead finale down the road.

Last week at this time, the total number of shad counted in the Connecticut Valley and reported here was 7,220, the lion’s share of which were recorded at Holyoke (7,146). At the time, river temperature was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 degrees below the point at which the run starts to increase dramatically, peaking in the mid-60s. Then comes a slowdown at between 67 and 70 degrees, when females start establishing spawning beds in the shallows, where they lay eggs to be fertilized by males on patrol. From now until then, anglers can enjoy successful days astream by manipulating brightly colored attractant lures and flies at the right depth in braided channels migrating fish follow like super highways upstream.

Through Wednesday, despite river temps dipping a degree from last week because of the cool, gray, wet spring weather, the run is picking up, with a total-river count of 25,980, again most of them monitored passing over the Holyoke dam (25,848). So, yes, there should by now be fishing opportunities here in Franklin County. Though sparse, some shad are here, with better days ahead. As soon as the sun comes out and the nights warm a bit, elevating the river temps past 60, the run will kick into high gear for prime fishing.

Who knows how long the best days will last? The run is always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Rainy spring weather has a way of creating somewhat erratic river conditions and temps that fall and rise relative to a mix of rain events with hot, summer-like days, whose clear skies and bright sun can act as rapid warming factors. Then again, often when fish are coming like gangbusters and extended rains move in, flooding drops the river temps, slowing the run and sometimes necessitating the temporary closure of fish-passageways that totally stops upward migration at the base of dams. When the gates open, the delayed fish come daily by the thousands after having been sealed off and frustrated for days.

Finally, when the river progresses to optimal spawning temperature, the annual fishing bonanza halts overnight and the spawning begins in earnest, producing by midsummer a new crop of juvenile shad to populate the river briefly, before all that elude predators head for Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. There, those that mature to adults will live to return and spawn as 3- to 6-year olds, with random, precocious 2-year-olds here and there.

The best days are near, fellas. You can take that to the bank.

So get that gear fine-tuned and ready for impromptu trips to the channel below Sunderland Bridge, Rock Dam or whatever site tickles your fancy. Oh yeah, and don’t overlook the Deerfield River, which can be a productive shad-fishing stream for those who know what they’re doing.

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Based on scattered information that has crossed this space’s path — including a beautiful drive-thru sighting of a mature tom shot Saturday morning by a dear hunting buddy and friend, weighing over 21 pounds, ungutted, with an 8½-inch beard and spurs just a hair under and inch — there are still plenty of hunting opportunities left for the four-week season that opened April 25. The drive-thru bird was killed between 11 a.m. and noon, and came running through the woods to investigate simple clucks from box and slate calls.

True, most hunters prefer crack-of-dawn hunts when gobblers can be called right out of the roost to the gun, if the tom doesn’t first get “henned-up” with its harem clustered in nearby roosts. But this hunter used the Saturday conditions to make things happen for him. Once gobblers have tended to their first-light hens, which one by one leave the boss to set on their nest, especially during wet weather when eggs are vulnerable, even henned-up gobblers can become easy targets if gluttonous and seeking something new after “their” hens have abandoned them.

A case in point occurred at around 11 a.m. Wednesday, when the same hunter, set up perhaps a quarter mile above where he had scored on Saturday, called in another boss gobbler that came running to clucks after his harem had deserted him. Problem was that the bird arrived too fast and appeared 20 yards away, screened by undergrowth in an open green rye field. The longbeard caught movement or a sound it didn’t like and emitted the sound all turkey hunters dread. That is, “Putt,” which means the game of deception is over, the easy stationary head shot a fantasy.

Still, even though he didn’t kill that bird and may well have educated it too much to be fooled again in the next day or two, an eventful hunt it had been. No big deal, because it sure did get his blood boiling. Isn’t that the goal?

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