thought you guys would like to read this
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Merrimack River shad run potentially best ever
Special to The Eagle-Tribune
H igh water and cooler-than-normal temperatures through much of April may impact the shad run. Water level may also make it difficult for fishermen to access the river from shore. The river could also stay cooler than normal as melting snows from New Hampshire tributaries begin to flow into the Merrimack River.
Just the same, the outlook for above average fishing is predicated this spring based on the fact that in 2003 a total of 55,000 American shad were counted at the fish elevator in Lawrence. While most of these shad failed to ascend the dam in Lowell, the run this year may exceed last year's figure.
The run this year are offspring from the 2000 and 2001 shad run. During each of those two years, approximately 77,000 shad returned.
Shad historically arrive in April, first at Rock's Village in West Newbury and later congregating in North Andover downstream of the double-decker I-495 bridge. Most of these fish are short-term visitors seeking to reach the dam in Lawrence.
During periods of fluctuating water levels, it is believed that many shad drop back downstream towards Haverhill, returning when conditions are right for them. This is unproven at best, but it does seem to be the case at times.
New shad anglers should always bring along waders when fishing the Merrimack River. Waders allow them to get out into the river just enough to cast freely.
A caveat is in order, however: Use a wading staff to probe the next step in front and always use extreme caution. The Merrimack is not a dangerous river most times, but when the power company releases water from its turbines, the water rises quickly.
The choice of shad darts is a matter of choice for fishermen. Size is usually more important than color, and shad have been caught on unpainted darts. In fact, darts need only to have a gold hook and no other adornment, such as a hair or nylon skirt.
Some fishermen use magnum darts hoping to coincidentally catch a striped bass. But small darts 1/32 to 1/16 are very effective. Quarter-ounce darts are the most popular.
Shad are not only a favorite of Greater Lawrence anglers. Fishermen come from several states trying to catch some of these silvery fish, which average three to five pounds. However, once June arrives, many begin to watch for a fish that has far more appeal to sport fishermen -- the striped bass.
Herring usually arrive shortly after the shad run begins. It is the herring that attract striped bass far up river. Many anglers suggest they come to Lawrence to spawn, but that is not exactly true.
While there is evidence that the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers do have some striped bass-spawning activity, it is not the main reason they swim up river up to Lawrence. The availability to forage thousands of herring is the real draw.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may begin to introduce alewives into the Merrimack River system. It claims that the alewives will arrive before the striped bass, and therefore will be less likely to be decimated by hundreds of hungry striped bass lying in wait in the upstream portions of the river.
Roger Aziz is the outdoors correspondent for The Eagle-Tribune. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org