EASTON – Each spring, anglers from near and far make their way to the Delaware River to do battle with the water's most famous part-time resident, the American Shad.
Come late April and early May, the river is lined with boat and shore anglers casting darts and flutter spoons into the water, hoping to latch onto a few of the anatropous fish as they make their way upriver to spawn. While the bulk of the shad angling on the Delaware seems to take place right around and during this weekend's annual Forks of the Delaware Shad Fishing Tournament, die-hard shad aficionados know that great angling continues after the tournament comes to an end.
In fact, some of the best days of the season can actually occur after the tournament has ended, with the added bonus of there being few if any boats on the water. So says the man who has become known as "Shad Pappy," George Magaro of Allentown, who has fished the river for nearly four decades.
According to Magaro, who has landed thousands of shad over the years, anglers can actually catch the fish right into June. The latest he has ever brought one to net is June 26, more than six weeks after the majority of shad anglers stop fishing for them.
Magaro said the quality of the shad fishing later in the season is dependent upon the water temperature, as shad will start spawning when water temperatures reach the upper 50s, with peak spawning activity in the mid 60s. The warmer the water, the less likely they are to take darts, flutter spoons and other man-thrown obstacles that are in their way.
"When everybody's gone, I have the whole river to myself," Magaro said. "When there are high temperatures, the fish will off, but they'll still hit to a certain degree.
"When it comes to shad, one of the best things about it is its simplicity, and fishermen don't need to alter their techniques or presentations much from earlier in the season to be successful later in the year. It's the same old, same old, smaller darts, smaller spoons, because that's what they're after."
Magaro said the one constant, no matter the time of the year, is to fish the river channels, the pathways that guide the shad upriver. He uses downriggers to get and hold his flutter spoons down where the shad are and prefers to fish faster water and pinch points, locations where currents, bridge abutments or even merging channels come together and concentrate shad movement.
"That's where the fish are going to be, and, when it comes to lures, silver spoons work well on bright, sunny days and gold spoons are the ticket when it's overcast," Magaro said. "Orange and black, chartuse and orange, orange and white colors work real well in this area."
While Magaro enjoys being out during the earlier parts of the run, when 40-plus fish days are still sometimes possible, he is also more than happy to get in all the late-season shad action he can. Most years, he is out until he is sure there is not another shad around to be caught, but the fact that there are few, if any, anglers on the water to join him is just a bonus.
"There are many days when I'm out here all by myself," Magaro said. "That doesn't matter to me, because as long as these fish are here and I can catch them, I'll be here."