Ken Weathers District Fisheries Biologist Alabama DNR Enterprise, Alabama
Alabamians love their freshwater fishing. Blessed with an abundance of rivers, reservoirs, public lakes and private ponds, anglers in Alabama have plenty of places to go to enjoy their sport. While even the most casual anglers can discuss the merits of their favorite fish species such as bass, catfish or crappie, very few anglers have much to say for the lowly shad. This may be due to shad in Alabama having very little food value, seldom being caught on hook and line, and having little commercial value. Shad still, however, play a critical role in many bodies of water.
The two main shad species found in Alabama’s fresh waters are the gizzard and threadfin shad, both members of the herring family, Clupidae. These species are usually found in large, constantly moving schools. They are soft, elongated fish without sharp spines, but with a distinctive long threadlike last dorsal fin ray observed on the back of the fish. The scales on both species are small and come off easily, and both species are relatively hard to keep alive in live-wells or tanks. While both species have a bluish gray back and greenish or silver tinge overall, only threadfin have a yellow colored tail. The upper and lower jaws of threadfin meet in a pointed snout, but gizzard shad have a blunt snout with the lower jaw set behind the upper jaw. They also differ in growth rates and maximum size with adult threadfin usually reaching five to seven inches, while adult gizzard shad can grow to well over 12 inches.
Other fish in this family found in Alabama include skipjack herring, Gulf menhaden and Alabama shad. While gizzard and threadfin shad both have soft, oily flesh which even the most indiscriminate human fish eaters would find hard to swallow, the predators of the fish world apparently think that shad taste just fine. Both species are native to Alabama’s natural waters and serve as the principal forage for adult predator fish such as black bass, temperate bass (stripers, white bass and hybrids) and crappie.
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