Maryland Fish Facts

Hickory Shad
Hickory Shad


Hickory Shad
Alosa mediocris
(A.K.A. - Hickory Jacks, Tailor Shad)
Key Distinguishing Markings:
  • The dorsal surface is gray-green in color.
  • A dusky shoulder spot may be followed by several faint spots.
  • Hickory shad have sharp, saw-like scales or "scutes" along the belly.
  • The lower jaw juts out further than the upper jaw, a key identifying feature.​

Distribution:
  • Historically, hickory shad spawned in rivers and tributaries along the Atlantic coast from Florida all the way to the Bay of Fundy, Canada.
  • Current presence in more northerly waters is uncertain, but recent spawning has been documented as far north as the Connecticut River.​

Size:
  • At 12 to 20 inches, hickory shad are noticeably smaller than American shad but larger than alewife and blueback herring.​

Habitat:
  • The hickory shad, a member of the Clupeidae family, is a schooling species.
  • Hickory shad are anadromous fish which spend the majority of their life at sea and only enter freshwater in the spring to spawn.
  • Adult hickory shad appear to spawn in a diversity of physical habitats ranging from backwaters and sloughs to tidal and non-tidal freshwater areas of large rivers.​

Spawning:
  • In the Chesapeake Bay, hickory shad spawning runs usually precede American shad runs by beginning in March.
  • Peak spawning time is mid-April through late May, with temperatures ranging from 54-72°F. Peak spawning temperature is 59-66°F.
  • "Repeat" spawning (spawning several times in a lifetime) in hickory shad runs appears to be common, but tends to vary among river systems. In Maryland, repeat spawning hickory shad account for 30-60% of the migrating adults.
  • Spawning hickory shad females (ages 3 to 9) broadcast a large quantity of eggs into the water column which are fertilized by males (ages 2 to 7).
  • Fertilized eggs are carried by river currents and hatch within a few days.
  • Larvae drift with the current until they mature into juveniles.
  • After spawning, adults return to the sea, but their distribution and movements in the ocean are essentially unknown. It is believed that they follow a pattern similar to the coastal migrations of American shad, moving northward after spawning in waters south of and including the mid-Atlantic.
  • Increasing water temperatures and photoperiod like influence mature hickory shad migration back to freshwater in the late winter.​

Fishing Tips:
  • A statewide moratorium on the harvest of hickory shad in Maryland waters was implemented in 1980 to prevent extinction.
  • A catch and release recreational fishery is permitted in Maryland.
  • Over the last several years, there has been an increase in hickory shad catches-by both fly and spin fishers in Maryland tributaries, particularly in Deer Creek, the Patuxent River, and in the mainstem Susquehanna River below Conowingo Dam.
  • Because hickory shad do not feed in freshwater during their spawning run, artificial baits such as shad darts, small spoons or wet flies are used.
  • Current management restrictions can be found on our updated commercial and recreational regulation pages.​

Fun Fact:
  • It was once thought that hickory shad were a hybrid between river herring and American shad, but they really are a distinct species.
  • Hickory shad have never been as abundant as other alosine species in the Chesapeake Bay, probably because they are near the northern limits of their spawning range.
  • The Maryland state record hickory shad was captured in the Susquehanna River in 1972 and weighed 4 pounds.
  • In recent studies, the oldest hickory shad in Maryland was nine years old.
  • Maryland stocks between 2 and 10 million juvenile hickory shad per year.
  • It is thought that hickory shad strike "fishing bait" because they are guarding their spawning area. ​

Family: Clupeidae
Order: Clupeiformes
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

​For more information on hickory shad and their management, please contact Harry Rickabaugh.