American Shad

American shad migrate into the Connecticut River during late March or April, reaching the upstream fish passage facility at the Holyoke Dam during late April or early May.  During the run, water temperatures at Holyoke Dam range between 54° F and 68° F; and river flow is generally declining from the spring peak, though flow increases occasionally occur. 

Most shad are lifted over the Holyoke Dam and allowed to continue their upstream migration, where fishways at the Turners Falls, Vernon, and Bellows Falls hydroelectric projects also provide a means to enhance upstream passage for migrating species.  Some shad are collected at the Fishway and transported in trucks by state and federal agencies to upstream reaches of the Connecticut River, or to other river basins.  After spawning, adult shad swim back downstream, primarily during daylight hours in June and July, and may survive to spawn more than once.

Young-of-the-Year (YOY) shad are abundant in many locations upstream of the Holyoke Dam throughout the summer.  They provide a forage base for predatory fish in the impoundment of the Project and upstream to Turners Falls Dam.  Although some YOY shad may move downstream through the Fishway at other times, the seaward migration out of the Connecticut River occurs from September through November, peaking when water temperature is 48° F to 57° F.  The young migrate to areas in the North Atlantic from the Maritimes to Florida and remain at sea for four to six years before returning to their native river to spawn.

Fun Facts 

  • Every river has its own mineral and chemical ‘scent.’ Scientists think that shad find their way home by using their sense of smell. 
  • The record for the largest American shad caught near the Holyoke Dam is 11 lbs. 4 oz.

Seasonal Contact Info

Robert Barrett Fishway
1-3 County Bridge
Holyoke, MA 01040
Tel: (413) 536-9460
Email the Fishway