Hickory Shad (Alosa mediocris)


A member of the Clupeidae family of herring and shad, the hickory shad is of significant recreational interest, being a friskier, although smaller, cousin of the American shad.

Identification

Gray-green on the back and fading to silver on the side, the hickory shad has clear fins, with the exception of the dusky dorsal and caudal fins, which are occasionally black edged. It has a strongly oblique mouth, a lower jaw that projects noticeably beyond its upper jaw, and a cheek that is longer than or about equal to its depth.

There is a blue-black spot near the upper edge of the gill cover, followed by a clump of indistinct dusky spots that extends below the dorsal fin. There are also teeth on the lower jaw and 18 to 23 rakers on the lower limb of the first gill arch.

Size

The hickory shad can reach almost 2 feet in length and averages 1 to 3 pounds in weight. It can weigh as much as 6 pounds.

Life history/Behavior

Hickory shad mature when they are 2 years old and about 12 inches long. Adults ascend coastal rivers during the spring. Preferred water temperatures range from 55° to 69°F, but the lower end of that range seems to trigger the spawning urge. The female lays up to 300,000 eggs. Young fish remain in rivers, estuaries, and backwaters, migrating to the sea by fall or early winter.

Food and feeding habits

At sea, hickory shad feed on small fish, as well as on squid, small crabs, other crustaceans, and fish eggs. In an irony that is common to most anadromous species, they are not pursued or caught by anglers in places where they do feed but are pursued and caught when migrating upriver in natal waters when they do not feed.

Other Names

shad herring, hickory jack, freshwater taylor, fall herring, bonejack.

Distribution

Found only along the Atlantic coast of North America, the hickory shad ranges from the Kenduskeag River, Maine, to the St. Johns River, Florida. It is most common in the Southeast and in the mid-Atlantic regions. This species overlaps with American shad and ascends some of the same rivers when spawning.

Habitat

The hickory shad is a schooling species that spends most of its life in the ocean; when mature, it returns in the early spring through the summer to rivers and streams to spawn, inhabiting open water of medium to large rivers. Young shad descend rivers in the autumn.
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