Several kinds of shad live in Florida. Gizzard shad and threadfin shad are members of the genus Dorosoma and are statewide, year-round residents of fresh and brackish waters. These are common prey items for predatory fish in many Florida lakes and rivers. American shad, hickory shad, and blueback herring-all members of the genus Alosa-live in the Atlantic Ocean and enter the St. John's and St. Mary's rivers in northeast Florida in winter and spring to spawn. Alabama shad and skipjack herring, also members of the genus Alosa, occur in gulf coast rivers; skipjack herring are limited to the panhandle, and Alabama shad occur as far east as the Suwannee River.
The American shad is the largest member of the herring family, Clupeidae. Most herrings are marine fish that dwell in the open ocean and feed on various type of plankton. American shad belong to the genus, Alosa, which includes anadromous members of the herring family. Anadromous fish live and grow in the ocean and swim upriver to spawn in fresh water. The shad that spawn in Florida's St. John's River generally live in the ocean for four years before returning to fresh water to spawn. American shad in Florida die after spawning.
Florida's shad are the smallest on the East Coast of the United States. In Florida, shad average 2 to 3 pounds; the state record is 5.19 pounds. In northern states, where they survive spawning and live longer, shad weighing 4 to 6 pounds are common, and state record fish exceed 10 pounds!
Many anglers think of gizzard shad, or "stink shad," when shad are mentioned in northeast Florida. Gizzard shad is the fresh-and-brackish-water dwelling cousin to the American shad. Gizzard shad are not good to eat and are very hard to catch by hook and line. American shad, on the other hand, do bite hooks when properly provoked, and they are feisty and fun to catch on light tackle. American shad were once considered a food fish, and some people still enjoy eating them. The flesh and roe (eggs) are both edible. In fact the scientific name for American shad, sapidissima, means "most savory." The flesh is delicate and sweet, but it is full of bones-making this fish a chore to eat. As a result, most shad captured in Florida are caught only for sport and released.