P1000367
An angler pulling in a shad in the Rock Dam Pool on Friday, May 15, 2015. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

On a slightly overcast late Friday morning the shad were still hitting for anglers at the Rock Dam Pool. Flow from the Turners Falls Dam into the Dead Reach remained at just 2500 cfs, which leaves much of the riverbed below the dam as just exposed, rocky cobble.

Down at the Rock Dam three anglers were doing pretty well, however. Within a minute, virtually, of my late morning arrival, I saw each hook a fish. Two bring theirs to shore; while one slips the hook at the water’s edge. The guy in hip waders gently unhooks his fish right at the water line and it splashes away. The other angler hauls in a shiny 22-inch shad and flops it on it’s side for keeping in three inches of stilled backwater.

I get down to business. “How’s it been?” I ask, approaching each, upstream to down. “Not bad,” says the first, and youngest guy. He’s been here maybe an hour and he’d just landed his first fish of the day. The middle guy, short and heavy set with white hair, now has three fish laid out in the shallow drink to carry home. He replies with halting English, but conveys that he’s had six total for the morning.

The guy in the waders–who I’ve now watched land and release two fish, describes the day’s angling as “Not bad.” He’s pulled in six–now seven, in the two hours he’s been here. “It’s better in the afternoons,” he offers, “The other day here I had twenty.”

I arrange an old brick for a seat on the sandy beach and enjoy their efforts and the beauty of the Rock Dam with a bit of flow coursing through it for a change. Across twenty minutes I see seven shad pulled from the waters circulating into its pool.

As I make my way back to the road another angler has just pulled up in a pick-up. “You heading down after shad?” I ask. His name is Jeffrey Smith. I’m guessing he’s maybe in his late-30s, and certainly a well-versed angler. He also fishes the Deerfield but was here yesterday casting for shad, “I had a dozen fish in an hour and a half.”

I explain a bit about the test flows and the federal relicensing that’s responsible for water in the Dead Reach here. We shake and exchange names as we head in opposite directions. “Good luck!” I call to him.

Fifteen minutes later I’m standing on a ledge near the Turners Falls Dam, looking down on three more fishermen. “Any luck?” I holler, catching one guy’s eye. “A little,” comes the unenthusiastic reply. “Well, I just came from Rock Dam and they’re hitting down there–they landed seven in about 20 minutes,” I tell him. “You know the Rock Dam?” He nods in the affirmative, then says something to his compadres. They begin packing up their gear.

Holyoke has been lifting shad since April 30th. They passed 13,000 on Wednesday, and 20,000 yesterday. This year’s total thus far at Holyoke is 214,091.

It takes just a few days for shad passing Holyoke to reach Turners Falls, 36 miles upstream. And over half those counted at Holyoke will attempt to pass this site to reach spawning waters in Vermont and New Hampshire. All that attempt to pass Turners Falls are steered out of the Connecticut River into the Turners Falls Power Canal.

Upon questioning, federal Conte Lab researchers who have been studying shad in the canal via power company subsidies for over a decade, revealed that shad spend an average of 8 days in the 2-1/2 mile long Turners Falls Power Canal–before making their way upstream to the “vicinity” of the dam–where they have one more ladder to thread at the Gatehouse before making it to open water. So it takes them more than a WEEK to travel 2-1/2 miles here, before they even make an approach. At best about 1-in-10 ever emerge upstream. A person can walk this stretch in well under an hour…

THE KICKER IS: the shad that do make it past the dam SHOOT up to Vernon Dam–20 miles distant, in just a day’s time. Seems they may feel at home swimming in an actual river…