Shad fishing with Len Caputi
An interview with Andy Boyar
If you want to learn a great deal about shad, you could read John McPhee’s splendid book “The Founding Fish.” If you simply want to know how to catch a shad in the Upper Delaware River, just ask Len Caputi. How does he know when the shad run is on? Len replies with a twinkle in his eye, “I smell ‘em!”
Len grew up a stone’s throw from the Delaware River on River Road down in Yardley, PA, 100 miles south of where he makes his current home here in the Upper Delaware River Valley. It was there, way downstream, that he learned about fishing. Today, a youthful 62 years old, Len still treads the bank of the river like a teenager.
Shad are among the anadromous fishes that migrate from the sea into fresh water to spawn, and this year, the shad run reached our part the Delaware River before the first of May. Shad are a schooling fish that love open water and currents. They also are a much valued sport fish, something Len knows plenty about.
I recently interviewed him at the General Store in Equinunk, PA, overlooking the Delaware River, and found out rather quickly why Len is a master of shad fishing. Turns out he doesn’t actually smell them; rather he watches the river for flow and temperature, he checks the status of the run downriver, and he factors in weather and high and low water events. By the time Len is ready to go shad fishing, he knows the fish will be on the bite, just as surely as if he could smell them.
If you’d like to try shad fishing, this interview will help you to get started correctly.
The River Reporter (TRR): How long have you been fishing for shad?
Len Caputi (LC): Pretty much all my life. I grew up on the Delaware River down in Bucks County, and I was exposed at a very young age. My neighbor, Pappy Carter, took me across the River Road in 1955 and showed me about fishing for herring, and I’ve fished ever since. Shad and herring, they’re in the same family. The herring don’t make it this far upriver, but the shad do. For me, it’s not spring until I catch my first shad. Shad are seasonal; when they’re here, I fish for them. When I get a few, then I’m happy. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s my springtime.
Shadbush is a pretty good indicator of the start of the bite. The shad migrate in coldwater conditions, and they follow the channels. They also find resting spots, such as a bridge abutment or hole. These shad “holes” are good spots to set up.
TRR: Do you prefer fishing from shore or from a boat?