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River Herring

Illustration of an Alewife (River Herring)

River herring are one of the Hudson River's anadromous fish. This means they spend most of their lives in the ocean, but move into freshwater to spawn. They are schooling fish and travel in large numbers to complete their spawning migrations, known as runs. The Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) arrive first, by the thousands, then the Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis) swim up the river a little later in the season, timed with the warming waters of spring.

Herring are built for speed; they have slender bodies. Both species are silvery, with sharp scales along the stomach, which is why herring are sometimes called "sawbellies." Adults average 12 inches in length. Alewife have large eyes and deep bodies, broadest in the front half of the fish. Blueback Herring have smaller eyes than the Alewife, as well as slightly narrower torpedo-shaped bodies, but are otherwise very similar in appearance. Both species have a bottom jaw that juts out, even when the mouth is closed.

Illustration of a Blueback Herring (River Herring)
Blueback Herring

The season for herring is fairly short, lasting a few months from March through June. Both the Alewife and Blueback Herring are important commercial fish. They are prized by both commercial and recreational anglers, most commonly as baitfish for Striped Bass, but some people pickle herring for later consumption. Both types of herring may be caught using a combination of light tackle and a smaller version of the shad dart in white, yellow, or chartreuse. Once in the Hudson, Alewife will move into tributaries to spawn and may be caught more easily near stream mouths. Bluebacks are easily caught when they gather below dams in Hudson River tributaries.

Fishing Tips:

The most common method of capture for these fish is scap netting, the use of a large square lift net placed outside the mouths of streams where herring commonly run, and this can be used to scoop up fish as they school in and around the net. Scap netting is often coupled with the use of a stoolie, a herring-shaped lure without hooks to trick other herring into schooling up into the net. Other common methods used when targeting herring are angling, cast netting and dip netting. Be sure to double check fishing regulations before setting out to fish, as these will change periodically. There is a link to the updated regulations in the "Important Links" section on the right side of this page.