If you've spent any time at all along the banks of the Susquehanna River, you've likely heard the tales.

Find somebody that was around before the river was backed up by dams and he'll tell you of the huge runs of American shad. They called them poor-man's salmon.

As the anadromous fish made their journey from the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean to their native river, the Susquehanna would fill from bank to bank with the silver-sided fish. Locals would flock to the river, where they could easily load up on a year's worth of fish.

Today, that's hardly the case. If you're lucky enough to hook into a migrating shad, you certainly can't keep it. There simply aren't enough shad reaching their native spawning grounds. We don't have any to spare.

Sure, the shad that once stuffed the Susquehanna still make the same stellar journey from deep ocean waters to the local river shallows, but time and greed have had a detrimental effect.

Fortunately, there are signs of progress. With each new spring, shad are making steady progress. A month ago, on April 11, the first American shad made its voyage up and over the Conowingo dam, thanks to the facility's fish ladder. The event is good news as we work (perhaps futilely) to bring shad populations back to historic levels.

So far this spring, more than 7,400 shad have been counted making their way out of the Conowingo's ladder. If this year turns out to be a banner run, more than 100,000 fish will make the journey to their native waters upstream of the dam. The last time we saw that sort of figure was in 2004. Last year, just 22,000 shad were recorded at the dam.


Of course, the Conowingo isn't the only obstacle blocking the mighty Susquehanna. Once a shad makes it over the river's first dam, it has the Holtwood, Safe Harbor and York Haven dams to climb up, over or around.

Each dam has its own version of a fish lift, but for every thousand fish that make it over the Conowingo, just a few will make it past York Haven. Last year, only 224 fish were recorded using its ladder to get upstream.

In the grand scheme, though, even one fish reaching the northern end of the county's waters is a success story. After all, for more than 60 years, no shad could make it above the Conowingo. The first fish did not make it over the southern-most dam until 1997.

The idea that more than 100,000 shad may swim upriver this year, proves we've made great progress in the past two decades.

Now it's up to us to ensure the success continues. It takes money and dedication to keep progress flowing upstream. If either wanes over the next generation, the shad recovery will be in jeopardy.

For now, you can track the shad migration by going to the Fish and Boat Commission's website and click on Susquehanna Shad.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.