8 Shad Fishing

In the 1800s, shad were a major source of food for the inhabitants of Southern New Jersey, especially in Salem and Gloucester counties. A shad fish is large and not very difficult to catch. Other than the fact that it is a bonier fish than most, the shad is rich with its own distinct flavor and makes for a very hearty meal. In the Delaware River, shad are plentiful, making it a hard bargain to pass up in the nineteenth-century, and even today.

A True Shad Story
David Munn tells the story of his father as a small boy, 8 or 9 years old, living in Gloucester City around 1910. At the request of his mother, the boy would walk down to the Delaware River when the shad were running, at Gloucester beach, and hand a quarter to one of the fishermen hauling the nets. In return he would receive a large shad, wrapped in newspaper, which he balanced on his shoulder as he walked home to his mother, who awaited the centerpiece of the upcoming family meal.

Thomas Eakins
Thomas Eakins was a famous nineteenth-century artist from Philadelphia who made studies of many different subjects in order to achieve what he considered his own style of realism. Eakins’ focused mainly with Americans in action, usually at their places of work.

Shad fishing on the Delaware was one subject that Eakins found interesting. Working from early photographs (c. 1881), he ­created a series of paintings about the fishermen of the ­Delaware at work near Gloucester City, New Jersey. Eakins’s renderings were popular. See two photos (made from recently rediscovered glass negatives) upon which he based his paintings as well as the accompanying lithograph from Harper’s Magazine dated 1889 that clearly copies Eakins’ original work.