RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — The dogwoods and redbuds are blooming, which is a sure sign another Virginia rite of spring is happening, one that has been going on for thousands of years — the annual shad runs.

This is the time of year when hickory and American shad return from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Drainage streams.

The two species of shad are known as the fish that fed America. They were a staple in the diet of the colonists and Native Americans.

Alex McCrickard of the VDWR holds a hickory shad caught from the James River

Overfishing, pollution, and dams blocking access to spawning grounds nearly wiped out shad populations in Virginia. A concentrated management effort has restored hickory shad numbers, but American shad have been slow coming back, though there is hope for improvement. Until American shad stocks improve, it is illegal for anglers to keep them.

However, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources says hickory shad numbers are good. Anglers can keep them.

Shad roe is considered a delicacy. The fish themselves are prized for table fare, and can be roasted, planked, grilled, steamed, or fried.

One of the prime places to catch hickory shad is the James River. Historically, the fish used to run all the way to Lynchburg until dams blocked their path. These days, some of the best fishing happens near downtown Richmond. Shore and boat anglers use small jigs known as shad darts, small spoons, and small spinners to catch them, as well as a variety of fly gear and shad flies.