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A Tidewater Angler’s Traditional Breakfast

By Mark Fike

Photos by Mark Fike

Shad roe is something I grew up eating, as many locals that dip-netted shad or herring back when populations of the fish were high often did. I remember roe being sold and even on the menu in the spring at mom-and-pop diners along the eastern portion of Virginia. While the shad and herring populations have suffered in the intervening years, shad roe from hickory shad is still a great option to try.

Be aware: there is currently a moratorium on harvesting blueback herring, alewife, and American shad. These three species must be immediately returned to the water when caught.  Read up on the regulations regarding the creeling of hickory shad.

Wondering how to tell the difference between American and hickory shad? We break it down for you in “American or Hickory? ID your Shad Catch.”

If legal where you are fishing, you can try some shad roe from hickory shad to see if you like it. Most of the time, you can tell a female fish by the bulge of egg sacs in her swollen belly. However, if in doubt, gently milk the belly to see if milt (looks like milk) comes out. If so, you have a male shad. Release that fish and wait for the female.

If you have never had roe before, try just getting roe from one or two fish. There is no point in killing more fish if you end up not liking eating roe.

To remove the roe, I use my filet knife and push through the fish just behind the pectoral fin, and then slice downward to open the fish up. Next, I use a sharp pair of game shears to cut down the belly line while holding the fish upside down to avoid puncturing the egg sac. When I get to the anus or vent, I roll my fingers up behind the roe from above and tug gently, pulling it out of the fish. Then carefully rinse it, and get it cold and into the refrigerator immediately.

Cooking roe is easy and can be done one of several ways. Some boil it and serve when it turns a gray brown. I prefer to cook it just as I would a chicken or quail egg. Put a light coat of olive oil in a skillet and pat the roe dry of water to reduce popping of excess water while cooking. The eggs will have a little water in them, so use a lid on the skillet until the popping stops. I never batter my roe, preferring the rich taste as it is. However, some cook it with batter and some wrap it with bacon to give it a smoky flavor or they cook it in bacon drippings.

I leave both sides of the egg sacs intact, but they can be separated when cooking if desired. Cook just a few minutes per side. Cut crosswise and see if done in the middle and serve as you would eggs or even on toast. Roe is rich in vitamins and high in protein, but does have a high cholesterol content.

If you decide to try some shad roe, be sure to consult the regulations about keeping shad where you are fishing and consider keeping the rest of the fish for catfish or crab bait so it does not go to waste. Shad is excellent for those purposes. Try a Tidewater angler’s breakfast this year and see what you think. My spring is not complete without it!

  • April 13, 2023