Anglers barred from casting their lines into the Russian River over the past two months because of emergency drought measures have permission to return to the fishery Thursday in time to catch American shad, California Fish and Wildlife officials said.

The re-opening comes none too soon for some folks, judging from inquiries made of King's Sport & Tackle in central Guerneville, owner Steve Jackson said Wednesday.

"We're getting a lot of calls from people wondering if the river's going to open," Jackson said. "They've been jonesing for a chance to go fishing."

The return to the river comes amid reports that the annual run of American shad is under way, though it may be in the later stages, depending on who you ask.

Eric Larson, a state fisheries biologist, said much of the shad may have been missed, though locals said there are reports of the fish in the lower Russian River.

Though not so good for eating — unlike the steelhead trout which fishermen missed because of the river closure — the shad are popular with fishermen because they put up such a good fight, anglers said.

"They don't give up, and because they'll take a fly, that makes them a favorite for fly fishermen," said Bruce MacDonell, president of the Russian River Wild Steelhead Society.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people waiting to go shad fishing," Guerneville angler Clark Neeley said.

Some folks enjoy shad roe, or eggs, or make fish balls out of the fish, MacDonell said. But the shad, a type of herring, are generally too bony for most tastes and are often released as soon as they're caught, he said.

There also should be small mouth and black bass, blue gill, catfish and other traditional warm-water fish, he and others said.

"I think people are just excited to get out there and go fish the river again," Jackson said.

The California Fish and Game Commission closed the Russian River on Feb. 21 from central Mendocino County to the mouth at Jenner because of record-low rainfall and river flows that had prevented salmon and steelhead trout from getting upstream to spawn.

Fish biologists said at the time that some salmon were already in the lower reaches but were just waiting there, like fish in a barrel, subject to catch and release or other human interference, until a flush of cold water stimulated their movement up the system.

When strong rains finally arrived more than halfway through February, the fish did begin making their way upstream, albeit weeks late.

Only about half the number of hatchery steelhead as usual, or even less, returned to Warm Springs Hatchery at Lake Sonoma this year, Larson said. Wild stocks are expected to have had roughly comparable success.

"I think you can directly attribute it to the drought," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)