We are quickly approaching one of my favorite times of the year. Water temperatures are starting to come up into the high 60′s and that can mean only one thing. It’s time for the shad to spawn. Year after year keying in on the shad spawn can be a great way to put a couple of keepers in the boat, especially during the early morning hours. I have found that when the water temps start to reach around 70 degrees the shad start to spawn. Shad will run up on banks with hard surfaces like rip rap, clay, and sometimes sea walls to lay their eggs. If you are observant often you can spot shad jumping out of the water as they make their way down the bank laying their eggs. The bass are quick to key in on the shad and the bass will be looking towards the bank to pick them off. There are a couple of ways to catch these shad spawnin bass and I like to keep my bait selection fairly simple. You need to have a couple of baits that will allow you to cover some water pretty quick and key in on this early morning bite.
Some of my favorite baits to have tied on are a spinnerbait and a shallow running crankbait. If you have some clarity to your water try a bait with double willow leaf blades. During this time of the year a white and chartreuse or a plain white skirt can be hard to beat. This will give your spinnerbait a lot of flash and will allow you to fish it very quickly through high potential areas. I like like to take a spinnerbait or a crankbait and burn it and then kill it right up against the bank. I will make parallel casts along the bank trying to bump the bait into the rocks or the cover to make it look like a disorientated shad. When your bait deflects off the cover hang on because that is when you will usually get some of your biggest strikes. One of the best spinnerbaits I have come across is the E-factor 3/4 oz with tandem Willow Leaf Blades. E-factor makes some awesome spinnerbaits and I have liked the results since using them. One of my sponsors, IMA, has a couple of crankbaits that are also producing. The IMA square bill and the IMA Shaker offer unique actions and colors only found on custom baits. Elite Series Pro Bill Lowen designed the square bill and it was released at this years Bassmaster Classic . I like to throw the spinnerbait and cranks on a 7 foot medium heavy action AIRrus Ultra XL rod. A 7 foot rod gives me the leverage to pull the big ones away from the cover and also makes staying in control of the spinnerbait and crankbaits a lot easier. Since most of the bites will be in shallow water where the fish will have very little time to see your line I throw 17lb on the spinnerbait and 15lb on the cranks.
Along with spinnerbaits and crankbaits topwaters can be really productive during the shad spawn. I will fish my topwater baits parallel to the cover just like I do with a spinnerbait and a crankbait. It seems like the closer you can get your bait to the cover the more strikes you will get. The bass use the bank line as a wall to corner the shad and the closer you can get your bait to the rocks the more helpless it looks. The two baits I use the most for my topwater fishing are an OMEGA Alpha Shad Buzzbait and an IMA Skimmer which is a walker bait. What makes the buzzbait so great is the unique sound the blades make and the amount of spit the blades can generate. The blades make it totally different than any other buzzbait on the market. When it comes to retrieving the buzzbait I have caught some of the biggest bass of my life by reeling it ever so slowly so that the blades barely break the surface. Sure I’ve caught plenty of fish winding a buzzbait back to the boat but it seems like that semi wake retrieve gets the attention of the big ones. When I throw a buzzbait I throw it on 20lb mono because I want to help keep the bait up and I will also use at least a 7 foot medium heavy AiRrus Ultra XL rod. The IMA skimmer is such a great bait because you can walk the dog really easy and it casts like a rocket. The bait sits with the tail down in the water which increases hook ups and it has a slender profile which makes it look like an easy meal. When it comes to color selection just remember white for sunny days and black for cloudy conditions. Most of the time when it comes to topwater baits all you really need is two colors. I like to throw the skimmer on 15lb mono on a 6’8” medium action AiRRUS Ultra XL. The rod has a fast tip which makes working the bait really easy.
When you are fishing topwater baits make sure you have a throw back bait ready. A throw back bait is literally a bait that you pick up to throw back on a fish that misses your topwater on the retrieve. Some people like to use jigs and senkos but my favorite and probably my most productive throw back bait is the Lake Fork Trophy Lures Flipper. This beaver bait has a very subtle gliding action which looks just like a stunned baitfish. The trick to getting the most out of having a throw back bait is very simple. You want to make sure that you have the rod and the bait in the ready position so that when a fish misses your topwater you can instantly reach down and pick up the throw back and pitch it to the boil. If you can get your bait back it into the area where the fish missed really quick you are going to be hooking up a whole lot more. If you are fishing a team tournament one of the best combos that I have discovered is to have the guy in the front throw a topwater and then the guy in the back pitch the Flipper. We used to fish team tournaments a lot on Vandalia Lake in Illinois and that combo put us in the check line a lot of times early on in the day. As far as rod selection I will use at least a 7′ medium heavy for throwing the flipper on the t-rig and if you are in grass or around heavy cover you might want to step up to a beefier rod like the 7’6” Heavy AIRrus Ultra XL so you can rip the donkies out of the cover.