Ultimate Bass

Thread Fin Shad Spawn

Mike Cork

I’ve been researching Thread Fin Shad for weeks now. Trying to find some common ground about the movements of shad. There are more theories than you can imagine on shad, and it gets very confusing to try and discover a fact from opinion. When dealing with bass fishing, opinions can reduce your catching more than help it. I found one quote that I thought was interesting. Todd Driscoll, a fisheries management biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, published an article, and in it, he said, “Unfortunately, the scientific community knows little about the habitat use or movement patterns of the gizzard and threadfin shad.” When I first read this, I took it as a challenge, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, let me see if I can find something that is hard proof. Well, I did not. In an attempt to put a guaranteed set of guidelines together, that would keep a person on top of bait fish and ensure bass catching success, I basically came up empty. So, there you have it, everything you read from here is either personal experience, opinion, or a guess; read at your own risk.

I’m not going to go into the scientific name, or the bio chemistry of a shad. This can all be found very quickly by searching the Internet; Wikipedia has a great description of the Thread Fin Shad. What I’m going to try and cover is some of the habits that a Thread Fin Shad has, and how they react to them, through my on the water experience and those of others that have taken some time to publish them. This will have to be a multi part series, there is just too much information to include it all in one article. To start, lets discuss the shad spawn.

Shad have to reproduce just like any other living creature; pretty basic concept. The Thread Fin Shad spawn when water temperatures reach the upper 60’s to low 70’s. This is printed all over the Internet, and my own account says it’s pretty much true. Usually more towards the 70 degree mark from what I’ve experienced. I did find some fish hatcheries that agreed with this statement. Did you know buying shad by the pound is not cheap?

Disclaimer: I have fished waters from Clear Lake in California to Santee Cooper in South Carolina, as far north at Dale Hollow and Lake of the Ozarks to as far south as Okeechobee; however, I have lived in Louisiana for quite some time now. My most current and accurate accounts of the Thread Fin Shad spawn or going to be based of experiences here in the south.

According to the Texas State University http://www.bio.txstate.edu/~tbonner/txfishes/dorosoma%20petenense.htm

Threadfin shad school along the shoreline, with small groups of 1-2 females and 3-15 males breaking away and moving toward shore; the groups swim near surface erratically, then move quickly toward a log, vegetation or other submerged object while releasing eggs and milt.

In lakes with a lot of vegetation Thread Fin Shad will spawn just about anywhere. Many lakes, in the spring, don’t have a lot of vegetation available, and Thread Fin Shad will be found spawning around hard objects. The cycle I’ve seen, and has been printed in a variety of places, is that several male shad will drive a female from the school, and they will push her to a likely survival rate place for the eggs. I could be over thinking this, but they are driven to hard objects for a reason, hence “likely survival rate place”. Once on a stump, larger boulder, dock pylon or even bridge pylon, the multiple male shad circle the single female shad. From all I’ve read, this is the actual spawning. The female is releasing eggs and the males are fertilizing them at the same time. The fertilized eggs then fall or drift in current, until they can attach to something, hence the need to be near hard objects. Many professional anglers talk about the black plastic Styrofoam filled dock floats being ideal spawning grounds for shad. They don’t say why, but I would speculate the black plastic is, one, a good place for the eggs to adhere too, and two, black plastic will warm quickly in the sun.

Through my experience, shad are mostly nocturnal spawners; or spawn very early morning. Once the sun is on the water, the spawning activity for the day seems to cease completely. Recently I was at a local lake that has very little shoreline accessibility, simply because of the abundance of cypress trees. For shad to find shorelines to travel and spawn against, is very difficult. This is a good thing for the angler, because shad will seek out good spawning grounds and tend to get really bunched up on what’s available. This makes it easier for the angler to find the spawning shad, and the bass feeding on them. This particular morning, while launching my boat I noticed several dead shad on the launch ramp. This really isn’t that uncommon in our area as catfish anglers will net shad to use as bait, at the end of the trip they will toss them at the ramp. Shad do not do well in live-wells or buckets so they die. The dead shad then wash up on the ramp. Anyway, after launching my boat, I took the trailer back to the parking area. In the time it took me to walk back to the ramp, after pulling my trailer out of the water, there were live shad flopping on the ramp. The shad were moving back and forth along the ramp to spawn, using the hard bottom and pier next to the ramp as their objects. Bass were blowing up on the shad so hard it was throwing them up onto the ramp. I was pre-fishing this lake for an upcoming tournament. Over the next 10 days, I fished this particular ramp 3 times and every morning it was the same thing. I don’t know how long this lasted; the launch ramp was off limits for the tournament so I didn’t stick around the area. By the way, the water temperature that week was 72 to 74 degrees and the shad spawn was in full swing throughout the lake.

Another experience I had with Thread Fin Shad spawn was several years ago on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. The water temperature was 68 to 72 degrees. Dad was driving. I don’t get to ride often, so I was taking in the morning scenery. Table Rock is a very large lake, but has many ramps to choose from. This particular morning we launched in the mid lake area and were headed up the lake. I noticed busting fish in small pockets off the main river arm. I didn’t think much of it until it became a regular occurrence. Over the next two miles or so, almost every pocket would have fish busting in it. I finally reach over and told dad to stop, we idled closer to one of the pockets to investigate. Dad thought I was nuts, because bass don’t school this early in the season. True, they don’t, but the shad do. He finally seen what was happening and pulled into the pocket. Armed with tiny torpedo’s we proceeded to catch several bass. This only lasted about 15 minutes, and it was over for the day. Two days later we launched from the same location, but this time we skipped into and out of as many pockets as possible before the sun got on the water. Hitting a dozen pockets and catching nearly 30 bass. More to the pattern was large boulders that had some algae growing on them. Come to find out, the best pockets had three or four very large boulders in the shallower backs of the pockets, and these boulders had a green, slimy film on them. I had to leave to go back to my military career; however, the old man run that pattern for 4 more weeks. Each morning after the spawning activity stopped; the bass bite got so tough that he would just cruse shorelines looking for the best conditions. By the end of the spawn he had dialed in a dozen pockets that were highly productive, and he was unstoppable for the first thirty minutes in the morning.

Another experience of mine that is worthy of noting. I was on a lake that had no cover and no structure. It was a medium sized lake, but it was a flat land lake. Meaning the sides simply sloped off into about 40 feet of water. However, it was covered in boat docks. I was fishing it in May, and the bass were in post spawn and very difficult to catch. One of my normal patterns in tough post spawn conditions is to throw a top water bait all day and cover a lot of water. I’ll hook up with the bass that are suspended, and resting from the spawn. This particular lake, not having any structure, set up perfect for this type of presentation. After an hour of not getting many bites, I gravitated to the boat docks. The sun was high, so the docks provided a security zone for bass. Naturally, as a bass angler, the first thing we want to do is pitch a bait up under the docks. This was unproductive. Finally, I got hung up, and had to get in close to the dock to retrieve my bait. While doing so, I could see several shad circling each dock pylons. The pylons would have 8 or 10 shad just swimming around it, almost like it was a game. At the time, I knew nothing about the shad spawn and found it very weird. I went back to my top water bait, and working it around the dock pylons started catching bass. I didn’t know at the time, but I was learning something, shad need hard objects to spawn against. In this event, I never did see balls of shad cruising the shoreline; however, I didn’t notice the shad spawn early enough and they probably were already relating to deeper water for the day.

The Thread Fin Shad is a member of the Herring Family. This further strengthens the nocturnal habits of the shad spawn. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Herring runs on the ocean’s coasts. During the correct, full moon, people will line the beaches with buckets watching the waves roll in and out. When a wave comes in the Herring are washed up onto the beach, you run out and grab as many as you can before the next wave washes in. This all happens on the full moon. While the shad spawn happens for an extended period of time, the full moons seem to have the most activity. This is a personal observation.

Shad will spawn from spring until fall, with the spring spawn being the biggest. Throughout the summer, you can find spawning activity, although very little. In the fall when the water temps get back to the 70 degree mark, you can once again find the majority of shad spawning. There is some documentation out that says spring of the year fry are adult enough to partake in the fall spawn.

Catching bass that are following the shad spawn is not difficult. If you’ve found spawning shad, there is no doubt there are bass close by. Using a shad imitating lure will assuredly produce success. However, this phenomena only lasts for a few minutes each morning, covering water should also be part of your goal. Using a senko will catch bass chasing shad, but so will a buzz bait. Of those two, which can you, make more casts with inside a 30 minute time limit. When bass are keyed on shad that are spawning, being subtle is not and issue, crash and burn a bank line to put your bait in front of as many bass as you can. You will also find that during this time, follow up strikes are very easily obtained.

I like to use a buzz bait or burn a spinnerbait near the surface. I’ll also position the boat very close to the shoreline, and cast forward working parallel to the shore. Casts that require the bait to be more than 10 feet off the shore are useless. Think of fishing the shad spawn like the basket ball hoop game at Chuck E Cheese, you have so many seconds to make as many baskets as possible. Even a 5 year old knows the more times he throws the ball at the basket, the more points he’ll get inside the time limit. It’s the same thing here, cast, cast, cast, you have a 30 minute time limit.

A tell tale sign that the shad spawn is happening is what we call “phantom strikes” on a spinnerbait. You’re getting strikes but not hooking up very often. This is often male shad chasing down the blades of the spinnerbait thinking he’s found a mate. Well, that is until the blade swings close enough to whack him in the head. This causes your blade to stumble in rotation, and you feel a faint tick. I’ve had shad ball up around my spinnerbait so thick that I actually hook them, this without even setting the hook. I like to recommend a spinnerbait to anglers just starting out with fishing the shad spawn. The main reason is that the activity is short lived each morning, and knowing when to get off the pattern is just as important as knowing it’s there. With a spinnerbait, you will have shad following your bait back to the boat. This will be a regular occurrence. When the activity is over for the day, you’ll notice there are no longer shad following your spinnerbait. It’s a great visual indicator that the spawn is over for the day. Use spinnerbaits that match the size of the shad, in my opinion matching the hatch is vital with this situation. Bass are very keyed in on the size, flash, and profile of the shad. Any bait that doesn’t resemble the shad they are eating is pretty much obscure noise to a bass. Once you find the right combination of those three things, you can catch fish literally every cast. To start, I always recommend a white spinnerbait with double willow leaf blades. One blade silver and one blade gold, this covers the realm of flash so you don’t have to switch up. Blades sizes of 3.5 to 4.5 best match the shad size at this time of year. So, a white double willow leaf spinnerbait with a silver 3.5 blade and a gold 4.5 blade, and you’re in business. Finally, a spinnerbait is a good bait for the chunk and wind angler. It has a good hook up ratio, and with a single hook it’s fairly weedless.

As anglers get more experienced with bait presentations, I’ll recommend a buzz bait. Buzz baits are fantastic at imitating a shad blasting across the surface running from another predator. A bass sees this as a prey that is worried about something else and won’t see an assault coming. That or bass just can’t stand buzz baits, which leads to a summer pattern, and another story. Either way a buzz bait is fantastic for catching spawning bass. You can cover water very quickly, but the best reason for a buzz bait is that it’s exciting!

Crankbaits or jerkbaits are also good choices. However, here are some things to think about. A crankbait is not very weedless, and bass chasing spawning shad are generally very shallow, usually one to three feet. A shallow running or even waking crankbait would be your best choice. A jerkbaits biggest down fall is casting distance. If you’re going to use a jerkbait, spend the money to get a quality one that is balanced during a cast. Distance can be important as bass are running shad up and down bank lines very quickly. These schools can move 50 yards in seconds, so being able to cast long distances can aid in keeping up with them.

Next time you’re on your favorite lake that has Thread Fin Shad be sure to keep and eye on the water temperature and the shoreline. Fishing the shad spawn can be some of the fastest action you’ll have all year. The biggest trick to finding spawning shad is getting on the water early. In one article I read, an professional angler was quoted as saying “Late risers need not apply!”

Get the Net it’s a Hawg
Mike Cork
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