If you watch the shad in the area your fishing can give clues as to what the bass are doing. Scattered shad periodically flicking on the surface, are not spooked. They are comfortably swimming around and enjoying the day, feeding on plankton without a care. I have come to learn this is an unfortunate sign. Shad schooled up in extremely tight balls, are spooked; schooling is a defense mechanism. Typically, tightly schooled balls of shad have recently been chased by predators.
I have an aquarium that is full of African Cichlids. These can be exceptionally aggressive fish, especially when a new cichlid is introduced to the tank. To keep the resident cichlids from terrorizing the new cichlid, we put several minnow type fish in the tank to distract the resident cichlids (note: these minnow type fish are inexpensive and if one dies it is not a concern). A week after introducing the new cichlid to the tank, life will settle down. You might be asking where I’m going with all this. When the tank is settled, and all the fish are in a mild mood, the minnow fish that we use as distracters also settle. They scatter and swim around the tank without a care, but when we clean the tank, or introduce a new fish, these minnows school tightly together for protection. I can easily relate this to shad in a lake.
So what does that tell me about bass behavior when I’m on the water? Simply that, if I have single shad flicking the surface and not schooled what so ever, then the bass in the area are in a negative feeding mood. If I’m confident in my water, then I’ll take that and start fishing very tight to cover. Bass that are in a negative feeding mood tend to get tight to cover and simply wait out the conditions that put them in this mood. Think of it like a 4 year old child that is pouting because he can’t have candy. Now, if you put a piece of candy in his lap, he is going to be hesitant, but he will eat it.
When I have single shad flicking the surface, my goal will be to find thick cover, either vegetation or wood, and put baits in all the likely holes that might hold a bass. It’s time consuming because the strike zones are so small (lap of the toddler) and in order to get a bite you’re going to have to put the baits on their noses. You will also need to slow down and tease a bass in this negative mood. Once your bait is in a likely hole, you’ll need to shake it, lift and drop, doing whatever you can to give your bait action, but not removing it from the strike zone.
Conversely, if you have balls of shad moving around in the area, I’ll pick up reaction baits and cover water. Using spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater baits, I’m going to cover water looking for the bass that are out roaming and balling the shad up. This can be exciting because bass also school, and once you find them, catching can be fast and furious. Bass will also school and work with each other, trying to pin balls of shad against objects. This could be the surface of the lake, sometimes a point or bluff wall. The point here is once you find one, you can be confident that there are several others in the area.
So what do you do if you don’t see any shad activity at all? Move and go looking for them. Using seasonal patterns and your electronics go find the shad. No matter what mood/mode the shad are in, there will always be bass around. Think of it conversely to keep your mindset right. If there are no shad in the area why would bass be there. Shad are an extraordinarily prolific species of fish; they are for the most part, everywhere in a lake. If you’ve come across an area that has no shad, then something is wrong, and the bass won’t be there either. There are areas of lakes that don’t support fish; could be because wind or current never move through the area, could be that it’s a giant flat and fresh water species (except carp) need bottom contours to help them navigate daily life. For whatever reason, if there are absolutely no shad in an area, you can be pretty positive that there are no bass either.
Just some thoughts on shad that have developed in my head from watching the aquarium in my living room. I know I have a big problem when I can’t enjoy my own 120 gallon aquarium without transforming that experience into bass fishing. It’s an addiction that I may need to seek professional help for. Or, maybe I need to give up and put another bass in it!