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Fishing Tips

SHAD SPAWN CAN MEAN FAST BASS ACTION

Posted 5/7/2010

When Yamaha Pro Kelly Jordon won a national bass tournament on Lake Guntersville several years ago, he caught more than 80 pounds of fish by throwing a spinnerbait over shallow milfoil vegetation, but he couldn't figure out why the bass were there.

Now he knows. Threadfin shad, a primary forage species of largemouths, were spawning on the vegetation, and the bass were taking advantage of it.

"As tournament pros, we're still learning about the shad spawn and refining our techniques for fishing it," notes the Texas-based Jordon, who has since fished the shad spawn on lakes throughout the United States. "It happens during the spring, usually coinciding with the bass post spawn, when water temperatures reach 65 degrees and above. It only lasts a few hours very early each morning, but it's definitely something every bass fisherman should know about."

Threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) are small bluish/gray and silver baitfish with a distinctive dark spot behind the gill plate. They're native to the South, but because they're such a favorite bass forage, they have been stocked in lakes throughout the country. Fisheries scientists prefer them to other species like blueback herring, because they don't eat bass eggs, as herring do, nor do they out-grow the bass, as gizzard shad may do. Threadfins seldom grow larger than two to three inches in length.

"The best places to look for these spawning shad are in shallow water along rock riprap, driftwood, seawalls, or vegetation close to deeper water," continues Jordon. "The females swim along the surface right beside the rocks or the vegetation, followed by a group of males. The fertilized eggs, which look like small air bubbles, stick to the first thing they touch and hatch about two days later.

"You might see the shad actually jumping and flicking out of the water, but more often you discover the shad spawn by feeling little nibbles or light bumps on your lure. Those are the shad hitting it. Sometimes you may even see them clustered around your bait, too."

The Yamaha Pro's favorite lures for this type of fishing are ½ or ¾-ounce double willowleaf spinnerbaits with a silver shad-colored skirt. Blade colors aren't that critical. He's also fished topwater lures, crankbaits, and even small swimbaits, but all need to have some shad-like coloration .

"I like to make a cast along a riprap bank or over a large, shallow mat of vegetation, and keep the lure about a foot under the surface," he adds. "The bass recognize the shad are concentrated in shallow water and they're right there to gorge themselves. You can easily catch five to 10 bass on as many casts.

"During your retrieve, try different presentations if you're not getting strikes. I'll twitch my spinnerbait occasionally, just to make it flash a little more, but when you're around a lot of shad, there's practically no wrong retrieve."

Jordon has caught bass as deep as 10 feet during the shad spawn, but depths between one and six feet are usually the most productive.

One of the real keys to this type of fishing is timing. The shad move to this shallow water during the night and primary spawning activity usually begins right at daybreak and continues only for an hour or so. On darker, cloudy days the action may last longer, but generally the shad move to deep water for greater safety once the sun comes up.

"Then it happens again the next morning, and the morning after that," laughs the Yamaha Pro, "so you can take advantage of it as long as you're willing to get up extra early and be on the water before the sun rises.

"Depending on the lake you're fishing, the shad can start spawning in April and the spawning season continues through May and into June in different areas. The spawn seems to be particularly strong during the full moon, too."