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Show Them the Shad

The most successful artificial baits should closely represent real food in the world of the bass. When the conversation turns to what bass bait is most effective you can get a wide variety of opinions. From a nutritional standpoint bass will almost always prefer a meal of real crawfish. When we harvest fish (yes, we eat smaller bass, no smallmouth) I always check the stomach contents. I have often found in the bulging bellies of bass several crawfish. This gives me an idea of the color and size of the crawfish that have tuned into forage for the local largemouth. In scientific studies of what bass eat it has been proven that they’ll eat anything that will fit in their mouths AND the most common prey are shad. They love crawfish but they eat more shad because they are more readily available. If you want to consistently catch bass be prepared to present baits that mimic the shad.

Kayak Fishing with Artificial Shad
Just about any lure classification can be used to imitate a shad. Certainly, crankbaits with their incredibly lifelike paint patterns but beyond the cranking baits a spinnerbait, soft plastic swimbaits and even topwater lures to name a few. Those influenced by media or peer pressure have repeatedly heard the phrase, “match the hatch” but it’s only true to certain extent. Matching color and movement is great but not the size. Because shad hatches produce millions of gizzard and threadfin shad the last thing you want is for your bait to blend in with a gigantic school of shad. Upsize to make a tantalizing visual for the fish especially if your target is a trophy. Given the choice BIG bass will choose the bigger meal. They expend the same amount of energy in the chase and get a bigger payoff with the upsized meal.

Color choices vary but the standard lighter shades generally perform the best even in stained water. Consider the performance characteristics of your bait, size, profile, noise making capabilities and swimming motion all come into play. When possible study the movement of the shad, there are a natural swimming look, the frightened flight look and the injured view. The last two create the predator / prey scenario which is critical to getting bit. The job of the angler is to simulate the escape or injured mode exhibited by the shad.

Kayak Fishing with Artificial Shad
During the fall shad school up heavily, the spawn occurs in the summer, but the migration occurs as the water cools and the days get shorter. A magical system for me has been to go to where the creeks end at the lake and work my way in to the very back of the creek. Once the shad are located the bass won’t be far away. You’ll be treated to bass “herding” the shad schools toward the shoreline, to the surface or anything that qualifies as an edge. At this time, they almost work as a wolf pack to surround the bait. For this scenario I keep either a single willow bladed, white skirted spinnerbait or a buzzbait handy. When they are attacking the school throw right to the edge of the action and hang on. It may last for several minutes or just a few seconds, but you can get healthy in a hurry.

Other options for bass devouring shad include three-inch pearl colored curlytail grubs rigged on a ¼ ounce leadhead and presented on spinning equipment. For the baitcaster bunch, cupped faced popping baits like the Strike King Spit-N-King, square or oval billed medium diving crankbaits. Proven Strike King crankbait colors for me are #699 Natural shad or another favorite of the shad feeding fish #584 Oyster. The Ragetail Swimmers come in several sizes and can be rigged on leadheads, on weighted hooks or attached to swim jigs. I prefer monofilament line (12-14-pound test) on a seven-foot medium or medium heavy action rod and a Lew’s reel with a 6.3:1 gear retrieve ratio.

Kayak Fishing with Artificial Shad
The shad pattern occurs most often in an open water environment so fishing drop offs, ledges and points besides the creeks is highly recommended. Once bait AND bass are found the pattern emerges and can be employed in other section of your fishing location. Water depth, bottom contour and composition plus water temperature should all be noted.

TIP: During the fall I keep a jig rod handy for working the shoreline wood in search of that one big bite for bass nestled in heavy cover. A white jig, 3/8th ounces trailed by a white soft plastic bait imitates the available shad. I keep crawfish colors handy also. I use braided line and a Palomar knot backed up by a clinch knot to secure my jigs.

Retrieve speed is critical. There are infrequent times when they, the bass aren’t finicky and hit anything that moves in their vicinity but changes on feeding mode or weather changes might call for a speed adjustment. Experiment and be willing to alter retrieve speed. If you bait reacts like the shad it increases your chances of having a good day. It’s time! Show them the shad!