April 29, 2022
By David A. Brown
The surface boils; it looks like rain, but the day has dawned relatively clear. So, what’s with the meteorological miscue?
Well, it’s not a shower, not even a sprinkle; this time of year in southern waters, it’s almost certainly the baitfish reproductive revelry known as the shad spawn.
Literally thousands of small, silver shards are flipping, splashing and darting about with such fervor that they’re oblivious to their surroundings and the danger lurking ever closer. Watch long enough and you’ll see boils, busts and aggressive pushes—the telltale signs of predators below.
Fact is, a great many species exist to feed other species and shad are one of the bass world’s prime examples.
“The way God made the world work is the bass start spawning around 58-62 degrees and about the time they’re getting done, when the water is warmer, the shad start spawning so the bass can feed up,” Bassmaster Elite Series pro Wes Logan said. “It’s a cycle.”
Timing Is Everything
Starting mid-April and lasting for a few weeks, the shad spawns are subject to the same weather and temperature factors that control bass bedding.
“In the south, I’ve always seen shad spawns starting around the 66- to 68-degree range,” he said. “I start looking for it when your morning water temperature is starting out at that level.
“On the opposite end of that, if it’s been warm and you have a shad spawn, but you get a cold night or two, it will be completely gone until the water temperature stabilizes.”
Across the board, shad spawns are a morning deal—typically occurring overnight, with anglers privy to the tail end of the activity, which lasts for about an hour or two after daybreak. He said it’s unmistakable when you encounter this sunrise soiree, but he’s keen to keep watch for what he considers previews of coming attractions.
“I have seen where the shad will spawn in the middle of the day if the water temperature creeps up,” he said. “It will be a hot, sunny spring day and you’ll see it going on a little bit. It won’t be like they’re flipping up on the bank, like in the early morning, but you’ll see them running together and flicking on hard cover.
“If I see that, I know to start looking for it in the morning times. It gives you an inclination of when to start looking.”
Docks, seawalls, laydowns, grass lines—these are the favored spots for spawning shad. Actually, any solid surface or structure will do.
“It’s whatever your lake had to offer, in terms of hard cover on the bank,” he said. “And it doesn’t always have to be on the bank, but anywhere shallow. Riprap is really good, and dock floats.
“If you don’t have a lot of cover in the water, they’ll be around shallow points.”
As Logan notes, specific southern baitfish may prefer various spawning habitat. Threadfin shad will typically favor the shoreline or nearshore hard cover. Blueback herring (different baitfish, same principle) tend to favor clay points, while gravel bars present a common gizzard shad spawning habitat.
Note: One of the more clandestine elements of the threadfin shad spawn is the offshore grass deal. When the shoreline stuff is getting pounded, or if you’re just not seeing the activity you’d expect, take a look at any offshore humps with grass and you might be pleasantly surprised to find a bunch of shad doing the nasty in private.
What They Like
The brief, but intense reproductive rituals of the major southern baitfish is all about motion, so don’t waste time with slower presentations. There’ll be plenty of time for flipping, pitching and dragging stuff later in the day, but when first light brings that surface dancing, show those bass a moving bait that mimics the size and motion of their natural prey.
Threadfin shad: Growing up fishing the Coosa River system, Logan’s a big fan of swim jigs. He prefers a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs No Jack in a shad imitating color with a Zoom Z-Craw Jr. in a matching color. He’ll also throw a 1/4-ounce Dirty Jigs Scott Canterbury Buzzbait with a white pearl Z-Craw.
Other options: Bladed jigs, spinnerbaits, squarebills and swimbaits.
Blueback herring: The bass that eat these bigger baitfish readily gobble a big topwater bait. Logan likes one with a concave face like the Ark TB115, a blower style bait that walks well and garners attention by spewing a shower of water. Paddletail swimbaits on light jig heads will also work.
Gizzard shad: “The herring and the gizzard shad are very similar to me; they’re going to be off the bank, so you can get away with the swimbait for the gizzard shad spawn in the grass and on the gravel. The 5/8-ounce Ark Z Series lipless bait is good on the gravel banks, a big spinnerbait and that blower style topwater are also good because you’re imitating those bigger than average size baitfish.”
Parting point: Even though the shad spawn activity typically subsides after that first hour of daylight, a cloudy or overcast day often sees the game go into extra innings. It’s basically a sunlight thing, so when dim conditions persist, stick around those key areas and ride this pony as long as it’ll run.