The Shad Spawn
Every year in late spring there is a spawn cycle that occurs on freshwater lakes and rivers that is second only in significance to the actual bass spawn; the shad spawn. The shad spawn has been talked about quite a bit in the last 15 years but each year I am amazed and sometimes perplexed at the extent of influence it has on sport fish. This annual event or sometimes semi-annual depending on the year can influence when bass go onto beds, how long they stay and certainly effects their migration away from spawning habitat. It’s a daily evolution depending on water and weather conditions and certainly the lake has a major factor in the process. To get a deeper understanding of the process we need to look at at the subjects themselves, where they spawn and the timing.
First, when talking about the shad we are looking at primarily threadfin and gizzard shad. Though they are somewhat similar in appearance, they differ in personality, tolerance and habitat preference. Threadfin are a fickle, feeble species that are generally small, have a narrow temperature tolerance and prefer the shallower open portions of lakes and rivers. Gizzard shad on the other hard are hardier, larger and live deeper than threadfins. They prefer current if possible, and more turbid waters. Typically shad spawns that we see visually are typically threadfins since they are the shallower living of the two, so shallow at times they are pushed up on the bank out of the water by waves or predators.
Shad not unlike any sport fish species spawn in shallow water. And they like other species want something solid and hard to attach their eggs to. Their spawn ritual is much like that of rough fish in that they side with numbers of eggs being broadcast instead of quality of care in making a bed and tending to it. It’s only natural that they would choose a sustainable option like a hard wall, rocks, clay, grass, etc. Anything that is dense and not temporary will work to spray eggs on that are left to hatch and fend for themselves. I prefer to look for a hard bottom main lake or main creek point that has some special features. Whether that’s wooden docks, hard clay patch, rocks, weeds or a retaining wall. Bridges are also a really good location to look and you typically always had a shad presence around them. Any location I look for is some place pretty accessible to where they spend the rest of the year and it needs to have quick access to deeper water in the event of high wind, fronts, cold snaps etc that send them packing temporarily.
The spawn is going to going to usually coincide with other species spawns. In the south it is typically sandwich between the bass spawn and the bream spawns. There are years that a large amount of bass that stay shallow for a considerable time of the spring. They come shallow for their spawn, stick around for the shad spawn and subsequently the bream spawn shortly after. A perfect storm is the shad spawn actually happening right on top of the tail end of the bass spawn where large amounts of shallow fish are able to take advantage of the provided buffet. You need to be looking for the shad spawn when the water temp is consistently in the mid 60s and warming to the 70s in the afternoons. Like other species a full moon can and will kick this off in force if the water temps are right. Once the water temps are stable they spawn will last for a week or more as long as they are no big swings in temperatures.
When you hit right it’s quick action with shad imitating moving baits. Topwaters, spinnerbaits, swimjigs, jerbaits, crankbaits are all excellent choices and a lot of time you need a little bit of everything available to cycle through until you find the right presentation. Once you have it dialed up, you have a short window on sunny days that can be stretched slightly by chasing shade. Once the sun comes up the shad move away from spawning and start feeding on rising plankton. Cloudy days seem to prolong the spawning hours up into the daytime prolonging the opportunity to capitalize on the bite. The most important point to take with you regarding the shad spawn is to be ready because it can be here today and gone tomorrow. Lakes will have spawns in certain areas and not in others. You can have a whole creek full of active spawners one day only for them to vacate overnight. At times it’s like chasing a ghost that appears mythical or to disappear leaving you rubbing your eyes. But fear not, we can count on this to happen every year and with each year brings it opportunities!
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