BOB MAINDELLE: Taking advantage of the spawning of threadfin shad | outdoor sports
Annual spawning of threadfin shad is in full swing on Belton Lake.
Almost every morning, millions of these small forage fish, each about 3½ inches long, move rapidly from deep to shallow water where they then run parallel to the shore.
Swimming quickly and frantically, the females drop their small, sticky yellow-tinted eggs, while the males fertilize these eggs by releasing milt (the fish version of sperm).
While these forage fish focus on reproduction, game fish and non-game species of all kinds focus on making these threadfin shad their next meal.
All kinds of fish hunt these shads, often using the shore as an edge to pin the bait. Sometimes the shad have become so desperate to escape predators that they jump out of the water, stranding themselves on dry land.
Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass, gar, blue catfish, freshwater drum and crappie complete the usual list of suspects who brew l water as they gorge on these protein-rich baitfish.
If that wasn’t enough, even more predators could be on the shore waiting for the spawning shad. White herons, blue herons, green herons and crows also come to enjoy the buffet. Crows search for stranded, dead or dying fish on the shore, while herons toss fresh fish straight out of the water using their long, sharp beaks.
This spawning activity started, slowly at first, about three weeks ago. It is going strong now and will remain at a high level until the third week of May if history is a teacher. Spawning generally declines rapidly during the last week of May and by early June no hint of these threadfin shad will be seen in the shallow waters.
So knowing that this happens so predictably, what can anglers do to take advantage of the easy fishing presented by such an abundance of shallow water fish? Here are some considerations:
GO EARLY – On most days, shad spawning activity lasts about an hour and occurs about 45 minutes before sunrise and until about 15 minutes after. The window is short and you have to get on these fish before the direct sun hits the water. Sunny days see shorter windows of opportunity; cloudy days extend spawning time.
WATCH THE WIND — Shad will breed almost exclusively on windswept shores. Don’t make the mistake of looking for quiet, protected areas just because they make it easier for you to control the boat.
WATCH THE BIRDS — White herons are particularly easy to spot, even in low light conditions. If you see a small flock (three to six birds) huddled together along a length of shore, you can bet that shad are spawning in the area. If they spear again and again with their beaks, you can bet the shad are breeding there.
LOOK FOR SLOW EFFECT ZONES – Bottoms with slow cones attract shad better. Look for long distances between contour lines on your chartplotter/sonar mapping function to find such areas.
MATCHES THE HATCH — Use lures that are similar in size, shape and color to threadfin shad.
My favorite is the MAL Original Lure with chartreuse tail. A white spinnerbait with a silver willow leaf blade is a favorite, and Alabama Rig multi-bait lures are popular. Lipless crankbaits also work well.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE — Shallow baits and game are easily spooked. Reduce noise, keep your trolling motor under control, and stay as far away from the action as your casting ability allows.
KEEP MOVING — Once your bait hits the water, immediately start bringing it back to the boat. Dropping the lure to the bottom will often result in snags and/or retrievals below fish level. Retrieving a hooked lure by running a boat over it essentially ruins the potential of this area.
TO BE REALISTIC — Be aware that this spawning takes place over a limited period of time in low light conditions. Once it’s over, it’s over until the next day. Don’t make the mistake of lingering shallow hoping the fish will come back. They will not be. Go further and employ the appropriate tactics there.
This productive fishery will continue for at least another month. Be smart and note where spawning takes place under given wind and sky conditions. You may find that returning there under similar conditions can produce for you year after year.