Catching shad is just like catching any other fish, by that I mean they follow patterns just like other fish do so learning to pattern them will greatly improve your chances of catching them, but like other fish they are sometimes hard to locate. I will break this article down into seasonal patterns that will give you the basics on how to locate gizzard and threadfin shad and I will also give some great information on how to keep them alive. Hopefully you already know how to throw a cast net but if not there is already a lot of info on the internet about that subject.
Early spring is up and down with the weather but shad can be caught every day of the year. I like to catch bait in the late afternoon this time of year and keep them over night. Shad are easier to catch on warm days, locations would be the backs of coves and creeks where the water has been warmed by the sun all day. Look for stained water since shad will rarely be in clear shallow water and even if they are there they are very hard to get a net on. You can also catch them before daylight in the mornings around lights. You may catch threadfins and gizzards using this pattern. Starting in late April the threadfins start to spawn and catching them can be a one throw deal if you know how to find them. You have to be on the lake at daylight and look along the wind blown shoreline for white and blue herons, when you find them you will see the birds fishing them out and if you look closely you will see shad flipping or you may see a big black cloud of shad .Ease in and make sure to make a good throw. Threadfin will spawn on just about anything that has moss growing on it such as rocks, docks ,and boats. They spawn by hitting at about surface level and deposit the eggs in the moss so you can see them pretty easy. Wind direction is the major player for locating them every morning.
Summer gets a little tougher but I usually catch them before daylight around marina lights and in the mouth of creeks and coves. Sometimes the best way to catch them is to hang a light over the side of the boat and just drift in the open water. Afternoons they will move into some coves.
Shad move back into the creeks and coves but cold fronts move them out into deeper water. Best bet is to try and get bait before a front hits. Threadfins can be hard to get this time of year but the gizzard shad that hatched in the spring are usually big enough by the fall.
I usually don’t fish bait in the winter but they are easy to catch and not so easy to keep. Gizzard shad do fine in the cold but threadfin will not last long. In the winter time the shad group up into very dense schools , especially when it get really cold. Since they are grouped up that means you have to be in the right place or you get nothing. Deep coves and marinas and nighttime is better then daytime and as always check the lights . Winter can be tough but with decent electronics and confidence you can catch more shad in the winter then any other time of year.
Keeping Shad Alive
First thing you need is a good bait tank, I really don’t have much experience with anything other then a Grayline because I have never used anything else, but you need something that is at least 25 gallons. I use poly-fill for my filter and please throw it in a trash can and not into the lake like I have seen a lot of people do. A good tank will cost $400.00-$600.00 but will last for many years, about the only thing to replace is the pump and it is a must to always have a spare pump. Next you need a pump to fill and drain the tank, I use a rule 1500 and about 15 foot of bilge hose, just drop the pump in the lake to fill and drop the pump in the tank to drain it. Some tanks have a drain in them but it is a bad idea to drain saltwater into your boat. Next is a plastic wash tub from the dollar store which will be used for culling and counting bait as you move them to the tank plus gizzard shad should never be put directly into a tank because they need to go into the tub first so the excess slim can wash off.
With the tub you can easily dump out your net without putting unnecessary stress on the bait. Fill the tub about half full and keep the water clean. Always fill your tank before you start catching bait and add a hand full of stock salt for every 10 gallons of water in the tank. When the water temp gets over 80 degrees you will have to add ice to the tank and keep the temp below 80, don’t go crazy with the ice because you can shock your bait if you cool them off to fast and I would not cool it below 75.You can get a thermometer at any pet store. Remember ice has chlorine so you need to treat the tank with Sure-Life Better Bait. I only use the Better Bait if I have to ice the water or when keeping bait over night. Also another good product that I use from Sure-Life is the Foam Off . Not going to go into why but foam= bad.
The million dollar question is how many shad should you put in the tank and there are way to many variables to figure that out but 300 3-4 inch baits in a 50 gallon tank is about the edge , you can always keep them better in the spring and fall but really you will just have to find your limits for your set up, watch your bait close at first and if the bait is swimming low in the tank you should be good but if they are swimming close to the top you might want to pull some out and cut them into chum. Here is another thing you can learn the easy way or the hard way, when leaving bait unattended at night always use 2 sources of aeration because pumps sometimes burn out or get clogged, the best thing for back up is a aquarium pump with a good diffuser stone and always leave the lid open enough to get fresh air into the tank but watch out for birds getting bait out of your tank and if there is a way for it to get in you could end up with a snake in your tank ,snakes love shad.