Game fish like largemouth bass, crappie, striped/hybrid bass and some catfish depend on baitfish for the majority of their food. Baitfish in area lakes are comprised primarily of minnows, bluegill, and shad. All game fish are prone to eat their young or the young of other game fish but that is a seasonal thing after the spawn and it does not comprise a large portion of the game fish’s diet.
The most important baitfish in both Lakes Oconee and Sinclair are shad and there are two distinctly different species of shad in the lakes. The two types are threadfin shad and gizzard shad. Some parts of the country call the threadfin shad yellowtails due to the yellow coloration found on their tails. Look closely especially under lights and the threadfin shad exhibits a number of colors.
Even though the threadfin shad can grow to six to nine inches in some waters, they usually measure up to two to four inches in area lakes. Due to their small size, the threadfin shad is the perfect size meal for crappie, largemouth bass and striped/hybrid bass. The threadfin shad provides upwards of 80 percent or more of the game fish diet in area lakes.
Threadfin shad are abundant in both Lakes Oconee and Sinclair. They spawn in the spring during the months of April and May along lake shorelines and during that spawn, anglers target game fish that have moved to shoreline areas to feed on the shad.
Threadfin shad feed primarily on plankton but occasionally they will eat the larvae of other fish.
The second type of shad in area lakes is the gizzard shad. The gizzard shad grows to a much larger size than the threadfin shad and when it reaches six inches, it no longer is a food source except for the largest game fish in the lake. They are generally found to range in size from four to 15 inches and can reach up to two pounds in size.
The gizzard shad feeds on plankton when small, but later begins to feed on algae and disintegrated matter on the lake bottom. The threadfin shad and gizzard shad look somewhat similar when small but the easiest way to tell these two shad apart is the yellowtails of the threadfin. The threadfin shad also has a distinguishing purple spot near the gill plate on each side.
The threadfin shad spends the majority of its life in or near deep water except during the spawn. The threadfin shad move to shallow water in huge numbers in spring to spawn when the water temperature is in the 65 to 75 range. They move along shorelines in large schools to lay there eggs on rocks, grass, boat docks and wood structures.
During the threadfin’s spring spawn, anglers can have excellent success when gamefish such as largemouth bass, striped bass, hybrid bass, and even catfish move in to feed on the spawning shad. The feeding can be voracious at times and an angler casting a well-placed lure will often be rewarded with a strike.
Some excellent lures to use during the shad spawn include spinnerbaits, Trick worms, small crankbaits, topwater lures, and flukes. The shad will be spawning right on the shoreline so position your boat close to the shoreline so that you can make long cast and keep the lure in the strike zone longer. T
he shad will always be moving in one direction along the bank.
Many anglers completely miss the spring shad spawn because you have to be on the water at daylight. The shad will move to the shoreline during the night and may actually begin to spawn before the very first rays of sunlight. Normally the shad spawn will only last 15 to 45 minutes unless the morning is overcast and then it could last an hour or more.
You can hear the shad spawning from some distance as thousands of shad swim along the shoreline depositing their eggs. Often they will come completely out of the water as they deposit their eggs and often the gamefish will almost become grounded as they move into extremely shallow water to gorge themselves on shad.
Shad have already been spawning on both Lakes Oconee and Sinclair so you need to be on the water at the break of day. It is hard to predict exactly where on the lake the shad will spawn on any given day but usually it is not difficult to find them when they are actively spawning.
Good locations to look for spawning shad are main lake points, seawalls, coves and along riprap.
The spawn might last over a two to three week period and then the shad congregate in large schools for safety reasons and can be found during the late spring and summer on points, ledges, and humps. The shad spawn can be an exciting time to be on the water.
Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.