As the summer fishing season approaches nothing becomes more important to the angler’s success than understanding what the fish eat. That is important because game fish will always be around things that they like to eat and the lake contains a variety of food sources for game fish. Some sources of food are better than others depending on the particular game fish you are targeting.

Game fish like largemouth bass, crappie, striped/hybrid bass and some catfish depend on baitfish for the majority of their food. Baitfish in Lakes Oconee and Sinclair 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 are generally found to measure up to two to four inches in area lakes. Due to their small size the threadfin shad is the perfect size baitfish for crappie, largemouth bass and striped/hybrid bass to feed on. The threadfin shad likely 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 but greater numbers can be found in Lake Oconee. They spawn in the spring during the month of 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.

Anglers will often use live shad when targeting striped/hybrid bass and will use a cast net to catch the live shad. The baitfish when caught in this manner must be kept in a round aerated tank or they will quickly die. The threadfin shad cannot tolerate temperatures below 35 degrees and often during the winter they will die from the cold water.

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 about six inches it no longer is a good 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 have been reported to 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. Also the threadfin 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. They school in large numbers and can be found in almost any depth of water. The gizzard shad on the other hand spends a good deal of its life in rather shallow water and tends to avoid real deep water. Both shad species school in large numbers and at times the two species can be found schooling together.

After the spring spawn, the threadfin shad congregate in large schools for safety reasons and can be found during the summer on points, ledges and humps. Not by chance, those are excellent locations for anglers to find game fish like largemouth bass, crappie and striped/hybrid/white bass. Blue and flathead catfish can also be found around schools of shad.

Game fish will be feeding heavily after the spawn so from now through the middle of the summer, anglers should concentrate their efforts around schools of shad. Find a spot where the fish are feeding on threadfin shad and you can catch a large number of fish in a short period of time using either live bait or artificial lures.

Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair do not stratify so the shad and game fish can be in just about any depth of water as long as adequate oxygen is present. However threadfin shad will congregate around points, ledges, humps and underwater trees/stumps and those are prime places to begin your search.

The summer angling season is just around the corner so breakout the Carolina rig, a football jig, a good crankbait or catch some live bait and fish areas where the threadfin shad congregate. Also remember that the summer season offers anglers a great time to introduce a child to the wonderful sport of fishing. Good fishing and see you next week.


Bobby Peoples can be reached by e-mail at


 Lake Oconee Fishing Forecast

Lake Conditions – The main lake is heavily stained with most of the creeks having less stain than the main lake.

Lake Water Temperature – 70-72 degrees.

Largemouth Bass – GOOD – Secondary points, main lake points and deep boat docks are now the focus for anglers as the largemouth move back to the main lake. Angler choices include spinnerbaits and crankbaits (DT-10/Deep Little N, strike King 5XD, 6XD) and use colors to match the water color. Other good choices right now are white Zoom flukes, buzzbaits and topwater lures when you find the shad spawning early in the day around seawalls and rip-rap. Floating Trick worms, Shakey heads and Carolina rigged plastics are also catching fish.

Crappie –GOOD –Most of the crappie have moved back to the lake’s underwater trees where they can be caught on both jigs and minnows through the summer months. Trolling over lake treetops continues to be good.

Striped/Hybrid Bass/White – GOOD – Some fish remain in the vicinity of the dam but they are now spreading out around nearby humps and deep lake points. Dropping live bait to the fish and trolling through the schools are catching some fish.

Catfish – GOOD - The catfish continue to spawn in the larger coves before they begin to move back to the main lake. Cut baits of shad/bream or live shad/bream are best for larger blues and flatheads.

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