Fall is upon us. With longer nights and cold fronts, the leaves begin to turn, the waters cool and the fish move shallow. One predictable pattern this time of year is the migration of shad into the creeks ... and the resulting bass feeding frenzy!
Anglers can take advantage of this pattern to locate actively feeding bass and quickly fill a limit. Schools of bass are often easily found, and lipless crankbaits, soft plastic jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters will all catch them now.
But what is really going on with these shad? Why do they move into the creeks? What anglers observe is only part of the food chain dynamic. To understand it you have to closer look — or in this case smaller — to see what is driving the migration.
Shad are mostly filter feeders that eat primarily phytoplankton and zooplankton and cruise in huge schools, often traveling many miles in search of plankton-rich water. They roam the vast open areas looking for food. Early in the year, as rains and runoff bring nutrients into the lake, sunlight and warming water temperatures cause plankton blooms in the lake's open waters.
As summer gives way to fall, nutrients in the main lake are depleted and temperatures decline, putting a damper on plankton growth. In the shallow coves and creeks however, the last warm, sunny days can cause quick warm-ups, and the plankton can continue to bloom. Shad schools, which may include larger older fish from previous years and small juvenile shad that were spawned in late summer, migrate into the creeks in search of food.
This sudden influx of prey appeals to opportunistic bass. While they will usually not travel miles and miles following a school of shad, those that are resident in an area will certainly take advantage of the prey that swims into their home territory.