Shad spawn feast or famine

I was onto to the shad spawn even before I began fishing professionally. It happens year after year, and it’s very predictable. It develops immediately after the bass are getting off their beds.

May is a big month for the shad spawn, but the timing really depends on the water temperature wherever you’re fishing. Bass spawn when the water is in the mid 60s to low 70s. The wave of shad comes up when the water warms into the low to mid 70s.

Keep in mind that shad don’t fan out a bed and pair up male and female like bass do. They form large groups and disperse their spawn in places where their eggs can stick to hard objects.

I’ve seen shad spawn on submerged and emergent grass and even on chopped up grass that had matted on the surface. They love to spawn on rocks, riprap and gravel. I’ve seen them spawn on laydowns and brush too.

Last but not least, they’ll spawn on docks, and the docks don’t have to be shallow. Some of the best docks I’ve fished in my life were marina docks floating over 30 to 60 feet of water.

The curse of the shad spawn is that it only happens in low light conditions. There’s a very small window of opportunity.

You need to be on them first thing in the morning before the sun hits the water. When it gets bright, the shad spawn cuts off in a heartbeat. They instinctively know they’re vulnerable.

Cloud cover, rain, fog or anything that blocks the sun will extend the life of the shad spawn. If the right conditions lengthen a 25-minute shad spawn by 15 to 30 minutes, that’s a big deal.

Obviously, your lures should look like shad. They should be 2 to 4 inches in length, white and something you can retrieve up near the surface next to whatever objects the shad are spawning on.

Nothing does a better job of imitating a spawning shad than a double willow spinnerbait with silver blades. Molix has one called the Lover Titanium. I run it parallel to and bump it into whatever has attracted the shad.

You can’t beat a white or pearl swim jig when the shad spawn on vegetation. I like Missile Bait’s Mini Swim Jig. I dress it with a white Berkley Chigger Craw or Pit Boss and swim it around grass wherever I see shad flickering.

I go with a swimbait around floating marina docks. I can skip it and keep it swimming parallel to the floats that support the dock. I rig a pearl or white 4-inch Berkley Powerbait Hollow Belly on an open jig head. If there are a lot of cables and snags around the docks, I rig it with a weedless hook.

A topwater bait can be phenomenal, especially when shad spawn around riprap, rocks, dams and bridges. That’s when I pick off the bass with Rapala’s Skitter V. I like the smaller version, the 4-incher, in Bone, Ghost Bone or Wish Bone. I walk it fast so it looks like a shad trying to get away.

As good as the bite can be, the shad spawn is a feast or famine deal. Catch it right and it could be the best 35 minutes of your life.

I experience the feast and famine sides of the shad spawn during the recent Elite Series tournament at Lay Lake. In practice I found shad spawning along a causeway. They were scattering their eggs on riprap, bridge pilings and isolated grass mats that had blown against the rocks.

It was an ideal area, and nobody else in the tournament ever fished there. I experienced famine on the first morning of the tournament. I had a late flight and the shad spawn was over before I got to the causeway.

I had an earlier flight the second day and a fog extended the shad spawn long enough that I could take advantage of it for 20 minutes. That morning was definitely a feast. My Marshal told me I’d caught a limit in 14 minutes.

On the third day I had a later flight and missed the shad spawn again.

You can catch bass of all sizes during a shad spawn, from keepers to 4- and 5-pounders. And the bass you catch tend to run heavier because they’re stuffed with shad.

I’m back home from Lay Lake, and I need to clean out the shad the bass regurgitated into my livewell. It’s a nasty job, but well worth it.

You can learn more about how I fish the shad spawn and other techniques at or