The bass have pretty much spawned out by now, and it’s time for them to start a feed that would make any buffet lover jealous. After resting up, they will be looking to eat anything and everything they can find. At the top of the list: Spawning shad.
Every year we see the same pattern: The spawn wraps up, and the bite slows down for a bit while the bass rest and recoup. Then they get very, very hungry. Once they hit that phase, nothing is safe from their appetite, and catching bass can be almost too easy. They move around in search of food. If you know what to look for and where to look for it, the rest is simple.
The shad spawn is perfectly timed for bass, since it generally happens immediately after the bass have completed their own spawn. We are at the beginning of May now and the bass spawn is over on most lakes. The shad will be spawning soon, peaking around the full moon on May 16. Shad spawn in schools, so now you need to start paying close attention and hunting for big balls of shad.
One of the first things I consider is wind. Even a slight breeze will move the shad around. They will generally stay where the water is as calm as possible. Moving around to the lee side of a point can be very productive. Or, look for pockets within the grasslines. The shad are sure to move somplace protected from the wind — and where the shad go, the bass are sure to follow.
No wind? You can still locate schooling shad. Look for any ripple on the water, that will tell you where the bait balls are. If it’s really calm, you might be surprised how many balls of bait you actually see. I have been out on the boat in conditions like this and have seen so many ripples on the water caused by bait you would have thought you landed on the mother-lode of feeding bass.
There are four baits I like to throw during this time of year. Well, five if you count the trusty old Texas-rigged worm. But that’s not my first choice around shad schools. My go-to early in the morning is a small topwater bait. I want something that pops, spits or plops along the surface of the water. If I can make it replicate the sound of the bait, I’m sure to get strikes. The Rebel Pop-R is always a good bait in this situation.
My second choice would be a vibrating jig. My preference would be a Z-Man JackHammer in the wild shiner color pattern. For Florida waters, this vibrating jig is the most productive bait of its kind. The vibration that it puts off with that shorter body just attracts bites.
Choice number three would be a spinnerbait. I want my skirt and blades to match the bait as much as possible, so a spinnerbait with silver blades with a white skirt is always a good choice for fishing around shad.
Last but not least would be a lipless crankbait. Here I would go with a chrome and blue bait and retrieve it quicker than normal. Bass are chasing shad in open water, so they are attacking anything that moves quickly. A well-placed cast with a lipless crankbait will land you a bass every time when the fish are are tearing through a ball of shad.
I know for the next six weeks I will be looking for the shad spawn on each lake I fish. This is the time of year where you can really load up on catching some bass. It’s a very different experience to see them feeding so aggressively when we’re used to them often being finicky. I’m going to take full advantage of that.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.