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Three Reasons You Can’t Catch Winter Shad!


I was on the lake a couple of weeks ago after I dropped my clients off and a good friend came out to fish with me for a few hours. As I headed out from the boat ramp I noticed a young man throwing a cast net off in the distance. He was in a rather odd location to catch shad and he was throwing a TINY cast net.

I pulled up to the area where I was going to fish an anchored up. I watched him in the distance for the better part of about 45 minutes throwing again and again. At one point he idled past me and I noticed he had a small child in the boat with him. He pulls up to another location and starts throwing again and again.

I couldn’t stand to watch him any more and I pulled about 100 yards off from where we had been fishing, spotting a large ball of shad on my sonar, threw the cast net and filled up a three gallon bucket with large threadfin shad with two throws.

I idled over to this young mans boat and gave him a big ziplock bag full of shad.

About ten days later as I was headed in at the end of my trip I spotted him again, in the same area, throwing over and over again. I dropped my clients off and went back out to catch bait for my trip the next morning and when I did I threw a couple of extra times, got plenty of extra threadfin shad and gizzard shad and idled back over to him again and passed him a big gallon bag of shad.

This time, I stayed around and started questioning him on what he was doing and why, and offered some assistance. I got an email from him a week later thanking me, and a picture of a big bucket full of shad. All it took to get this young man on the right track was the right tools, and a little education. I looked at his cast net and explained to him why it was not working for him, and showed him the screen of my Humminbird 1198c and showed him some screenshots of shad and what they looked like (as well as tweaked a couple of settings on his fishfinder for him).

It seems like this time of year shad becomes a “hot topic” and everyone is talking about how hard it is and complaining about how they can’t catch bait.

The truth is, you can catch winter shad, but “blind luck” is not going to take you very far in the winter. During the rest of the year you can get out and throw and the bait is usually scattered enough that you’ll catch a few here and there (with enough work) that you’ll at least catch a few to fish with.

During the winter catching shad is more of an “all or none” deal.

If you throw in the right location you will have more bait than you need, but you have to be precise.

Here’s the three reasons I see people having way more difficulty than they should catching winter shad:


1. Using The Wrong Cast Net For Catching Winter Shad

This is the number one way that people go wrong catching shad in the winter.

During much of the year you can “get by” with a tiny little cast net (I call them Tonka Toy nets). You’ll have to throw much more with a smaller net than you will with a larger net but in most instances you’ll be able to catch some bait. You can also get by with a light weight cast net during much of the year as well, but not in the winter.

To be successful catching shad in the coldwater period you have to use the right tools. The right tools will make or break you.

I always tell people this about cast nets.

You can dig a huge hole with a small gardening spade. It might take you a while, it might be painful and difficult but if you work at it long enough you can dig a huge hole.

You can dig that very same hole with a shovel. It’s going to be faster. It is still going to be a lot of work, but the shovel will work much faster than the gardening spade.

Now, if you get a backhoe, you’ll be able to dig that same hole in a matter of minutes and it’s not going to be a lot of work.

Catching bait is no different. The small lightweight nets that you use much of the year will catch you some bait if you spend enough time throwing it, but your results are going to be minimal and there is going to be a LOT of work involved.


2. Choosing The Wrong Location To Throw Your Cast Net

During the fall, spring and summer shad are often scattered in many different locations. It’s common to find bait in every depth in the lake, or at least most of them and because of this “blind luck” often pays off. The bait is usually scattered enough that throwing enough is going to result in a few shad here and there to get you enough bait to at least get started fishing.

Catching shad in the winter does not work like this. The bait is in large dense schools in specific locations that require you to be right on top of them to catch themWhen you use the right tools and get in the right location, you’ll load your net up. When you use the wrong tools or are not in the exact right location, you’ll get nothing.

You can easily catch shad from a boat or from the shore in the coldwater period, you just have to do the work and get in the right location.


3. You’re Lazy

That’s right, I just called you lazy.

Don’t take offense.

I love the readers of Learn To Catch Catfish and I’m supposed to be all “warm and fuzzy” to keep you coming back here reading.  I call it like I see it though and being lazy is one of the major reasons I see  causing people to not catch shad in the winter months.  If you are going to be lazy, then quit whining.

Because you need to be in the exact right location, you need to put forth some extra time and some extra effort.

If you are fishing from a boat and you’ve gotten in the habit of pulling up to the ramp, launching your boat, throwing your cast net in a random location a few times and catching some bait that’s not going to work for you in the winter. Now you try that and because you didn’t load your bait bucket up in two throws your whining about it.

If your fishing from the bank and you’ve gotten in the habit of pulling up to your fishing spot, throwing a dozen times up and down the bank and catching bait, that’s not going to work for you in the winter. You’re going to have to plan ahead, you’re going to have to put forth some extra effort, and you might even have to go a little bit out of your way to load up on bait but you can easily catch shad it if you put forth the effort.

You need to plan ahead, you need to allow some extra time and you need to put forth some effort while your learning.

Stop relying on frozen shad too because your not doing yourself any favors.


Catching Shad

Now, the bottom line is that you can catch your own shad in the cold water period, you just need to use the right tools to catch them, you need to be in the right location and you need to put forth a little extra effort to catch them.

If you are willing to learn and put forth the effort, you’ll be loading your bait bucket with shad in the dead of winter from a boat or from the bank and you’ll be catching plenty of blue catfish.

The good news is, I’m going to give you all the information you need to get started with the right tools and even some tips on locating and catching shad.

Just click here and sign up for the free preview of the Catching Shad program.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about choosing the right cast net, how to set your cast net up for success, how to throw it, and some sure fire tips to help you get started finding and catching bait.

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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. I just wanted to let you know this website has been instrumental in me learning to catfish! I love to fish but have never been to successful until I found this site. I have an eight year old son and we love being at the lake. One question I had is can I get the e book on my Droid cellphone if I purchase it. Thanks

    • John

      That’s awesome. Thanks so much for your kind words. Nothing better than getting your kids in the outdoors.

      You can get the book on your phone but shoot me an email through the website and I will walk you through what you need to do.

  2. john brodie says:

    me and my older brother went to twin bridges dock around 3 am to try and do some crappie fishing in febuary. we werent having much luck and the wind was white capping the river something terriable. so i tried throwing my 6 foot cast net to get some small shad for white bass and ended up with the most insane amount of shad ive ever caught before. in just 5 good throws i had 4 walmart sacks full of shad. ive never seen them run like that before in the end i ended up weighing the shad and had 18.6 pounds of gizzard shad. i am now proud to say the my deep freeze smells like a bait shop now. my question is i went back the very next day to see if they were still around and in 30 throws or so i couldnt catch one. dose the wind effect the placement and activity of shad?

  3. does wind effect the placement of shad?

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