Frozen shad is a highly debated topic among catfish anglers. I have had countless questions in regards to catfishing with frozen shad and freezing shad for catfish bait since I started Learn To Catch Catfish. Despite the fact that I have covered using threadfin and gizzard shad for bait extensively I have not covered the topic of frozen shad, and this has been intentional.
I have reached a point where I feel like I need to go ahead and cover this and put my thoughts out there on the subject of using frozen shad for catfish bait.
I recently covered the topic of storing fresh caught shad and am going to say that without question my preference is to use fresh caught shad when fishing for blue catfish. As I have covered in many other articles I am of the opinion that fresh caught bait that is less than 24 hours old will catch more catfish than frozen, always. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule.
I will never head into a fishing trip with the intentions of using frozen shad for bait and I can say that in the last ten years I have used frozen shad for bait very few times.
Do The Work, Always Catch Fresh Shad, Or At Least TRY, Don’t Just “Settle” For Frozen Shad
Locating and catching shad for bait is a fairly simple process and the majority of the year there are no problems at all catching fresh bait. The only exception to this is in the dead of winter. Catching shad in the winter can be more difficult and requires a little more time and effort but even then you should be able to catch fresh bait if you put the time in to do so. Catching shad in the winter time is much easier to do from a boat but not impossible to do from land, given the right preparation and timing.
Outside of the coldest parts of the winter, catching shad in the spring, summer and fall is a pretty easy process and there is really no reason you shouldn’t be able to catch fresh threadfins or gizzards from the shores or from a bank. Again, preparation and timing is key.
This may mean you have to get up earlier than you originally planned, drive a little bit out of the way (by boat or by car) or go out the night before you plan on catfishing to catch your bait. If you want fresh bait, you can catch it.
I am working on an in depth guide on locating and catching shad for catfish bait (just wanted to throw that out there because I know everyone will start asking).
The Downside Of Frozen Shad For Catfishing
Again, fresh will catch more fish than frozen bait, there are no exceptions to this rule but frozen is better than none at all. There are two main problems with freezing these fish for bait.
It Loses “It” – What is “it”? I honestly wish I could tell you what it is that happens to shad when you freeze it that causes it to be less effective. I think the reason frozen bait becomes less effective than fresh has a direct link to the reason it is less effective when fresh after it passes a 24 hour window. I have some theories that it is due largely to a change in the amino acids and the smells put off by the dead fish but it is only speculation on my part.
It Gets Soft – The other issue with freezing shad is that it gets soft once it is frozen. Even fresh shad gets soft and gets to a point where it will not stay on a hook well. Frozen shad however is noticeably softer and can be very difficult to keep on the hook. The bigger problem is that it is not as effective as fresh bait, and will not catch as many fish.
Different Methods Of Freezing
I would love to be able to tell you that frozen shad is effective and it will work as well as fresh. I would love to be able to give you some magic formula to make it work but it simply does not exist. I have tested frozen bait next to fresh bait extensively and have tried just about every so called “trick” out there for freezing to make them more effective or keep them from getting soft and “mushy” but they simply do not work.
Over the past ten years I have put forth significant time and effort into finding some sort of magic bullet. Testing different methods of freezing and additives and fishing different variations of fresh and frozen bait side by side to try to find some trick that would work, but again nothing ever produces as well as fresh caught shad. In fact, nothing has ever even come close.
There are many mornings when it is 20 degrees outside and I am out in the dark freezing my rear off throwing a cast net and pondering some sort of solution to freezing shad. Despite everything I have ever tried nothing comes close to working to my satisfaction.
That being said, I keep a couple of bags of frozen bait around in the winter “just in case” I get into a situation where I cannot catch fresh bait, but never end up using it. I learned this lesson the hard way one February day where I tore up three cast nets in one morning and did not have any cast nets left to catch bait, leaving me dead in the water with no bait.
I have heard countless theories and techniques for freezing these fish over the years and everyone claims that their technique is the best and works better but I have tested them all and none of them work any better than another.
Some of the more discussed and well known processes for freezing are as follows. Please understand I am not suggesting these methods but rather explaining them:
- Kool-Aid – Mixing up a batch of cherry kool-aid that is half strength (adding half the water as suggested) and adding this mixture to the shad and then freezing them in Ziplock bags.
- Sugar – This one involves catching fresh shad and dropping them on a piece of shag carpet and letting them flip around on the carpet (the theory is this helps remove the slime) and then once they have flopped all around they are then put in a bucket. A large heaping handful of brown sugar is added to the bucket and they are stirred up by hand really well and coated in the brown sugar and then frozen in Ziplock bags.
- Vacuum Sealing – I have seen countless tutorials and testimonials on freezing with vacuum sealing techniques. These range from using a Foodsaver or other similar vacuum sealing device to using a the cheaper version of these which is a Ziplock vacuum sealing kit (basically a Ziplock bag with a fitting and a small pump).
There are literally hundreds of other alternatives I have heard over the years, many of which I have tested but none work.
I have again found absolutely no benefit to adding Kool-Aid or any other additives or even vacuum sealing shad before freezing. I attribute this to people just looking for something to do (or talk/write about) when they are not fishing and inexperience.
The most commonly referred to technique is vacuum sealing and I have again tested this IN DEPTH and cannot tell any difference at all. I am of the opinion that additives and even vacuum sealing it is a waste of time and money.
How To Freeze
Did I mention I suggest you use fresh bait? My advice is again learn to throw a net and at least try to catch bait every time you fish. You don’t know if you don’t try, right? Put forth some effort, you might just surprise yourself.
If you are dead set on fishing with frozen bait or want to keep some emergency backup around “just in case” (nothing wrong with that) follow these simple steps.
- They freeze better in the cooler weather. If you want to catch some fresh bait for freezing shoot for a time of year when the weather is cooler.
- Target gizzards (see the difference between gizzard and threadfin shad) and try to catch the biggest gizzards you can find. In the event you don’t have or cannot catch gizzards find the largest threadfins you can catch. The bigger the better.The larger fish freeze much better and do not get as soft as the smaller ones.
- After catching your bait drop them in a bait bucket and drain the excess slime off them (see More Tips and Tricks For Cast Nets)
- Put them in a Ziplock bag and put them immediately on ice (Same process as outlined in Storing Shad For Catfishing)
- When possible immediately take them home for freezing, rather than leaving this on ice all day and then taking them home and freezing. The faster you can get them in the freezer the better off you will be.
- When freezing them, make sure the excess slime is removed and fill a gallon bag about 1/3 full. Seal the bag and move the bait around so it is in a thin layer inside the bag.
- Crack the seal on the bag and force any excess air out.
- Lay the bags on their side in the freezer (lay them flat) for freezing.
Don’t overthink it and don’t invest too much time or energy into the process, there is no magic bullet, because fresh bait is key. Rather than wasting time vacuum sealing and trying to find the “magic bullet” invest your time in finding and catching fresh bait each and every time you head out to go catfishing. This will be much more productive for your fishing success in the long .
Catching shad is an essential part of targeting blue catfish. Not only is fresh shad one of the best baits for blue catfish but learning to pattern shad will do wonders for you in your quest to catch blue catfish.
To get more information including an in depth guide on choosing a cast net and tips and tricks on finding and catching shad and everything else you ever need to know on catching bait, click here.