Threadfin shad and gizzard shad are one of the most popular and effective catfish baits there are for blue catfish. I spend the majority of my time when catfishing for blue catfish using shad as bait. I have covered a number of topics regarding them extensively but still continue to get questions to this day. You can always do a search on the site to find all of the articles on this subject.
Ultimately one of these days when I get everything covered about catfishing with shad I am going to bundle these all up in a nice neat little area and make it easier to get to everything, but as you all know I like to spread things out a lot because people seem to lose interest when I talk about one topic for too long.
I want to say again, I don’t fish with live shad. I have experimented in the past with fishing for catfish with live shad and fished it side by side extensively against dead or cut baits and found that there is no difference the vast majority of the time when it comes to the catfish bite. As a general rule the only time I fish with live baits is when fishing for flathead catfish.
There is a very brief period of time during the summer (when there is a thermocline) where I had some great success fishing for blues with live shad. The problem was though that when fishing with them live, I ended up spending so much time fighting off the bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass and even gar that I often couldn’t keep my lines in the water long enough to catch what I wanted. I generally spend much of my summer focused on catching channel catfish so I have all but given up keeping them alive these days. If your interested in keeping shad alive and how to build a homemade bait tank you can go back and read those articles.
I know a few people that actually catch them and keep them alive in a tank and them remove them from the tank and cut them up and fish them as cut bait. The claim is, they work better this way. Back when I had a tank I tried this process just to see if I could tell a difference. I fished shad that had been dead since it was caught (that morning) and bait that was kept alive and killed right before I baited the hook side by side for an extended period of time and there was no noticeable difference.
Recently I covered some basics on catfishing with shad like how to cut them, baiting a hook with whole shad and baiting a hook with cut shad. That series of articles and the video catching shad in a cast net continues to prompt questions about what to do with them after you catch them.
What To Do With Shad After You Catch Them
The process I use for storing them is very simple and although I have said it many times, I always use fresh caught baits. I never head into a trip with the intentions of using frozen baits. Most of the year (except for in the dead of winter) they are easy to catch and you can get more than enough to fish with in a short time. When it is really cold out catching them can be a bit more problematic but I do the time then also.
Always catch fresh bait when possible, regardless of how difficult it may be.
I prefer to carry a bait bucket in my catfish boat but rarely do so because it gets in the way. Having a bait bucket gives you the ability to dump it all in the bucket and then bag them up (prevents crawling around picking them up in the boat). It also reduces the amount of shad slime all over your boat.
My process for storing shad:
- When throwing the cast net, dump them in the floor of the boat (or in a bucket as outlined above)
- As soon as I am done throwing the cast net the bait is scooped up and put into one gallon ziplock bags.
- The bait will last longer when you fill the bags about 1/3 or 1/2 of the way full and spread them out.
- Remove excess air from the bags and work the bait around in a thin layer inside the bags (use multiple bags if needed)
- Immediately put the bags on ice, if possible ice them on top and bottom (if needed).
- Keep the bait in a cooler and on ice at all times when fishing.
How Long Can I Keep Shad?
I catch my bait fresh the morning that I fish. On occasion (during the winter) I will catch bait in the afternoon or evening the day before but as a general rule I like to have them fresh the morning that I am fishing. I generally dispose of them (or give them away) at the end of each day. I also prefer to catch them in the water that I fish (call me crazy but I will cover that more at a later time).
The only exception to this is during the winter or fall (which is again when bait is harder to catch). Shad will keep longer when caught during the colder months. You can catch bait during the warmer months (March through September in Texas) and it will begin to get soft within a twelve hour period (or less), even when stored on ice.
During the cooler months you can catch fresh bait and place them in a bag and put them on ice an they will keep much longer, I have managed to keep bait firm and in good condition to fish with for as long as four or five days during the cooler months but my preference is again to have fresh bait each day.
Because fresh bait is so much harder to catch during the cold water period I generally reserve any bait left over at the end of the day and keep it on ice for the next day, which is used only if 100% necessary (which is pretty rare).
The 24 Hour Window
There is a good 24 hour window on keeping shad. For some reason the bait gets less effective after that 24 hour window. The bait simply loses something after that 24 hour window. I cannot offer any firm answer on what causes this, but I notice a significant difference in it’s effectiveness after 24 hours.
I suspect this has something to do with the bait breaking down which causes some change, rendering it less effective.
You can certainly still fish with shad after that 24 hour window has passed (as long as it is good and firm) but I have found time and time again that fresh bait caught each day is always best.
How Long Can You Use It In The Water
Once you cast shad a few times (either cut or whole) or leave it in the water for a while it generally does not stay on the hook as well. When fishing with whole threadfin shad I change it out every few casts and just discard of the older bait. The smaller the bait, the more problematic this is because you generally cannot hook the bait again (and they get soft faster). With larger threadfin shad or gizzard shad (cut or whole) are much tougher and can often be hooked again. The primary concern is making sure that they will stay on the hook well.
Outside of the ability to keep the bait on the hook, you want scent. I watch the baits closely and you can tell when all of the slime has begun to wash off or they start looking “stale”. You should change your baits at that time and discard of the old baits. You want lots of slime and for them to be good and fresh at all times.
Reusing Bait (Tupperware)
At times when bait is hard to come by (in the winter) if I have concerns about not having enough bait I will take pieces of cut shad that I am removing from the hooks and place them in a Tupperware container. Once the bait is added to the container I take the gallon ziplock bags that have usually developed a fair amount of slime in the bottom of the bags and pour this excess slime into the Tupperware. This allows the baits to soak in that slime, where they can be reused if absolutely necessary (as a last resort).
The container is obviously stored on ice when not in use.
Other Basics To Remember When Fishing With Shad
Make sure your hands are clean and free from strong odors (like gasoline) prior to ever handling them.
Always put them in ziplock bags, keeping them on ice. Never put them directly on ice (you want them to be good and slimy).
Shad will keep much longer in the cooler months than in the warmer months, but plan to catch fresh bait each and every day.
These are the basic rules and process that I follow for storing shad when catfishing. I will cover some information on freezing them (as a last resort) in a future article.
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.