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Tips On Keeping Shad Alive

Bait Tank For Catfish Fishing

Keeping Shad Alive 101

I work on a catfish farm in Arkansas and i love trot lining for flatheads on a small river near my house. it gets kind of hard catching bait after a while but I have acess to all the shad I want. I just cant keep them alive! do you have any tips on keeping them alive long enough to get them on a hook???  .. Josh Adams

Josh, (also wanted to know about keeping shad alive to fish for flathead catfish on trotlines, the response to that part of his question is here).

I have been successful at keeping shad alive in my homemade bait tank for many years with no problem but I very rarely fish with live shad as I mentioned in my other post about fishing trotlines for flatheads. If I am going to fish for flatheads with rod and reel, trotlines or juglines I usually use perch, bluegill or mudcats.

Blue catfish will most often bite dead bait or fresh cut bait just as well as they will bite live shad, so I rarely mess with keeping them alive. There is a brief period in the Summer where I will fish with live bait blue catfish but it doesn’t last long.

Here’s the process of keeping shad alive.

Keeping shad alive 101

You MUST have a bait tank. You can build your own homemade bait tank or purchase a commercially manufactured one like these from Grayline or Keep Alive or Bait Tanks By Sunshine (these are highly reccomended and very popular among striper fishermen who rely on having fresh lively shad). Purchasing a commercially manufactured tank can be very expensive so make sure you shop around. You can expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $600 on a small to medium size one so be prepared or build your own if you are not willing to fork out that kind of cash. We have posted step by step instructions on building one so make sure you check those out.

The reasons you must have a bait tank for keeping shad alive are:

  • It is all about oxygen (aeration), filtration and circulation
  • They must be in a round container, if you put them in a square container they will “bunch up” in the corners, deprive themselves of oxygen and die. A round container is a must.
  • They must have highly oxygenated water. This requires a specialized aerator like a keep alive aerator. Just a standard minnow bucket aerator or bubbler will not work, or will not work for long. Highly oxygenated water is a must.
  • They must have a filtration system. When you put them in a bait tank they start to shed scales and the scales litter the water. They then pass these scales through their gills. They also let off other “byproducts” into the water that causes them to die as well. Filtration is a must.
  • The water needs to be kept at a relatively constant temperature

If you decide you want to go through this hassle of keeping shad alive for baiting your trotlines, follow these steps:

  1. You need to have the right water in tank. This can either be water from the lake or river you are fishing, or tap water that has been treated. There are ton’s of commercial products available for treating tap water. You should be able to get these at any sporting goods store.
  2. You need to have a separate bucket and water, and that water also needs to be lake water, river water or treated tap water. When you catch your shad, your want to immediately dump them into this extra bucket. The reason behind this is when you catch them they “panic” and immediately let off a substance that I have often been told is similar to ammonia. This contaminates the water and causes it to shorten their life span. Drop them from your cast net to your bucket, and then move them after a few minutes (I usually wait about 3 to 5 minutes) with a small dip net from your bucket to your prepared bait well.
  3. Add salt to your water. They make products that you can buy at bait and tackle shops for doing this but I always use stock salt.  I have used a 40 and 50 gallon tanks and would usually add one handful of rock salt per about each 25 gallons of water. Again there are a number of products and different types of salt you can use, just do a little research. The reason you are adding salt is it helps “coat” the shad and keeps them from shedding their scales and littering the water. This will greatly extend their life and the liveliness.
  4. Do frequent water changes, which involves draining part of the water and refilling with lake water, river water or treated tap water.
  5. Handle the shad as little as possible, both with the net, and with your hands. Handling them not only stresses them out but removes their slime coating that protects them. Both will reduce the life span and their liveliness.
  6. Keep the lid closed and leave them alone. The less you mess with them the better off you are
  7. Try to maintain a constant temperature and realize that massive temperature fluctuations will kill them.
  8. If your water starts to foam it is a sign it is out of balance and you need to do a water change. Change half of the water and add about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of powdered coffee creamer.
  9. Don’t put too many bait fish in your tank. if you buy a one they will let you know approximately how many you can keep per gallon. If you build a homemade bait tank you will have to experiment through trial and error.

Signs that your shad are stressed:

  • Red noses
  • Gasping at the surface for air
  • Excessive loss of scales
  • Visible spots or lesions

If you follow these basic simple rules for keeping shad alive, with some trial and error you should be successful. It is a learning process so be prepared for some trial and error and having some of your shad die on you now and then. Just remember to learn from your mistakes!

Product Links:

Old Salt Series Cast Net

Betts No Spook? Camo Cast Nets

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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

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