Where to find and catch Shad for catfish bait

Shad is one of the most abundant forage fish in the south so it only makes sense to think the catfish feed heavily on the shad too. Well you would be right in thinking that as shad is on top of the list for most consistent for catching catfish of all sizes and species.  Whether you use it live, or cut it up shad will attract the more mature cats available in the waters you fish.

What do shad look like?

Shad come in different species and sizes but most are appear silverfish but are generally dark colored on the back and top of the head, with bits of bluish green silvery tints and white sides, sporting a black dot on their sides just behind their gills.

live shad for bait

Shad is a good catfish bait

Shad is good catfish bait

These thin bodied forage fish are very distinctive, having small mouths with big eyes and a forked shape tail.  Both the gizzard shad and threadfin shad are abundant in lakes, reservoirs and rivers throughout the country and both species are great for catching catfish.

The Gizzard Shad is the bigger of the two and can grow in lengths of over 12 inches, which makes them great as cut bait and are generally referred to by catfish anglers as, cutters. The Threadfin Shad are much smaller and will normally only grow to around 6 inches.

How do you catch Shad?

 A cast net is the best way to catch shad for catfishing.  My favorite size cast net is 5-6 footer, but sometimes it don’t matter what your favorite size cast net is, as in reality the size of your cast net will ultimately  be  determined according to each states netting  and fishing regulations. Some allow 10 footers while other states only allow 3- 4 footers. Be sure to check your states regulations before you cast your nets.

How to find shad?

Look in these types of places for shad.

Bay’s…. Look in the back of the shallow bays, large cuts, coves or feeder creeks on lakes.

Marinas…  Shad can be attracted to the Marinas because of their food source, algae and other microscopic creatures that grow on the docks and boats and other marina related structures.

Creek mouths…  Check in the mouths of feeder creeks shad will often gather around fresh water and also to find refuge from heavy current.

Bridges pilings……. will often attract the shad because of algae growth again and or a current break.

Water discharges……….. You can find these types of areas along the  many of the rivers in our country.   Factory’s  will pull river water within their facility to cool equipment and will discharge a continuous flow of water back to the river and these discharges are an excellent place to look for shad. Some of the factory discharges often produce hot water which will attract many shad and other bait fish to these even in the winter months.

Pockets and Eddy’s … Eddy’s are good place to search when current is present. The Eddy is a result of a current break of some kind like a point or a cut in the river bank creating some slack, still water next to the main current which makes a good place to look for shad at times.

Now these are some of the top spots or habitats to start looking for shad but I would like to just add that catching shad is just like fishing, in the since that weather can affect the outcome to some extent.

Most days you can cast your net  a few times and have all you need  but other days you will have to throw the net a hundred times only to catch a few. Sometimes we have to work for the best baits but shad can literally be anywhere but these top hot spots mentioned in this article have a higher percentage of producing shad on a regular basis.

When fishing new water and don’t know where the bait hot spots will be, Ive always turned to google earth for the answers. You can locate these types of areas just by zooming in on the area you will be fishing and seeing where the potential places are located even before you touch the water. This will save a lot of time and also somewhat familiarize you with this new area.


How to use shad as catfish bait?

The smaller shad can be use whole or cut them into sections as illustrated or just simply cut the shad in half.

How to cut shad

How to cut shad for cut bait

Cutting Shad for catfish bait

The size of your cut bait you use will really depend on what size catfish you are targeting but generally as a rule the bigger pieces of cut bait catches bigger catfish and smaller pieces for the small and medium catfish. But I will add this, I have also seen that general rule turn completely the opposite of said rule and have caught huge catfish on small pieces of cut shad and small cats on large pieces, Its fishing and anything can happen.

Another popular piece of cut shad is the fillets. The fillets can be attached to the hook in the same way you would a night crawler be sure to leave the skin on it for a tougher cut. The last cut I will mention on the shad is the guts.  And the best guts come from the large gizzard shad. They are used mainly for catching channel catfish.

Using Live Shad

Using shad live is a little more challenging as the shad can be difficult to keep alive in bulk without the help from  a good bait tank.

You can use shad live to catch all species of catfish but predominantly it is used for catching big Flathead or blue catfish. The Flatheads diet consist primarily of other fish like shad, carp, pan fish and even other catfish  so your chances of landing a large Flathead catfish goes up when you use live shad as catfish bait.

I would recommend the larger shad 6 to 8 inches because they just seem to stay alive on the hook longer than the smaller shad do. The more lively and active your bait is the better chance you have of success.

How to hook a live bait.

How to hook live shad

Hooking live bait for different methods of catfishing

Hooking Live Shad for catfish bait

When fishing in current I prefer to hook the shad through its nostrils and through the dorsal area when I’m in no current such as low flowing rivers or lakes. These are the two most popular places to place your hook for the best results. Hooking it in other places sometimes can cause the bait to hook back into its self which will cause a lost fish when that phenomenon happens so be sure to pay attention when your experimenting with hook placement.

The same goes with hooking cut bait pieces, be sure to hook it in a way that it will not hook back into itself. Here is how I like to hook my cut bait.

hooking cut bait

How to hook cut shad

Rigs used for catfishing with shad.

The two rigs I would suggest using with shad is the 3-Way or the Carolina rigs.

Both of these rigs are effective at present the bait in many different situations but I prefer the Carolina rig for my cut bait presentation and the 3Way rig for my live presentations when I’m anchoring  but when I’m drifting with live shad I prefer the Carolina rig..

Sometimes bait catching can be as challenging as the catfishing itself but when you get the right bait, it’s all worth the time and trouble spent by experiencing success but these are some of the most likely places to find your catfish bait. Good luck and be safe on the water.

Catfish bait:How to catch and preserve catfish bait.

The best bait for the trophy cats is fresh skip jack herring and shad but at times these bait fish can be hard to get and you’ll spend more time and energy in trying to catch the bait as you do actually catfishing.
winter catfish
Big trophy catfish require big fresh baits, just using an easy to get tub of night crawlers or chicken livers just won’t cut it if you’re looking for the big boys.
This is why this spring time bait run is an important time for catfisherman. It means, great trophy cattin and the abundance of bait that is easy to catch!
The cycle of fish/bait movement or migration happens generally twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Both of these windows of opportunity allows me to collect and preserve some natural bait for later use.
In the spring from April to June the skip jack will start migration to the tail waters to initially feed and stay to spawn and during this time frame, they are schooling by the thousands and this is the easiest time for a catfisherman to collect some bait. When they’re running good it’s not uncommon to catch 2 or 4 every cast.

I like to take a couple of days to catch a few hundred for stocking my freezer with bait for the coming season when the skip jack get scarce in the hot months. Packed in 2 gallon Zip lock bags the fresh frozen bait will generally last me until the fall when the skip jack return to the tail waters in the fall to feed.

HOW TO- The Skip Jack Rig
To catch skip jack you’ll need a med action rod with a spin casting reel spooled with some 14 lb mono.


Tie a barrel swivel to the 14 lb main line and tie a 3 foot piece of 20 lb mono leader to the other end of the barrel swivel. Now you will need to tie a marabou jig or other types of jigs on the leader about a foot below your swivel leaving a 2 foot piece of leader exposed, now come down anther foot and tie another marabou jig below the last jig leaving 1 foot of leader exposed and once again tie one more jig at the end of your leader completing the skip jack rig.
Look for skipjack along the faster current seams running close to the bank along rocky shores or rip rap. Cast your rig out and retrieve in quickly and steady the jacks will smash it. If quick and steady isn’t working, try to pop it and drop it. If the jacks are in there you will just have to find that patter or retrieve they want.

These fast action, hard fighting, acrobatic bait fish are an average weight of a pound and a half but it’s not uncommon to catch loads of 2-4 lbers in the spring.


Freezing/Preserving baitfish for catfishing

Some will disagree and say freezing bait will make the mushy and fall of the hook to easy. I can agree to that if the freezing process is not done properly. Frozen bait is only as good what you put into it and the process should be started as soon as you catch it, If not the bait will start to decompose very quickly, causing it to become soft and mushy.
The key to this freezing process is being able to drop the baits core body temperature quickly, as soon as it’s taken off the hook or out of the net. This will preserve the bait better as the decomposing process will be postponed immediately due to being exposed the sudden cold temperature. I never let my bait sit in a bucket for any length of time before I put ice to it.

My procedure for preserving bait is a little more involved than just catching it, putting it in bags and freezing it. It takes a bit more time but I think it well worth the time spent to have the freshest frozen bait possible.

Items needed
2 large coolers –
Cooler #1=brine solution
Cooler #2=Bait/ice
Zip lock bags (1 gal bags for shad and 2 gallon bags for skipjack)
Crushed/cubed ice
10 lb. Granular 100 % pure rock salt

A little preparation goes a long way in this process.
The key like I stated above is, dropping the baits Core body temperature quickly to postpone the decomposition cycle and this process should be started as soon as the bait is caught I do this by preparing a brine solution of super chilled ice water in one of the large coolers I’ve provided to immediately put the bait in after it is caught. . It doesn’t matter what type of bait you’re catching, shad, skip jack or other, this super chilled brine solution will work for all bait types.
Mixing the solution.

I will put one a large bag of crushed or cubed ice in the cooler and spread 2-3 handfuls of rock salt on top of the ice and repeat the process with another bag of ice on top of the first layer. Now I will pour water in the ice to make a slushy type ice mixture. Adding salt to the ice water changes the melting point of ice therefore making the solution colder preserving the bait better.
To be honest I’m not really sure about the physics of this process of changing molecules and equilibriums. So I’m not going to try to explain it, as I’m a catfisheman and not a scientist, I just know it works and take full advantage of this phenomenon, however if you want to know how it works, here is a link to the topic I found on the subject. http://www.worsleyschool.net/science/files/saltandfreezing/ofwater.html
Once you’ve prepared the ice brine solution your ready to put the bait in it as it’s caught, always push the bait down into the solution allowing it to super chill never leave it on top exposed to air for any length of time.. The idea is to postpone the decomposition process as bait fish are very quick to decompose. You will have to add more crushed ice to the solution as you add more bait.

Now that you’ve caught enough bait to last several trips, it’s time to bag it out. I will always wait until I get home to do this so I will always top off my brine solution with more crushed ice and another handful of salt for the ride home keeping the bait super chilled until bagging time as I don’t ever want to give the bait time to warm up before I freeze it. I prefer to take it straight from the super chilled cooler to the bag and in the freezer within minutes. The salt based super chilled ice brine that the your bait is soaking in, is an old school preservative that has proven to be effective over the centuries in keeping human food fresh, it’s just as effective in keeping the bait in perfect condition for future use.

Bagging the bait for the freezer
Now it’s time to bag your bait for future fishing trips. Depending on the baits size I will fill each bag with a certain number of pieces to know what I will have for each trip.
For instance, if I’m bagging out 6-8 inch shad, I’ll use the 1 gallon bags and put 2 dozen pieces per bag but if I’m bagging 12-15 inch skip jack I will use the 2 gallon bags and only put one dozen pieces per bag.
As I’m bagging I will add more rock salt to the bait in layers so that all the bait has been touched by the salt. Put half of the bait in the bag and then a hand full of salt on it, then the other half of the bait and another handful of salt and seal the bag with the air in it and begin to tumble or mix the bait and salt thoroughly. Now open the bag and remove all the air from it and reseal the bag for the final freeze. This will preserve the bait in the best condition possible. Be careful not to get salt in the zip lock grooves and only fill the bag half way with bait; leave a little room in the top so it’s easy to close.
Some anglers choose to vacuum seal their bags of bait but I find it unnecessary for me personally as I use my bait a bit quicker than most so it really don’t have time to freezer burn but if you will not be using your bait on a weekly basis I would suggest you go through the same preserving process and vacuum seal for freshness.
Keep repeating this process until you’ve packed out all your bait.

Now lay the bags out and spread the bait flat within the bag and put it in the freezer so they all freeze quickly and evenly. You’re now all set with excellent bait for your next fishing trip. Just grab the number of bags that you’ll need, put them in a cooler with some ice and go fishing.

If you happen to take too much bait not to worry, by leaving it in the cooler on ice you can refreeze it when you get home and use the rest on your next fishing trip. The salt you used when packing it out will keep the bait in good shape even though you thawed it out some.