Shad-Feeding Smallmouth Tactics

When shad school up in the summer over open, deep-water areas, smallmouth bass won’t be far behind. For anglers who may wonder, “Why aren’t the smallies in the rocky shallows?” In many lakes I fish, the answer is often that the bronzebacks are chasing schools of shad. You can catch these roaming smallies with a variety of baits. Here’s how to do it.

A Pack-Like Mentality
Smallmouth will work in groups corralling and chasing shad over deep water and main basin areas of a lake. They’ll push shad to the surface or against other structures (such as a narrows or a reef) to disorient and ambush their forage. During the chaos of the hunt, you’ll want to use fast moving baits. However, after the feeding frenzy has subsided, working the same areas over with a slower moving presentation can sometimes coax a few more fish to your boat that were searching for the remaining wounded shad.

Jerkbait & Shad: Matching color and profile is important when chasing shad-feeding smallies.

Start With Spinnerbaits
It’s tough to beat a white, double willow leaf spinnerbait when smallmouth are chasing shad. Use a heavy bait that’s at least ?-ounce, so you can burn it in on a fast retrieve. The flash, thumb and profile of these baits will often get smacked when smallies are in the midst of the attack. Use a medium-action rod. This way when a smallmouth hammers the spinnerbait, the rod will have some give to it so you’ll get a good hook set.

Hard-Plastic Jerkbaits
A second option instead of spinnerbaits are hard-plastic jerkbaits. I like suspending models especially when working baits over deep water, but floating baits work fine as well. When smallmouth are aggressive, work these baits with a quick ripping retrieve. Mix in a few pauses, but keep them short. As long as the action’s right, it’s tough to work a bait too fast when smallies are wound up. Smithwick’s Suspending Rogues, Bagley’s Bang-O-Lure, or a Cotton Cordell’s Ripplin’ Red Fin are three great jerkbaits to try for smallies.

Have A Throw-Back
Although the above two types of baits will often hook wound-up smallies, it’s wise to have a slower, soft-plastic presentation rigged and ready on a nearby rod. Two classic “throw-back” and slower baits are wacky worms and soft-plastic jerkbaits. Toss these baits at a following fish that missed a fast-moving bait for a second chance at a strike.

Equally as effective is casting a slow moving plastic to fish following a smallmouth your partner has hooked. These baits are also great options to work over an area after the smallmouth feeding frenzy has ended. You can often pick up some less-aggressive bass scavenging for wounded shad.

Wacky-Rigged Worms
Wacky-rigged worms are often associated with largemouth bass, but they work just as well for smallmouth. I’ve found them particularly deadly over deep-water flats and between islands for smallmouth on lakes. I often have a white or pearl colored Senko rigged on a small circle hook, or a weighted, wacky hook. This bait is one of my top “throw-back” lures, or when looking for stragglers.

Soft-Plastic Jerkbaits
Soft-Plastic jerkbaits are another great smallmouth bait. They perform just as well over shallow, rocky areas as they do over deep water. A soft-plastic rigged on a wide gap, weighted hook can be brought in on a fast retrieve when smallies are feeding aggressively.

The author with a smallmouth that was feeding on shad near the lake’s main basin.

Alternately, they are equally as effective for a subtle and slow presentation. It’s good practice to match the color of the bait to shad. This means a white base with light blue, silver, black, or green as the secondary colors.

It’s critical to use low-stretch, sensitive line such as braid to detect hits when working baits with small twitches and long pauses.

Some proven soft-plastic jerkbaits include: Strike King’s Z Too, Set the Hook’s Salty Shad, Mann’s HardNose Jerkbait, and Gambler’s Flappin’ Shad.

Try the above baits to chase smallmouth bass that are feeding on shad. Use fast moving lures when the action is hot, and switch to a slower moving presentations when the feeding frenzy has subsided to fool the stragglers. Dawn and dusk are prime times to find smallies targeting shad, but keep your eyes peeled during the day. Surface splashing or bird activity over the lake’s main basin are signs that smallies might be feeding on shad.

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