My friend and I recently went fishing on a power plant on the St. Croix, and we saw a huge school of fish splashing on the surface. It was so thick with fish that there was a splash nearly every second. My friend caught an odd-looking fish, which I'd mistaken for a mooneye, but upon closer inspection I realized was a gizzard shad, which neither of us had caught before. A little while later, I got one too. Both were hooked through the back of the head, which we thought was weird.
I casted straight into where I could see fish churning on the surface, snapping up small bugs. I had a single waxworm and an extremely tiny hook.
The next three hours was some of the most frustrating fishing I've ever experienced. The actively feeding fish that vigorously smashed the surface ignored my waxworm. I tried using a bobber, not using the bobber, letting the waxworm sink to the bottom, and letting it float on the surface. I'd get it right on top of a fish and not get any response. The same exact thing happened to me last fall, where I went fishing on a muddy lake and saw a lot of shad surface-feeding, but not taking the tiny bait I was offering.
I guess my question is: when shad are surface-feeding, what do you guys use to entice them, if anything? Do they prefer artificial or live bait? And how tiny should the hook be?
Thanks very much in advance, I'm new to fishing for these frustrating fish and really appreciate any help.