Getting Gizzard Shad to Bite?

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DinoFish's picture
Getting Gizzard Shad to Bite?

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.

andy's picture
Small flies

In my experience the best way to catch them is on very small flies, like a size 20.  If you don't have a flyrod, you can use a light spinning rod with a bobber of some kind.  A small midge dry fly would be a good bet during the Winter.

DinoFish's picture
Cool, thanks!

Thanks much for the advice Andy! I'll have to bring a few flies with me next time I go there...

"Fishing is much more than fish... It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." - Herbert Hoover

philaroman's picture
gizzards are filter-feeders,

gizzards are filter-feeders, so most baits/hooks are too big & there's no such thing as too small


for natural bait:

  • check the most serious aquarium supply stores for live-bait UNOBTAINIUM:
  • the absolute tiniest, skinniest baby redworm pieces or just-hatched maggots may work...  <1/4" long & not much thicker than a pin
  • you can also try the tiniest insects/larva/crustaceans

8X / 7X tippet for leader & smallest micro-barb dryfly hooks you can get (my hook arsenal goes down to high 20's, pos. low 30's)


P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

DinoFish's picture
Thanks philaroman!

Thanks much for the specific info, I appreciate the help!

"Fishing is much more than fish... It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." - Herbert Hoover

J Dunfee
J Dunfee's picture
I've only used aggression

I've only used aggression/reaction-exploiting tactics to catch them. Never tried to exploit their actual feeding habits.

Small spinners, spoons, other baits with flash and vibration work well. I'm sure really ANY artificial you can retrieve steadily and relatively quickly, stays the correct part of the water column, and entices an aggressive reaction can work. I've even had luck on bare hooks. Actually, bare red hooks are my go-to for sight-fishing small gizzard shad lol (though it isn't exactly sightfishing-sightfishing..) I would suggest adding a small trailer-trebel, if there isn't one arleady. They tend to short-strike, since things are happening so fast, they likely don't intend on fitting the whole bait in their mouth anyway, and lots of times even small baits won't fit in their mouth if they WANTED IT TO.

The coolest way to target them I've found is picking apart the SHADNADO.. Gizzard shad schools will often swirl around in open water.. they will  travel in the same drirection in a cirrcular pattern; most of the time there is a hole in the center of one size or another.. it's a moving shad funnel.. quite literally a shadnado..  You'll often times see these right under or breaking the surface in open water..  Some ocean fish do this type of thing to suck in plankton n other treats they can then feed on while maintaining the benefits of schooling.. I've always assumed that's what the gizzards are doing too. Kind of an aggressive filter-feeding.

Anyway, often times when shad are schooling(shadnado or otherwise), bass, white bass, stripers, etc.. whatever open water preds are feeding on them... will go after the stragglers, the fsih on the outskirts.. They're less protected than the main school and won't disrupt it as much if taken. Bass anglers often take advantage of this by casting just outside of these schools. You're imitating the easiest prey for the preds at the time, you don't scatter the school, it's a win win. You can use the same tactics to pick up the stragglers while shad fishing. They're in feeding mode; though they're likely not trying to EAT your presentation, they will more aggressive than in a regular, looser school. Since you're not pulling straight through the school and setting off the school's "flight" instincts, you won't break up the party.. It's better to start further out, then work your way closer to the nado. Often times there are plenty of stragglers swirling around further out than you may think. The further out they are, tehy less chance you'll scare or scatter the school, the better. I'm not too big on trying to catch gizzard shad lol but if I see a shadnado of big boys and have a joe's fly or roostertail or something, I'll take a quick crack at it. It's actually pretty fun..

The only other time I'll ever try to catch gizzard shad is for some quick bait. Well, usually not-so-quick bait. Aside from the shadnado, they're usually at least fairly hard to catch. At least in my experience.. a steady retrieve in and around looser schools can catch you some. As long as it's small(the more you're fishing IN the actual school, even a loose one, and not on the edges of just outside of it, the smaller I'd go with bait), and you play around with different parts of the water column, different speeds in retrieve, different lil lures, etc you'll usually end up catching one or 2. Though, in my opinion, the work isn't usually worth the reward lol I'd say SHADNADO or go home.

Divemaster's picture
Well, the above posters did a

Well, the above posters did a pretty good job of covering the best tactics, but I was able to catch a few earlier this month fishing small jigs and midge patterns on a fly rod, and if you're seeing surface activity definitely try some small dry flies. Everything in the size 18-24 or smaller range.

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DinoFish's picture
Thanks guys!

Thanks much for the awesome info! I'll have to try some of those tactics, especially the "shadnado"...

"Fishing is much more than fish... It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." - Herbert Hoover

J Dunfee
J Dunfee's picture
Shadnado or move away.

Shadnado or move away.

FP4LifesDad's picture
Ok, some gizzard shad info

Ok, some gizzard shad info for you guys.  FP figured it out that they will hit a tiny fly without bait right on the bottom.  We all had the best luck when they were actually feeding right next to shore, if you stood still for a while they would move right up to you so you could watch them pick it up.  Movement didn't seem to scare them at all, nor did the bobber rig we tried first that was literally right on top of them.  Vibration however spooked them big time, if you walked at all or any loud noises sent them flying but whipping a rod over their heads didn't bother them. They completely ignored waxworms, spikes, and crawlers and the ones jumping were not feeding on anything we were throwing out.  Target the schools along the shore and be patient.  A friend of mine said he used to catch them on a plain green hook, I think green is the magic color as it resembles algae.  Hope this info helps anyone looking for a lifer gizzard, good fishing!! Also the only way they seemed to pick anything up was if it was directly on the bottom.

Outdoors4life's picture
I hooked a couple of them

I hooked a couple of them this week by taking moss off the rocks and putting it on the hook. 

They are just grazing along the edge so it takes patience to get them to find your bait but there are thousands upon thousands of them. 

In the past they have hit floating objects during specific conditions when the moss comes off and is floating. I have caught larger ones on small rapalas. They are a pain in the butt but are able to be caught there.  IT is combat fishing at it's finest too. The other day I had a lady literally lean against my rod while casting. 

It is all perspective!

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