Striped Bass Fishing with Shad
Here in southern New England we are blessed with a variety of striper baits to pick from when targeting striped bass. One of the most excititng fish to catch is the hickory shad or “Poor Man’s Tarpon”. Many anglers specifically target these fish because of their great fight on light gear. A light action rod spooled with four pound test, a handful of shad darts, willow leafs or small jigs and you can spend hours catching them. Hickory shad will average eighteen to twenty two inches and will commonly run in the two to three pound range. The largest I’ve seen in my boat was a monster that measured twenty eight inches long, we estimated the fish to be close to seven pounds. Check your local fishing regulations. The surrounding states in our area all have their own rules regarding creel limits.
Catching these hard fighting little fish can be almost as fun as using them for bait.
The shad will typically begin to show in our region around the beginning of June and, as long as the water temps cooperate, they will stay well into November. Once the temps drop and the bait supply thins out, they will move back out till spring. Sunrise or sunset are the best times to find them actively feeding, but they can be caught any time of day or night. During periods of bright sunlight or increased boat traffic, they tend to move a bit deeper and stay right near the bottom. Hickory shad tend to congregate in estuaries and marinas and are aggressive predators of small baits like peanut bunker or silver sides and bay anchovies. Many mornings, while it’s still dark out, we locate them by shutting the boat down and listening for the tell tale splashes as they push the bait to the surface. They can be frustrating to fish for as they have very soft mouths and love to jump when hooked, not a good combination. When targeting them for the purposes of bait, the most effective way I have found is to use a sabiki rig. When you find the shad, it’s easy to catch two, three and four at a time. The key to multiple hook ups with a sabiki rig is after hooking the first one, slow your retrieve down as much as possible. As long as you have a bend in the rod to prevent them from coming off, continue to reel slowly. The others in the area become excited at all the commotion and will eagerly jump on the remaining hooks.
The downside to hickory shad as a bait is that they are extremely fragile and need a lot of water exchange. I often joke that if you yell at them, they will go belly up instantly. Your bait well must be oval or better yet, round. A 30 gallon live well that pumps 700 gallons per hour will keep a dozen alive for several hours. When I hook them, I try to have the live well lid open and ready to go. I swing the shad right into the boat and drop them in the live well without touching them at all. I try to avoid handling them when removing hooks as well, instead I use my pliers and grip the hook and most times, a quick twist and shake and they come right off.
A nice Long Island Sound Striper caught on a hickory shad.
Shad work well either live lined or 3-wayed. When 3-waying them, I use just enough weight to keep the bait directly under the boat. Depending on tide it could be anywhere from 8 to 12 ounces of lead. I use an 8/0 Mustad circle hook and insert it through the bridge of the nose on the shad. One of the most important tips I can give is not to set the hook when you get a hit. These are large baits and combined with a no stretch braided line and a circle hook, there just isn’t any need to set the hook anymore. If the bass doesn’t have the bait in its mouth and you set the hook, more often than not you end up ripping the hook out of the bait. Not only did you miss the fish but you lost the bait, as well. All we do when the hit is felt is just let the bass pull the rod tip down to the water. Once there, just ease the hook into the bass by raising the rod top up into the reeling position. If the bass isn’t hooked just freeze and he will come back again and again until you’ve either hooked him or he’s stripped the bait off the hook.