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Mosby: Shad kill can really turn on the fishing

Posted: February 22, 2014 - 12:10pm

Sometimes just a word or two will get fishermen all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and chomping at the bit to get out on the water.

Shad kill.

That has come forth in the past few days and with the expected eager reaction from anglers who know about going where the plentiful food for fish is.

Shad are forage fish. In Arkansas they are of two basic species, gizzard shad and threadfin shad. Both are susceptible to cold weather, and we’ve had some of that lately.

Shad die in large numbers in a harsh winter, and all sorts of game fish fill their bellies – striped bass, white bass, largemouth bass, catfish, walleye. Even crappie go for the smaller sizes of shad.

Here’s some current information from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:

“Shad kills are fairly common during harsh winters in some of Arkansas’ northern lakes. This year’s extremely cold weather produced shad kills in a few lakes that rarely see them. While it may seem catastrophic to see the dead shad floating on the surface of the lake, it doesn’t mean the lake is in danger of collapsing.

“Most shad will survive the cold snap and reproduce to fill the void. The game fish in the lake will eat the dead and dying shad, which increases their health going into spawning season. Typically the months after a shad kill prove to be excellent fishing.”

One hot area after a shad kill is the trout waters below Beaver, Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry dams. Shad die in the lakes and are pulled through the dams by water releases. Trout come upstream to enjoy the feast. Fishermen get into the action with lures and baits that resemble shad

Also good in dead shad times is the Arkansas River below any of its dams. Sauger, not familiar to many Arkansas fishermen, often turn up in the tailwaters when dead shad are plentiful.

In southwest Arkansas, local fishermen work the Little River just below Millwood Dam during a shad kill. They often rack up good strings of white bass and also striped bass which come upstream from Red River.

If your timing is right, the results can be spectacular. Dead shad float. Catfish will come up from the bottom to feed on them as will stripers and white bass. Anglers can use all sorts of lures from stick baits to crank baits, and they will work if they are in shad colorations.

It is not a guarantee, but one lure that this writer has done well with on Lake Dardanelle is a small pearl finish crank bait.

In addition to the big waters, shad kills occur on small lakes and ponds too. You may find dead shad in the lakes floating at the surface, and you may also find them just below dams where they come through when water is released.

When dead shad are floating, they sometimes collect in eddies below the dams, areas to the side of the main current. Toss lures into these eddies, and fish may grab them.

Experienced fishermen pass along a tip for shad kill outings. Remember the water is cold despite what the air temperature may be. Cold water means fish metabolisms are slow. This means slow down your lure retrieve. As one veteran angler said, “When you think you are cranking slow enough, slow it down some more.”

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