Three Reasons You Can’t Catch Winter Time Shad [EP4]

Catching Winter Time ShadI was on the lake a couple of weeks ago after I dropped my clients off and good friend came to fish with me for a few hours. As I left the boat ramp I noticed a young man throwing a cast net off in the distance. He was in a rather odd location to catch shad and he was throwing a TINY cast net.

I pulled up to the area where I was going to fish and anchored my boat. I watched him in the distance for the better part of 45 minutes throwing again and again. At one point he idled past me and I noticed he had a small child in the boat with him.

He pulls up to another location and starts throwing again and again. I couldn’t stand to watch him any more. I pulled about 100 yards off from where we’d been fishing, spotting a large ball of shad on my sonar, threw the cast net and filled up a three gallon bucket with large threadfin shad with two throws.

I then idled over to this young mans boat and gave him a big ziplock bag full of shad.

About ten days later as I was headed in at the end of my trip I spotted him again, in the same area, throwing over and over again. I dropped my clients off and went back out to catch bait for my trip the next morning.

I threw a couple of extra times, got plenty of extra threadfin shad and gizzard shad and idled back over to him again and passed him a big gallon bag of shad.

This time, I started questioning him on what he was doing and why, and offered some advice on locating and catching shad.

I received an email from him a week later thanking me, along with a picture of a big bucket full of shad. All it took to get this young man on the right track was the right tools, and a little education.

I looked at his cast net and explained to him why it wasn’t working for him, and showed him the screen of my Humminbird sonar unit.

I showed him some screenshots of shad and what they looked like on sonar and tweaked the settings on his fish finder for him so he’d be able to better tell what was below his boat.

Winter Time Shad Woes

This time of year shad becomes a “hot topic” and everyone’s talking about how hard it is and complaining about how they can’t catch bait.

The truth is, you can catch winter shad, but “blind luck” is not going to take you far in the winter. During much of the year you can get out on the water and throw your cast net a few times and catch some bait. The shad is usually scattered enough that you’ll catch a few here and there (with enough work) that you’ll at least catch enough fresh bait to fish with.

Winter Time Shad: All Or None

During the winter catching shad is more of an “all or none” deal.

If you throw in the right location you’ll have more bait than you need, but you have to be precise.

If you’re randomly throwing your cast net to try and catch bait you’re not going to be successful.

Three Reasons You Can’t Catch Winter Shad

Here’s the three reasons I see people having way more difficulty than they should catching winter shad. I can’t begin to stress how important it to not only make sure you have fresh bait but that you put the time and effort into to learning how to locate and pattern shad.

There’s no argument that fresh caught shad is one of the top baits for catching blue catfish.

1. Using The Wrong Cast Net

This is the number one reason people go wrong catching shad in the winter and cannot catch bait.

During much of the year you can “get by” with a tiny little cast net (I call them Tonka Toy nets).

You’ll have to throw much more with a smaller net than you will with a larger net but in most instances you’ll be able to catch some bait. You can also get by with a light weight cast net during much of the year as well, but not in the winter.

To be successful catching shad in the coldwater period you have to use the right tools.

The right tools will make or break you.

Here’s what I tell people about cast nets……

You can dig a huge hole with a small gardening spade. It might take you a while, it might be painful and difficult but if you work at it long enough you can dig a huge hole.

You can dig that very same hole with a shovel. It’s going to be faster. It’s still going to be a lot of work, but the shovel will work much faster than the gardening spade.

Now, if you get a backhoe, you’ll be able to dig that same hole in a matter of minutes and it’s not going to be much work at all.

Catching bait is no different, if you use the right tools you’ll have much more success.

The small lightweight nets you use much of the year will catch you some bait if you spend enough time throwing it, but your results are going to be minimal and there is going to be a LOT of work involved.

Choose the right cast net and you’ll catch more shad much faster and it’s going to be much less work.

The basics to choosing the right winter cast nets are:

  • Use a cast net that’s the largest legal size you can throw.
  • Use a cast net with a larger mesh size (larger mesh sinks faster)
  • Use a heavier weight net that weighs 1.5 pounds per foot.

There’s much more in depth information here on choosing the right cast net and preparing a cast net to help you catch more shad. Combine this with these simple tips to help you catch more shad and you’ll instantly have more success.

2. Choosing The Wrong Location To Throw Your Cast Net

Winter Shad SonarDuring the fall, spring and summer shad are often scattered in many different locations. It’s common to find bait in every depth of the lake, or at least most of them and because of this “blind luck” often pays off.

The bait is usually scattered enough that throwing enough is going to result in a few shad here and there to get you enough bait to at least get started fishing.

Catching shad in the winter doesn’t work like this.

The bait is in large dense schools in specific locations that require you to be right on top of them to catch them. When you use the right tools and get in the right location, you’ll load your net up. When you use the wrong tools or are not in the exact right location, you’ll get nothing.

You can easily catch shad from a boat or from the shore in the cold water period, you just have to do the work and get in the right location and make sure you’re right on top of them. When you do this you’ll have more bait than you need.

3. You’re Lazy

That’s right, I just called you lazy, don’t take offense to it because if you think about it you’ll realize it’s true.

I call it like I see it though and being lazy is one of the major reasons I see people not catching shad in the winter months.

If you’re going to be lazy, then quit whining about not having bait. You need to be in the exact right location, you need to put forth some extra time and some extra effort to locate and catch shad. That means you can’t be lazy about locating and catching bait.

If you’re fishing from a boat and you’ve gotten in the habit of pulling up to the ramp, launching your boat, throwing your cast net in a random location a few times and catching some bait that’s not going to work for you in the winter.

Now it’s cold, the shad aren’t scattered around and you still try that. You’re not catching bait and because you didn’t load your bait bucket up in two throws your whining about it.

If you’re fishing from the bank and you’ve gotten in the habit of pulling up to your fishing spot, throwing a dozen times up and down the bank and catching bait, that’s not going to work for you in the winter. You’re going to have to plan ahead, you’re going to have to put forth some extra effort, and you might even have to go a little bit out of your way to load up on bait but you can easily catch shad from the shore it if you put forth the effort. It just might not be in the same place you plan on fishing.

You need to plan ahead, you need to allow some extra time and you need to put forth some effort while your learning.

Stop relying on frozen shad too because your not doing yourself any favors in your efforts to catch catfish.

How To Catch Shad

The bottom line is that you can catch your own shad in the cold water period, you just need to use the right tools to catch them, you need to be in the right location and you need to put forth a little extra effort to catch them.

If you’re willing to learn and put forth the effort, you’ll be loading your bait bucket with shad in the dead of winter from a boat or from the bank and you’ll be catching plenty of blue catfish.

To get more in depth information on locating and catching shad check out the free preview of the How To Catch Shad ebook from Catfish Edge.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about choosing the right cast net, how to set your cast net up for success, how to throw it, and some sure fire tips to help you get started finding and catching bait.

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Article Name
Three Reasons You Can't Catch Winter Time Shad
Tips for catching winter time shad. Three reasons you're not able to catch shad for catfish bait in the winter time and how to easily fix them.
Summer Channel Catfish Techniques


  1. Robert Serpan says

    Chad…I can’t thank you enough for all the free tips you give us. I have recently gotten back into catfish fishing, (channel) after a long sabbatical. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma bone morrow cancer. It took out four vertebrae before they got it in remission. So, I am partially handicapped and have a hard time walking unassisted, i.e. without a cane.

    I read your tips religiously and soak up every morsel. I would dearly love to go on a charter with you, but I don’t know how, with my condition, I would handle it in a boat. Plus,…being 75 years old, living on a limited income is NOT fun. I still have fun.

    Thanks again Chad, many, many good charters for you and good fishin’


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