By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Bass are known to be astute and opportunistic feeders. If there’s happens to be a smorgasbord of bait in the area, they’re not going to decline the invitation. When threadfin shad spawn in the spring, largemouth will track them down and gorge heavily.
Typically, threadfin spawn after the bass finish up their annual ritual. This happens once water temps get within five degrees (either side) of the 70-degree mark, says Kevin VanDam, who’s earned more than $6 million in his tournament career. He cut his teeth power-fishing so targeting the shad spawn falls right into his wheelhouse. There’s no need to finesse these bass, he says. They’re hungry.
Follow the Moon
VanDam is extremely cognizant of the increased spawning activity that the full-moon phase triggers early in the year for bass and baitfish.
Threadfin typically spawn near where they live, but VanDam says don’t bother looking for them in the back of a pocket. He’ll target main lake banks and like a carp, they don’t make a nest, they’ll just disperse their eggs in the water around an object. A piece of floating grass, a laydown, rip rap, floating boat docks, a bridge piling, rocks, over hanging trees, vegetation – any hard or soft object really – are typical spawning areas that threadfin utilize.
On lakes like Guntersville, they spawn on the grass edges of milfoil or hydrilla along the river edge itself. Watching the birds can also be a solid clue as to what’s going on.
“Often you can see blue herons on points or rocks or a tree overhanging in water or seawalls,” VanDam said. “All of those are good areas to look for threadfins.”
Structure, Bait, or the Perfect Storm?
The threadfin spawn represents the perfect storm for a bass as it positions shad near some of their favorite structures. Bass know that once they finish spawning, they’ll be looking for threadfin to enter a frenzied state, making them oblivious to the bass that are stalking them.
“They’re definitely attracted to the structure and also because the bait’s there, too,” VanDam said.
When they spawn, threadfin bunch up and often flip on the surface. Typically, they’ll spawn through the night and cease once the sun rises. By 9 a.m., they’ll typically scatter.
“It’s a narrow window and on a cloudy day it lasts longer than on a sunny day,” VanDam added.
Water depth is equally important. Having deep water close to a main-lake creek channel or river channel off the main lake is critical when fishing this pattern.
“That deep water is where the shad are going to come from, and go back to, after the spawning activity subsides,” he said.
VanDam cautions against trying to follow the shad out to deep water, hoping the bass will be there as well.
“Those bass won’t pull out deep and try to feed on those shad because they aren’t relating to any structure and bass know it’s not a for sure deal,” he said.
Locked and Loaded
The cover that VanDam targets will dictate his lure choice, but a spinnerbait is his “go-to” lure.
Like many in his generation, VanDam grew up with a spinnerbait tied on and targeting the threadfin spawn is right in his wheelhouse as it allows him to fish his strengths. His favorite option is a ½-ounce Strike King KVD double willow blade version as it fosters the efficiency of covering water as well as imitating the shad perfectly. Shad patterned skirts work under most conditions.
“Threadfins are attracted heavily to a spinnerbait and they’ll swim right into the blades,” he said. “A spinnerbait is one of my best tools to find shad that are spawning when you can’t see them visibly busting up on the surface or in big pods.”
He’ll also keep a grey-colored Strike King Caffeine Shad at the ready as it allows him to put a lure in places that he might not be able to fit a spinnerbait, like under boat docks or overhanging trees. He’ll fish the 7-inch model on a round bend 7/0 Mustad Big Bite Soft Plastics hook and the 5-inch version on a 5/0 hook.
VanDam also is keen to throw a Strike King HC KVD Splash Popper.
“What I like about a popper is that it creates a lot of commotion that attracts the bass. You can keep that popper in the strike zone longer giving them more time to key in on it,” he said.
He’ll fish the popper on a medium-heavy action Quantum Tour KVD graphite casting rod paired with a Quantum Smoke S3 reel spooled with 20-pound Bass Pro Shops Excel monofilament line. Monofilament still has its place, especially for topwater fishing as it floats and has enough stretch for bass to fully engulf the bait.
When VanDam won the Toledo Bend Elite Series in 2016, he started his mornings by targeting bass in front of a sea wall where threadfins were spawning.
“By 9 o’clock in the morning, that deal was pretty much over,” he said.
When he won at Lake Guntersville in 2007, it was a textbook threadfin beatdown.
“They were on the edges of the grass on the main river,” he said. “It’s very hard to do just that. I fished a spinnerbait and a crankbait because I had to follow the grass edge downward especially as the daylight came up. The shad slowly moved down from up on top the ledge and near the surface of the tallest grass.”
Today, he’ll use Humminbird’s 360-imaging in conjunction with his Helix 12 Mega Imaging units to easily follow the grass lines that are not easily visible.
Finding spawning threadfin is by no means a slam dunk guarantee a hefty limit, but it’s certainly a clue.
“In a lot of cases, it’s not like you are going to catch giants easily or consistently,” VanDam said. “You have to find the threadfin spawning in proximity to where those bigger bass are wanting to be. That’s what happened at Toledo Bend and I’ve seen it happen at Lake Fork. I’ve caught 10-pounders at Lake Fork during the shad spawn. Other places like Lake Norman in North Carolina, it’s 12-inchers.”
The threadfin spawn can be an angler’s boon or bane, but it’s a necessary component to most tournament game plans.
“You can’t win a tournament off it (threadfin spawn), but you can’t win a tournament without it,” VanDam said.