By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
While Greg Hackney is well-known for slinging and pitching and flipping a jig, he also has a strong reputation as a power fisherman. When the threadfin spawn is going strong, oftentimes shortly after bass finish up their spawning ritual, it affords him the opportunity to fish his strengths.
When Hackney is able to zero in on areas where the bass and threadfin cross paths, he says it can be some of the most fun fishing he’s experienced.
When It Goes Down
On Texas lakes like Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, the shad spawn typically happens early in March. Same with Hackney’s home waters in Louisiana where the water is unseasonably warmer.
When a lake is high and flooded, threadfin shad will spawn on green leaves, sawdust mats, and Hackney has even seen them lay their eggs in the middle of the lake on random floating objects.
Old boat docks lined with Styrofoam are also known threadfin hangouts.
“They liked that Styrofoam a lot more than the black plastic they use now,” Hackney said.
On other lakes, concrete walls, sea walls, or rock, like rip rap bank are key areas to target. When the water clarity is good, the shad are visible just under the surface.
Hackney uses a spinnerbait to locate shad when the weather is bad and water clarity is poor. The problem with fishing a spinnerbait, though, is that the males are attracted to the blades and while 10 threadfins might be following it, when a bass strikes, they might not even get to the lure and get a mouthful of threadfin instead.
Reflecting back on the 2009 Lake Guntersville Elite Series, Hackney is still stung by his 13tth-place finish with 73-14. He was on a better quality of fish, but believed he was on an isolated deal that could bring him a win. Little did he know that by laying off his fish early in the event, he opened the door for the rest of the field. A 22-pound bag on day 1 was only good enough for 36th place and despite following that up with 28 and 24 pounds, respectively, the next two days, he was the odd man out entering the final day.
Like most threadfin spawns on the lake, they were spawning on grass where anglers could easily catch 15 to 17 pounds. Shell beds or stretches with hard clay bottom was the key to those 20-plus pound stringers.
“It seems like if you have a huge shad spawn when the fish can be anywhere, the bigger fish are picky about where they get at,” he said. “If you don’t have many shad spawn, it doesn’t matter where they spawn, those bass will be there.”
At that particular tournament, he believes the bigger bass were targeting the deeper shad spawning on hard bottom in 7 to 8 feet of water, which he targeted with a Strike King KVD 2.5 square-bill crankbait.
At the 2012 Douglas Lake Elite Series, he finished 23rd, targeting the shad spawn through strategic use of his HydroWave unit. He’d fish the tail end of the threadfin spawn first thing in the morning – they usually spawn all night.
Once it started to taper off, he’d run a pattern on his HydroWave unit to ignite the last bites out of the school before the bass took off. Those bass he triggered into biting were of the valuable 3-pound variety and he was able to duplicate that pattern each day.
He’d target those bass beating up on threadfin on gravel points first thing in the morning switching to bass guarding fry in the afternoon once the threadfin dispersed. He wouldn’t run the HydroWave early in the day as there was no need since both the bass and threadfin were fired up. Further, he didn’t want them to get accustomed to the sound thereby making the HydroWave a placebo.
Though his bait of choice used to be the KVD 2.5 square-bill, today the larger profile of the 4.0 version better reflects the meaty size of a mature threadfin. Threadfins in the South get to be 8 to 10 inches since they don’t experience the winter kill that Northern shad do.
Looks are Everything
For Hackney, it is paramount that his crankbait be identical in both profile and color, to what the resident largemouth were feeding on. Matching the hatch is always key.
“I want to throw something that looks like what they are eating. I want that lure to glow as it comes through the water,” Hackney said. “Nothing is better than seeing their appearance in the water in their natural environment.”
He always keeps his eyes peeled for bait in the water. Sure, he can make an educated guess in terms of what might appeal to the bass, but baitfish take on a different hue in each body of water.
“Sometimes shad will have a green look as they come through the water while other times it will look like a grey or a black back depending on the water color,” he added. “Shad don’t change colors in the water – a shad is a shad regardless of what body of water they are in, but his appearance to your eyes is whatever the water color is.”
Hackney is a firm believer that the closer he can match what the bass are eating the better the chance he can steal an extra bite or two. Even if he’s getting bit on another color, he’ll tweak it to become more exact as he’s stolen an extra bite or two from an area once the bite got tough by doing just that.
Hackney throws both the 7-foot, 4-inch medium-heavy Quantum Tour KVD cranking rod paired with a Quantum Smoke HD casting reel (6.6:1 gear ratio) spooled with 14-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. He warns anglers that an underpowered rod with a heavier bait will just wear them out.
Also, he runs fairly stout hooks on his plugs to be able to drive them home.
“I use those bigger hooks because they are so big that all you need to do is get one into them and you’ve got them and typically you don’t lose many,” he said.
With the KVD 2.5, he’ll swap out the factor trebles for a 1/0 short shank EWG treble and a 2/0 treble on the 4.0.
He’ll let the mood of the fish dictate the rate of the retrieve and once he hooks his first, he’ll know what program they’re on. The hunting action of the KVD square-bill works well in that it will hunt left, then return to the middle before hunting to the right and returning back online. Hackney is well aware not to complicate things, but he is sure to pick up on any hints the bass might offer up.
“Fishing the shad spawn, it’s pretty easy fishing, you are just running the crankbait through where the shad are at,” he said.