Alewife for Bait: Know Your Baitfish

Alewife for Bait: Know Your Baitfish
Alewife, also known as River Herron, are great bait where available.

Know Your Baitfish Alewife

In our Know Your Baitfish the alewife is up. The alewife has made a comeback in many lakes in the USA. Some people hate that the Alewives are doing well while others love it or at least make use of these great baitfish that attract big fish. It is wise for anglers to know their baitfish when it comes to catching big fish using them.

The Alewife as a baitfish came to my attention while watching a Forrest Wood Cup where the winner was chasing Blueback Herring around the lake with a pencil popper catching big bass hiding in the many standing cane clumps around Lake Murray. While Blue Back Herring are not Alewives they mentioned them as being in the same family and also lumped in with other baitfish referred to River Herring. These references sent me on a research binge, something I often do while streaming bass tournaments or anything else.

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Smallmouth Bass with Alewives

A lot about the alewife was learned that day watching that bass tournament. One thing for certain, the alewife had to be good live bait for bass. I haven’t used live bait for bass in many years when we free lined live creek minnows like chubs and steelback minnows back when I was a kid. I have recently had the urge to do that again because it was so much fun. At a media event at Dale Hollow Lake out of Cedar Hill Resort I was hearing stories about some giant smallmouth bass. A few of the attendees at the camp were catching these big smallmouths. They told me they were free lining Alewives. Needless to say my curiosity was peaked and I nosed my way into the discussion. They were happy to share their great day on Dale Hollow Lake catching big smallmouth bass.

Alewife Invasive Species

The alewife is an invasive specie. Some fish species suffer from their presence while others flourish. Alewives eat fish eggs and since they are not native to many of the waters that they thrive the native species that lives there has not had enough time develop an instinct to dodge the quick as lightning alewife or lay their eggs in places that alewives can easily scarf them up.

Giant Bass Eat Alewives

At the same time the alewife provides prime forage for larger species like bass. While the alewife grows to a size that many smaller bass and other species can’t eat them, the giants can. You could say that the presence of the alewife, in many lakes, is the reason that giant bass thrive and ever got to be giants in the first place.

If You Can’t Beat Them Then Use Alewife For Bait

Many anglers probably don’t know the history behind the alewife and many even think they are just a shad. Knowing your baitfish, like the alewife, will help you understand how to catch the giants like devour them. I was told by a veteran smallmouth guide that big smallmouth bass will eat alewife 3 to 1 over shad. They prefer the alewife, for whatever reason, over the shad, that much is clear.

If you find schools of alewives you can catch the bass that are following them with a swimbait and other offerings. However, nothing beats the real thing. Using live alewives for bass bait can turn a tough day with lures into a great day of fishing. Free lining with light line and circle hook weightless with an alewife for bait is a fun way to catch big bass. As I said I haven’t used live bait for bass in years but I do remember how fun it was to watch the line twitch. The twitch is obvious and easy to differ from the alewife swimming.

Where Do Alewives Go

Alewives move throughout the water column where they consume mostly zooplankton. Once the alewife reaches about 11 inches they will move to small bottom dwelling crustaceans. How big do you think a bass has to be to eat an 11 inch alewife? Big but probably note as big as you might think.

This is what I learned from researching these members of the herring family. Since the bigger alewives eat bottom dwelling crustaceans that’s where the big smallmouth and other fish will be. So get your live bait alewife on the bottom or near it and let it work. Remember to use a circle hook if you plan to release your big smallmouth bass.

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About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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