Know Your Baitfish Threadfin Shad

Know Your Baitfish Threadfin Shad
Threadfin Shad

Threadfin Shad- Dorosoma petenense


The threadfin shad is a small pelagic fish common in rivers and reservoirs in the southeast USA. Like the gizzard shad, the threadfin shad has an elongated dorsal fin. The fins of the threadfin shad have a yellow color, especially the caudal fin. It is this yellowish coloring that makes chartreuse a common color in bass lures. The threadfin shad’s back is grey to blue with a dark spot on the shoulder. The threadfin is more often found in water with some current and rarely found deep in the water column. They travel in large schools. Sometimes threadfin shad are found traveling with gizzard shad. They can be seen on the surface at dush and then again at dawn as they travel. The threadfin shad may reach lengths of 6-8 in (200 mm), but only rarely reach 8 inches. This fish is very sensitive to changes in temperature and dissolved oxygen. They frequent die-off  in late summer and fall. Especially when water temperature drops to 42°F. The threadfin shad is a favorite food for many game fish like the striped bass, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and catfish. The threadfin shad is small enough to be excellent forage for crappie and larger bluegill and redear. This baitfish is widely introduced throughout the United States as a prime forage for sport fish.

Threadfin Shad Range

Native to the U.S. located west of the Appalachian Mountains. Ranging north to Kentucky and west to East Texas, then south to the Rio Grande and east to Florida rivers. The threadfin shad have been transplanted to waters throughout America but do best in large rivers and lakes.

Threadfin Shad Facts

The Threadfin Shad has been described as the perfect forage fish. Indeed, it comes close. It’s a prolific baitfish but the threadfin shad does not outgrow its place in the food chain. Rarely exceeding 4 inches long. The threadfin’s cousin, the gizzard shad is prone to cause problems because they quickly grow to 8 inches or larger. This makes them so big that most predators like bass, crappie and other panfish cannot eat them. This allows the gizzard shad to quickly dominate the habitat and eventually will deplete the resources that sportfish rely on. Threadfin shad are just the right size throughout their life cycle to be a great food source for most all sport fish.

Threadfin Shad Feeding Habits

Threadfin shad are primarily plankton feeders as well as organic detritus which is any type of debris or waste floating in the water column in open water. Threadfin shad occasionally feed on fish larvae and other organic material found on sandy or silty bottoms. This is why you see threadfin shad swimming along rip rap. They feed on the algae that grows on the rocks. In large lakes, threadfin shad are constantly on the move. They are searching for plankton. This is why threadfin shad are found in the upper level of the water column. Plankton grows from the energy of the sun which only penetrates so deep.

Threadfin Shad for Bait

The threadfin shad is the most important forage to so many species in so many lakes. Its size and prolific spawn create the perfect base forage for bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, stripe, walleye and so many more sport fish species. Many anglers catch their own bait using a cast net to capture plenty of bait for their day of fishing. Threadfin shad are hard to keep alive but not impossible. With a good aerated livewell or baitwell you can keep threadfin shad alive. Few things compare to a live threadfin shad for bait. Free lining a live threadfin in the right place will quickly reveal fish you swore were not there. Fish a section of bank with your favorite bass bait then go back down the same bank and see what happens. It might surprise you.

Lures that represent threadfin shad is popular among bass anglers as well as other sport fish anglers. I have even used threadfin shad crankbaits for big crappie. Here is an article about that called Crankbaits For Crappie. Whether you throw a soft bait like the Beoccudo Jerk Minnow or the Zoom Fluke or a hard bait like the Rapala Shad Rap fishing the top 5 feet of the water column will be your best bet. Fish deeper than that will come up to strike a shad above them and depending on the clarity of the water some may come from as deep as 20 feet. Poppers are also great imitators of the threadfin shad and can be deadly on bass and stripers. I have seen when bass would strike a topwater bait when they refused a subsurface bait. Just certain times they prefer certain presentations and when it is the topwater presentation they seek it can be exciting.

Threadfin for Catfish

Threadfin shad make for excellent catfish bait. Usually used whole because the threadfin are so thin and small to cut up as cut bait does not work so well. A single shad or a few will attract all species of catfish. They release oils into the water and create a scent trail for the catfish, with their excellent sense of smell, to navigate from great distances to find your bait. Threadfin shad are sensitive to time and temperature. They will quickly become useless if not kept properly protected from the sun and heat. Yur shad should be kept on ice in a cooler that can be shut when not in use. This helps keep your shad fresh. I love using a cooler full of 3 or 4 inch threadfin when baiting limb lines and trot lines. Having a small cooler set up to be opened and bait removed easily then closed to maintain the ice inside will keep your shad fresh and thus a viable bait to use for several days.

When do Threadfin Shad Spawn

It is important to the angler to know when threadfin shad spawn and where. By understanding this you can locate bass and other game fish that others may not find. This becomes especially important for bass tournament anglers but also for the angler out for a day of fishing as well. Threadfin shad begin their spawning activity as the water’s surface temperature reaches between 60 and 70 degrees. They will seek hard surfaces near deep water. You will see the shad flickering on the surface near shore or around a log that might be located away from shore. Locating an area with this activity can mean great fishing. It might only be a few hours during the morning that this is happening so it is best to return the next morning when you find this spawning activity. Finding an isolated boulder or log with threadfin shad spawning around it can be the perfect spot to catch several bass. The bass, like you know that the shad are there and will be attracted to it as cover as well as a place to feed. It is hard to do but you can cast to the same rock or log for an entire tournament and catch all you need to win. I have seen it happen. A friend of mine was a co-angler with a gentleman that threw a pearl zoom fluke at the same rock about the size of a truck hood for the entire tournament. My friend didn’t catch a single bass but his boater got 3rd place.

Lures for Shad Spawn

A few great baits to use when a shad spawn is found is a popper, spinnerbait, swimbaits or a wacky rigged worm. Being patient is the most important thing when fishing for fish that are there to feed on the shad. There are so many shad for one but also the bass and other fish are moving in and out of the area as they cruise always on the move. You have to be there when the bass moves in. Rest assured there will be hungry fish in the area when the threadfin are spawning provided there are fish that live where you are fishing.


Gizzard Shad 

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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