Fishing with Kenny: Shad vs. Crawfish… Competing with Mother Nature
article by Kenny Covington
I love bass fishing in the fall and winter months. The start of hunting season means the number of boats on the water diminishes significantly and that is a good thing for die hard fishermen like me. Over the years fishing during the hunting seasons, I have had phenomenal days on the water without seeing another boat. The competition from other fishermen is much less of an issue than what you might have during other times of the year. However, the biggest competitor is Mother Nature herself.
One of the more popular phrases you hear in fishing is “match the hatch.” If bass are feeding on shad, then an angler needs to fish shad imitating lures. Crayfish, bream or whatever the source of food the bass are feeding on, by using lures that closely mimic their prey, your chances for success become better. Or do they? Bass are predators by nature but that doesn’t mean they can’t get finicky.
Beginning in the late summer/early fall, bass feed heavily on shad. As fall turns into winter and then into late winter they will begin to feed heavily on crawfish in preparation of their upcoming spawn. This is not to say bass will pick feeding on shad over feeding on crayfish. I have caught fish feeding on shad with crawfish pinchers showing in the back of their throats. But in general, I have found this time of bass will feed more heavily on one or the other. Once shad start to migrate to the backs of coves, pockets and creeks, bass will move back with them because the abundance of shad makes for an easy meal. Once the height of this movement takes place, suddenly these fish that were so easy to catch a few weeks earlier become less willing to strike an artificial lure. So what changed?
The overabundance of a natural source is the issue. When the schools of shad become so overwhelmingly large often time’s bass will feed from the bottom of the school. They won’t come to the surface or feed upwards in order to strike a lure or to eat an individual shad. There is no need to exert that energy when they can simply follow along underneath a school of shad and pick off one at their leisure. Another scenario that happens in the fall when shad schools are at their largest, the fish that will break the surface to feed on them usually have so many targets to choose from, picking out, tracking and striking an artificial lure is the last thing they would consider. The amount of shad can trigger this as can the size of the shad they are feeding on. When you are throwing a shad imitating lure among thousands of the real thing, the odds aren’t in your favor. Matching the hatch is a good concept but in reality can be frustrating.
When it comes to bass feeding on crawfish, this is a year round phenomenon. And why not? A crawfish to a bass is equivalent to a human eating a steak. Bass that feed heavily on shad tend to feed more often than those who feed on crawfish. Crawfish are high in protein and during the colder months will keep a bass full for longer periods of time, making their feeding times much shorter than during the warmer times of year. Quality of the meal over quantity needed to fill an empty stomach is a good analogy.
Side note: Speaking of crawfish….the Kentucky spotted bass that populate the Ouachita River will seemingly swim past a shad to eat a crawfish. I can honestly say I have caught more bass on a crawfish colored crankbait in the fall of the year on the river than I have any other lure. Are you ready for the contradiction? When I fish the river lakes and the creeks that can be found up and down the Ouachita’s system, I catch more bass on a shad colored crankbait than I do a crawfish colored one. Even more interesting is I usually catch more largemouth bass in the creeks and river lakes and more Kentucky bass in the main river.
All bodies of water are different when it comes to fish populations and their feeding habits. It has been my experience the later in the year and the colder the water the bass feeding on crawfish are usually bigger and easier to catch than bass that are targeting shad. Shad feeders tend to nomadic and unpredictable in their locations while bigger fish will remain in one location to feed rather than cover water feeding on baitfish.
So now we have addressed the shad vs. crawfish debate, what about lure choices? These lure choices will work regardless of the type of water you are fishing. Water clarity this time of year is generally clear except in smaller bayou systems so the color schemes are universal as well. Here are four lures that will catch bass no matter the body of water or if they are feeding on shad or crawfish:
SPINNERBAIT What is fall bass fishing with a spinnerbait tied on one of your rods? It is easily the number one choice for catching active bass feeding on shad and there is no sense in getting too complicated with our lure of choice. A 3/8 ounce double willow leaf spinnerbait with a chartreuse/blue/white skirt is all you will really need. Retrieve speed can be critical. The more active the fish the faster you want to fish the bait.
CRANKBAIT The lure that applies to both crawfish and shad feeders is the crankbait. I like a medium diving lure such as a Norman Middle N or a Bandit 200 series crankbait, both lures will run 6-8 feet deep. Your basic shad patterns are good but one of my favorites to throw this time of year is a “firetiger” pattern. This color works extremely well when fishing river systems like we discussed earlier or off colored water. A stop and go retrieve is very effective this time of year.
CHATTERBAIT I almost put this lure as a cross between a spinnerbait and a crankbait due to its versatility. With the chatterbait an angler can cover a lot of water and effectively fish different depths. Don’t get overwhelmed with colors, it’s either black/blue or a shad pattern, either in the 3/8 version. One will usually work when the other one doesn’t. My favorite trailer of choice is a small boot tail swim bait that compliments the color you choose to throw. The best way to fish a chatterbait is to retrieve it with a slow steady retrieve and keep it out of sight.
JIG Arguably the greatest crawfish imitation ever created, the jig also works well when targeting bass feeding on shad. Simply change up your color schemes to a shad color, match your trailer, and keep your retrieve off of the bottom and you have the perfect shad imitation. For bottom feeding bass looking for an easy crawfish meal a black/blue jig with a matching soft plastic trailer will catch fish anywhere you can launch your boat.
Well it looks like we have run out of time this month. I hope, between the shad and the crawfish debate, we were able to give you some ideas on how to put more fish in your boat this fall. There is no better time to be on the water! If you are out in the woods please practice safe hunting habits and if you happen to be on the water, please catch one for me! See you next month!