Frigid Temps Could Spell Shad Kills In Area Lakes

Reservoir surface temperatures hitting the low 40s, even upper 30s.

Daryl Kirby | January 29, 2014

The unusually cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing could impact fishing this month and also into the spring. A major die-off of shad—the small baitfish that are the primary forage for bass, stripers and other predatory fish anglers love to catch—could make catching fish tough over the short-term because there’s so much natural food readily available to fish. However, a shad kill in the winter typically makes springtime fishing very good, simply because there’s less natural food available.

Several fishing guides say they’re expecting significant shad kills over the next several weeks, and shad kills have already begun on some north Georgia reservoirs. Smaller lakes will be even harder hit.

At Lake Allatoona, full-time fishing guide Robert Eidson, of First Bite Charters, said baitfish are now beginning to die because of the cold water temperatures.

“The water temps are in the upper 30s to the low 40s, and the shad kill has started. I look for the kill to be in full swing by the middle of February. This will slow the fishing up for a few more weeks, but on the bright side, it will make for an awesome spring,” Robert said.

At Carters Lake, guide Louie Bartenfield said he expects a major shad kill over the next several weeks.

“Cold water is more dense than warm water, so it will sink. There will be nowhere to run for our shad,” Louie said. “This will make the bite tough in February but could make for a great spring bite.”

Shad are prolific and can repopulate quickly. In large reservoirs, shad populations recover quickly from winter die-offs, and there is rarely a negative impact on the overall fishery other than conditions of bass and other fish that feed on shad may decline slightly. However, on small lakes, shad die-offs can completely wipe out the baitfish, and in those cases lake owners have to stock shad to reestablish populations.

At Lake Oconee, guide Mark Smith is using the shad kill to his advantage to catch striped bass and hybrids right now.

“The small shad are dying, and that is what the stripers will be feeding on. Look for the gulls to give away the location of the fish. When the birds start to dive on the bait, use a small Roster Tail or a small jig with a trailer. Keep a spoon tied on, and when the fish go down, you can pick up a few with the spoon,” Mark said.

Shad that are stressed by the cold water will exhibit rapid bursts of swimming followed by a lifeless fall toward the bottom. The action of a jigging spoon is perfect for mimicking these dying shad.

For good February fishing, just hope this winter’s shad kill isn’t too severe—it’s hard for your fishing lure to out-compete thousands of the real thing that are easy pickings for the fish you want to fool.

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