Mention the word spawn and many anglers naturally turn their thoughts to the springtime breeding season of largemouth bass.
That's understandable since the yearly event brings bass into the shallow water zones where they are easier to target while also sporting the heaviest weights they'll have all year.
In many cases, the springtime bass spawn helps anglers catch not only their biggest bass of the year, but also of their entire lifetime.
But when it comes to actually catching a big bass during the spawn, that isn't always an easy chore to figure out, especially when stained to muddy water conditions limit spring sight-fishing options.
Or when high water gets into shoreline vegetation, expanding the options for breeding bass and making it difficult for anglers to access them in a glittering bass rig.
When that's the case, it's a good idea for bass anglers to turn their attention to another springtime spawn, in this case the annual spawn of threadfin shad on lakes scattered across the southern half of the nation.
When the annual phenomenon occurs, like school children discovering an afternoon platter filled with sugary cupcakes, local largemouth bass simply can't help stuffing themselves with the silver-hued baitfish.
Call it the silver-cupcake hatch, an annual phenomenon that brings good news for bass anglers looking to get bit in the post-spawn bass phase of spring.
Admittedly, threadfin shad aren't known in some parts of bass country, particularly up north where waters get too cold for the baitfish to survive each year.
But where the pelagic baitfish species is found south of the Mason/Dixon line, largemouth bass can grow to huge dimensions by steadily chowing down on shad.
The bottom line in many bass country water bodies is anglers must factor the baitfish into their springtime equations. So says the likes of Brent Chapman, the likable Lake Quivira, Kansas, resident and veteran angling pro of the Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing circuits.
Chapman, the 2012 BASS Angler of the Year, has excelled at events that have been staged across the southern U.S. (two of his four BASS wins have been in Louisiana while another was in Texas) where threadfin shad roam far and wide in big bait balls.
One key to his regional success is a growing understanding of the importance of the baitfish species and the role that they play in the forage base of many lakes.
On a couple of occasions, I got to hear Chapman expound about the shad spawn in greater detail.
And while the 13-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Chapman admits he is hardly an expert on fishing it, he does note the shad spawn is a key to late springtime success.
What are the keys to successfully targeting the shad spawn on local lakes when and where it occurs each spring?
For starters, Chapman – who has four BASS wins and $1.7 million in career earnings to date – says anglers must actually recognize the shad spawn is occurring.
When will that be? Chapman says it typically takes place when a lake's water temps warm into the mid and upper 60s and the bass are generally done with their own spawn.
When that's the case, start looking for threadfin shad to begin their own breeding efforts in shallow water as females disperse their eggs right up on the bank – around rocks, riprap, wood, vegetation, docks and boathouses – while the males chase them around and fertilize the eggs.
The presence of avian predators on a rocky bank is often a dead giveaway the spring shad spawn is underway. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
While any of the cover listed above can work, Chapman does note in his own personal experience, there are few better places to look for spawning shad than along a riprap bank.
The Kansas pro does caution while the above scenario and locations are the usual examples to keep in mind, he also notes over the years he has observed shad will spawn in places and in water temperatures that aren't always textbook.
In fact, he has seen this very idea play itself out in a couple of different tournament venues in different states.
If realizing the shad spawn window of opportunity is open is the first key to success, then Chapman says a second one is to recognize an important visual clue on many lakes in May (that's the month that shad spawns typically occur in the southern U.S.).
What is that visual clue?
Chapman says when an angler cuts the engine and coasts his bass rig in towards an early morning bank, a crowd of egrets and blue herons perched along the shoreline is a dead giveaway that it's time to reach for a rod bearing a shad-imitating lure.
Why? Because the predatory birds are there to cash in on the shad spawn themselves as it occurs in mere inches of water. And Chapman says largemouth bass will usually not be too far behind when the baitfish smorgasbord opens for business.
Veteran BASS and MLF pro Brent Chapman says when it occurs, the best time to target the threadfin shad spawn is during the first couple of hours of daylight. (Jeff Phillips photo)
What's the third key for fishing the shad spawn? According to Chapman, it's to NEVER hit the alarm clock's snooze button during the annual occurrence.
"If you're out there at daylight, the first hour or two can be phenomenal," said Chapman, who fought his way through MLF Select competition to earn a spot in the regular MLF Cup series.
"After that, the shad-spawn bite will die off quickly as the sun gets up each morning."
In other words, when it comes to the springtime shad spawn, snooze and you lose.
A fourth key to shad spawn success is to be sure to tie on the right shallow-water baits.
For starters, Chapman suggests shad-colored topwaters like Livingston's Walking Boss and Walking Boss II; lipless crankbaits like the Livingston Pro Ripper; squarebill crankbaits like the Livingston Primetyme 1.5 and 2.0 models; or a waking bait like the company's Pro Wake lure are good options.
What hues should these lures be in? Chapman laughs and says such an answer is an easy one; anything resembling the baitfish's silvery hues and/or has the word shad in the bait's name or color description is a good place to start.
And the more stained the water happens to be on a lake or reservoir, the better off an angler is in using shad patterns featuring brighter colors such as chartreuse.
One important consideration here is to properly match the hatch in terms of lure size. Chapman notes bass will key in on the specific size of spawning shad currently swimming around in a particular water body, often refusing to chase a larger-size bait.
Matching the hatch with the right size bait can be an important consideration during the shad spawn. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
For that reason, he says that he'll typically fish a 2- to 3-inch lure during the shad spawn, erring on the side of a lure being undersized rather than oversized.
While he obviously prefers using Livingston Lures and their built in EBS (Electronic Baitfish Sound) technology, Chapman does suggest other shad-spawn lure possibilities in heavy cover areas can include such things as white spinnerbaits, white buzzbaits, a white swim jig or even a shad-color Tightlines UV flipping tube.
What kind of tackle setup does the likable Kansas pro use when tossing such baits around?
For topwater baits, Chapman likes his own 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy Wright McGill Insight signature series frog rod coupled with a Brent Chapman Insight reel with a 7:1 gear ratio. For topwater imitations, he'll spool his reel up with 40-pound GAMMA Torque braid.
For subsurface presentations, Chapman opts for a 7-foot soft-tip Wright McGill Brent Chapman cranking rod, a Brent Chapman Insight reel with a 7:1 ratio and either 12-, 16- or 20-pound GAMMA fluorocarbon line.
The bottom line in Chapman's mind is the annual shad spawn is a can't-miss event each spring that rings the dinner bell for post-spawn bass and puts them into a frenzy at times.
In fact, it's such an important event bass angler's need to save their sick days and leftover kitchen passes for it.
"Bass don't get big without eating a lot of food and shad are at the top of the list of major forage species that they'll eat," said Chapman.
Especially on a rocky riprap bank or other shallow water areas during spring, a spot where a gang of hungry largemouth bass will very likely be waiting in the wings.