What Does Shad Eat? (What You Need To Know To Find The Perfect Bait) - Deep Water Fishery

What Does Shad Eat? (What You Need To Know To Find The Perfect Bait)

If you’re into fishing, you should know that different types of fish prefer different food choices. This is important knowledge when it comes to choosing baits or taking care of fish as well. In this article, you will be guided by the diet choices of shads, to answer "what does shad eat?".

What Is A Shad?

Shads, or scientifically called Alosinae, is a subfamily of fishes under the herring family. They are pelagicschooling fish, which means they spend most of their lifetime, swimming in open water in large groups.

Many species of shad are anadromous, meaning, they migrate into freshwater to spawn and reproduce. Some are even landlocked or have adapted into staying permanently in freshwater and never migrate back to the sea.

Many species of shads are of commercial importance both as sports fish and baitfish. Male shads, also known as freshwater tarpons, are particularly great game fish known to show jumps. There are different types of shad, including the following:​

  • American Shad
  • Gizzard Shad
  • Hickory Shad
  • Blueback Herring
  • Alewife
  • Threadfin Shad
  • Menhaden, Bunker, or Mossbunker

Shads are included in the mainstay diets of sportfish like catfish. They are also among the most popularand widely distributed baitfish used in Florida and California.

What Does Shad Eat?​

Like most other fish, their feeding behaviors and instincts vary depending on factors such as water temperature and turbidity. They often resume eating normally after winter or in spring as the water temperature goes up.

Most larval shads survive by consuming yolk material during the first few days of their lives and begin to feed about 4 to 5 days after hatching. Their diet for the first weeks is mainly entomostracans (smallcrustaceans), protozoans (single-celled organisms), and rotifers (microscopic animals).​

After they leave their birthplace or hatching place, shads become juveniles and start to eat more. Asjuveniles, shads are omnivorous heterotrophs. This means that they consume both animals and plantsand other things found floating in the water like insect larvae, phytoplankton (microscopic plants), andzooplankton (microscopic animals). In lakes, juvenile shads that are one to two inches long eatzooplankton almost exclusively.​

As shads get older and bigger, their food choices also grow. They start to eat plankton, small fish, worms, crustaceans, and sometimes even fish eggs. Adult shads are largely considered as carnivores or meat-eaters. They are mainly piscivores, meaning a huge chunk of their diet is composed of other smaller fish species.

They also eat detritus, algae, insect larvae, exuviae or the sloughed off skin orexoskeleton of insects and their larvae, and non-insect arthropods like small crabs, spiders, mites, centipedes, millipedes, and others.​

Gizzard shad have also been reported to eat fingernail clams in parts of the Mississippi River anddiatoms (a type of microalgae that classify under phytoplankton), Spirogyra (a type of green algae), oligochaetes (which include earthworms), and tendipedids (insects that include flies) in a stream inKentucky.​

​What Are The Best Baits Or Lures To Catch Shad?

Grubs, small minnows, worms, and other live baits can be used to catch shad. However, fishermen find that cheaper artificial lures are more effective. These are used to trigger a reaction strike and can be as simple as two beads threaded through the line and a blank hook.​

The most common artificial lure used as shad bait is a shad dart. Shad darts are small jigs with lightweight lead heads and a tinsel, marabou, or feather tail. Other jigs used to catch bluegill and crappieare also effective for shad fishing. Other options are weighted flies, fly fishing tackles, small flutterspoons, and spinners.

Fishing Techniques For Catching Shad​

When they migrate, shads swim at the lower parts of the water column which is why they are often found in channels or the deepest parts of lakes and rivers. Because of this, anglers and spin fishermen use weighted lined or flies to place the bait or artificial lure at the right location and depth.

There is also a thing fishermen call a shad rig, which is Y-shaped and consists of two lures about a feet or two apart with a weight on a line in front or in between them. The lures can either be a shad dart and a spoon spinner or two shad darts. A live grub can also be threaded on the dart.

You can also easily catch shad through drift casting or slow trolling. For example, you can cast upriver and then allow your lure to drift along with the current.​

Shad are easily found during spring when they tend to school together with several other species. However, be mindful about fishing seasons in your location and make sure to release shad species that are out of season.


Shads eat a lot of different things throughout their lifetime. Their food choices and behavior also vary depending on the season, water temperature, ages, species, location, and size. However, you can use small fish, worms, and grubs as bait when fishing for shad. Now you know "what does shad eat?".​

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Louella Trump

Hi there, I’m Louella Trump, an adventurous young lady who loves exploring our beautiful nature by traveling and fishing. I write so as to share my passion and experiences with fellow readers who enjoy fishing and traveling as one of their recreational activities. My primary objective in sharing my experiences while traveling and fishing is to basically inspire any like-minded person out there to stop at nothing and leave no stone unturned in ensuring that they explore their passion as much as they can.

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