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Shad, Herring, Shiners and Creek Chubs

February 18, 2015
By

By Chris Erwin

If you are a sport or meat fisherman knowing the relationship between forage fish and sport fish will put you ahead of many anglers. Today we will touch on a few of them and how you can improve your odds by putting that knowledge to use.

Before we start, we need briefly to go over just what is in Kentucky waters. Then we will narrow down, which are the most important in relation to sport fishing success.

When I talk to people and ask them how many species of fish swim in Kentucky waters, I usually get an answer around 20. Some will guess as high as 50 or even 75. The truth is they are 244 native fish species and another 19, which have been introduced either on purpose or by accident.

The Gizzard shad. This schooling, forage fish is the staple of most eastern Kentucky lakes. It grows to about 20 inches and can withstand cold water, giving it a better survival rate in our lakes. (Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The Gizzard shad. This schooling, forage fish is the staple of most eastern Kentucky lakes. It grows to about 20 inches and can withstand cold water, giving it a better survival rate in our lakes. (Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Many of these fish are never going to be on your list to know about. Lampreys, darters, eels and other small creek dwellers play a part in the ecosystem, but have a very small impact on fishermen in their quest to catch fish.

On the other hand, shad, shiners, herring, and creek hubs are the most common of the forage species of fish, which play a much bigger role in sport fishing.

We also have minnows, which belong to the shad or shiner family, in addition to alewifes, which below to the Herring family. Alewifes were introduced as a forge fish, mostly for stripe bass. Local minnows, for the most part, fall within the shiner family. They belong to the topminnow family, which includes three minnow species.

In eastern Kentucky, the Gizzard shad, threadfin shad, golden and striped shiner and few in the carp family play the largest role in sport fishing. These species tend to school up in large numbers creating a bait target. By locating them in different times of the, you can improve your chances of success.

I bring this up now because for the remainder of late winter and early spring fishing season, sport fish will be focusing on them until other food sources like crawfish, worms and insects emerge. At this point, it may be useful to go over the seasonal food chain to understand why fishermen use different baits at different times of the year.

Thread-fin shad grow to about six inches. This shad is slowly disappearing from eastern Kentucky waters because of its inability to withstand cold water, and the decision by state officials to stop stocking them. (Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Thread-fin shad grow to about six inches. This shad is slowly disappearing from eastern Kentucky waters because of its inability to withstand cold water, and the decision by state officials to stop stocking them. (Courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

In winter and early spring, the fish will be feeding on shad or one of the other schooling species of forage fish. By locating and fishing near these fish you will have your highest chances of success. As the season moves later into spring, some of the fish will move to the bank to forge on crawfish, worms and insects.

When we get to late spring, fish begin to focus on young hatched offspring like bluegills, crappie, and bass. Many anglers believe this is the easiest time of the season to catch fish because many predators are in shallow water, which makes them easy to find. This time also includes a period I call “cruising feeders.” During this period you can see predators working the flats and creekheads looking for an easy meal.

As we move into mid-summer, we start to see fish move into deeper water, and the shad and other schooling forage fish become high on the list of desirable targets. This is when fish finders once again begin to earn their keep.

Learn to recognize other key elements too, like where the thermocline, the layer of water holding the most oxygen, is; and to find structures, which can be anything from a submerged tree to an old house site, which act as ambush spots for moving shad or other schooling forage fish. The key is the forage fish but getting a lay of the lake bottom will give you a better advantage when presenting your offering.

As fall takes over, the movements of forage fish with give you clues of what and where to throw your baits. As we progress to each season, I will cover the basics in deeper detail.

We are only weeks away from a spring awaking.

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