Baitfish Profiles: Gizzard Shad

Gizzard Shad baitfish

When fishing the vast freshwater areas of Florida’s natural and manmade lakes, live bait can be a virtual guarantee of a phenomenal day on the water. Baitfish that reside in those waterways are often the ticket to a Trophy Catch (FWC’s notoriety program that recognizes largemouth bass 8 pounds or above) and regularly yield 10+ pounders to those in the know.

Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) are an excellent choice when seeking to tempt those big-mouthed green backs to bite, and have been sought-after for their heartiness, ease of capture and abundance in almost all of Florida’s freshwater systems.

The gizzard shad is a species of small herring-like fish found throughout much of the U.S. and Canada; however, in the warm waters of Florida, these bait fish are plentiful and LARGE. One of the keys to getting big fish to eat, the old saying says: “Big bait equals big fish”.

They are sometimes referred to as gizzard shiners, gizzard shad shiners, gizzard herring or hickory shad. These shad are silver in color, with a deeply forked caudal fin and an upper jaw that extends beyond the lower lip. They typically measure between 2-6 inches, however, regularly are found at much greater lengths, weighing in at 2-3 pounds. The current Florida state record for the gizzard shad is a whopping 5.19 pounds, which would be a mammoth bait to sling around your local canal, pond, Storm Management Retention Basin or other freshwater estuary.

Gizzard Shad baitfish

Gizzard shad’s reputation speaks for itself; they are the bait of choice, even sometimes preferred above wild golden shiners, due to the greater likelihood of shad being in the waterways associated with Trophy Catch bass. The gizzard shad can be found in dense schools near the surface of fast-moving waters, especially near locks and other manmade water movement structures of the vast Storm Water Management Systems throughout the state. Their prevalence in the water systems of the state mark them as a staple food source for largies, but they’re also a great bait for freshwater-locked snook or tarpon, in addition to catfish and other species present.

These baits can be fished free lined, on a bobber or on the bottom, and will yield a wide array of species; they are often used for peacocks and clown knife fish in the South Florida areas where these predators are present. Rigging these baits is much like any other bait fish. They can be hooked through the nose for a more natural swim, through the back just behind the dorsal fin, or through the belly if the angler desires the fish to swim lower in the water column.

Attracting these fish is easy, even if they are not schooling at the surface. They can be lured in with pig-feed (a trick used by many bass charter captains when running water isn’t present) or bread. A small handful of either attractant left in an area open to cast-netting can create a large school of fish in a half-hour to 45 minutes; then simply toss the net and haul in your catch!

If you want to catch your personal best and gizzard shad is present, the term “match the hatch” was never more relevant. Good luck!