By Luke Clayton
Each spring, usually around the end of April and well into May, shad move to the shallows to spawn and the first couple of daylight often produces line stretching action on every game fish species in the lake. Catfish, white bass, hybrids and stripers and largemouth bass move into the shallows to feed on the easy pickings.
A fishing trip this past week with Cedar Creek Lake guide Jason Barber proved this statement to be spot on. The trick is getting on the water at first light, throwing the cast net a couple times somewhere near the shoreline in shallow water to catch shad for bait and then heading --- post haste --- to a windblown shoreline. On last week’s outing, my buddy Jeff Rice and I met Barber and his son Jacob at Sandy Shores Marina at daybreak. The father and son team caught bait with a couple tosses of the cast net and we were off to fish along a rock bulkhead.
Many years ago, I was visiting with my longtime friend, the legendary Bill Dance. I remember commenting to Bill that the wave action had pushed shad up close to the shore, which was the reason for the great bass fishing.
Bill’s reply made a lot of sense to me. “Luke, don’t you think these shad can swim where they wish to, even against the current? It’s not the wave action that causes them to be up shallow during early morning. It’s the zooplankton on the submerged vegetation that the shad are feeding upon that causes them to go shallow at night in the warmer water and remain there the first couple hours of daylight during their spawn.”
I’d been aware of the excellent shallow water fishing because of the heavy presence of shad for years but until my friend explained the cause to me, I never fully understood the “why” of their presence each spring.
As Barber eased the throttle back on his boat, an easy cast from the rock retaining wall, Jacob dropped the anchor and the boat came about on a taunt anchor rope. We soon had threadfin shad rigged on small, stout hooks with just enough weight to make casting easy.
“We have been hammering blue and channel catfish here and big schools of white bass are moving in to feed. We should have no problem getting you guys the makings of a humongous fish fry,” Barber said.
We didn’t have long to wait for the action to begin. The wake from our boat had no more than dissipated on the water’s surface when the blue catfish began hitting our baits. I was connecting with about half the bites, the “eater” blues, weighing between 2 and 4 pounds were on a very aggressive bite and hitting the baits hard. If we weren’t ready to set the hook quickly, the fish had the bait and was gone.
We all settled down to the current pattern and kept tension on our lines. In a matter of minutes, we had boated 10 or 12 fish and then a school of white bass moved in. Their bite was more tentative than that of the catfish, often pecking the bait once and then picking it up in a serious attempt to eat. The trick was to stay attuned to our baits via a taunt line and when we actually felt the weight of the fish, rear back and set the hook. I began cranking the reel handle slowly, which caused the shad to move along bottom. With this method, even the slightest bite is detected and the tension on the line often creates an instant hook set.
Out catch was truly a smorgasbord. We even caught several good eating freshwater drum. When Barber asked if we wished to keep and eat them, he gave an understanding nod when I replied that we did. Smaller drum are excellent eating. Barber, who I have fished with for years, and I have a running joke about keeping those slimy “trash” fish. Drum aren’t listed as a game fish but they are very hard fighters and tasty when fried crispy in hot cooking oil.
Barber’s plan was to fish the leeward side of a submerged point for hybrid stripers after the first couple hours of shallow water action. The wind was a bit too strong for the open water fishing so, with a cooler full of catfish and white bass, we headed to the sheltered side of a point and switched from shad to lead slabs. I’m sure more white bass are caught with slabs than any other bait, especially in Texas. The trick here was to make long casts and retrieve by “hopping” the baits along bottom. We spent thirty minutes or so ‘slabbing’ for the plentiful and aggressive white bass and then headed back to the fish cleaning station at Sandy Shores.
We Texans are blessed with many lakes such as Cedar Creek that provide excellent fishing for several species. We left the lake with several gallons of tasty fillets and that contented feeling one gets from spending time in the outdoors with great friends, good “medicine” for these trying times we are all experiencing right now.
Contact Luke via his website www.catfishradio.org. Guide Jason Barber at www.kingscreekadventures.com or call (903) 603-2047.