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IgotWood

Baitfish lifecycle

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I have been fishing a local lake here in VA this season, and have never noticed any presence of baitfish. I'm sure has to be some kind of bait present considering the abundance and size of the bass, but I have never seen any sign of bait, and there are no reports of any bait on the fish and game websites. 

Yesterday, I saw a few small dead baitfish floating in the surface. They were about an inch long, and silver with a gray back. I'll assume the were some sort of juvenile shad or maybe alwives. My question is when do they spawn? How fast do they grow? And what other ways can I Identify them without catching them?

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Take a picture and someone can probably ID them.

If you have bass, you have baitfish, even if that means bass on bass violence. Small bluegill, crappie, and perch can also be the primary baitfish in a body of water. Bass don't have to have a schooling, pelagic baitfish available to thrive. 

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Bass don't need stuff like Shad or typical minnows to survive. All they need are sunfish/bluegill, or other species like Perch. As well as crayfish. They'll also eat their own, by the way. 

Up here in the northeast, we don't have a lot of Shad present in our lakes, not like there is down south. In some bigger natural lakes, we do have Gizzard shad, and other stuff like Alewive, Golden/Emerald Shiners, Dace, Fathead Minnows, etc. But, in the lakes without Shad, there is usually an abundance of Yellow Perch, as well as Bluegill, Crappie, Pumpkinseed, Redbreast sunfish, etc. Those are all forage fish for Black Bass. The Bass often feed HEAVILY on the Yellow Perch in the reservoirs that I fish every week. Because of that, it's very rare to catch a larger one unless it's through the ice in the winter. Most of them are small 6-8 inches, and the bass gorge on them, especially when they're roaming around in schools and feeding on the surface. Often, you'll see this and then all of a sudden a bass will come up and erupt on them. A lot of hard baits in my box are Perch colored for this reason. The Walleye eat them too. 

It's hard to say what the fish you saw were without a picture. Loads of baitfish have silver/grey tones. Shad typically are wider in profile, while minnows are slender. Could of been fathead minnows. Which one of these pictures did it look MORE like? 

fatheadminnow.jpg

shad525.jpg

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Thanks for the replies! They definitely looked more like that bottom photo. What do they do in the fall? I hear a lot of people talk about bass following shad up into the creeks in the fall. Is that true? When does that begin to happen? 

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If it looked more like the fish on the bottom, then chances are it's a shad of some sort. When they actually move back has a lot of variables, but as the water starts to cool, start at the opening of pockets or creek and work your way back to find them. 

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Up here, we have some shad, but there's also a lot of herring, e.g. alewife.

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If you want to know anything about the biology of whatever is in your waters just run some research. Google is your best friend :) 

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Any local college library will work, and if they have a fisheries/forestry program, their book store will have a book on native fishes for that state.

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Thank you again for the replies. So, I was able to track down a fisheries biologist for my region. He and I have gone back and forth a bit about the two lakes I have in question. He has shared some very valuable information which they have been collecting over the past several years, as well as some information I shared with him. 

Apparently, there are gizzard shad present, but they seem to isolate themselves in only certain parts of the lake at the times they conduct their electro smaples. They have collected gizzards in the 1-2" range (which is probably what I saw), and also in the 4-6". He also said that one of the lakes has a small, but sustainable population of crawfish. He said that they don't find large numbers of them, and that they seem to only find them on one side of the lake. He didn't say what species, but he did say that they tend to be enormous and, "look like lobsters". He believes that the main forage items for the bass are the thousands of ***" yellow perch that they collect each time they conduct their sampling. 

So now my question is, if the gizzard shad stay isolated, where will they be as the water cools throughout the fall? I tend to believe they will gather in the mouths of the several creeks on this lake..? Is this where and when they spawn? If there isn't an enormous abundance of them, will the bass actually hunt and follow their schools? Or just prey on the perch, and craws? 

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46 minutes ago, IgotWood said:

one of the lakes has a small, but sustainable population of crawfish

My understanding is that just about every body of water that can support life has craws.  There's over 300 species in this country.  Some waters might be too acidic for them, though.

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Shad start to spawn when the water is about 75 degrees after the bass have spawned. Some Shad die off annually, some live a few years. Gizzard Shad get to over 15" long, you are seeing young of the year Shad. All Shad species hide in cover at night and move out to feed on zoo plankton if they Gizzard shad. If the Shad prefer one side of the lake it would be the wind blown side because the plankton drift with the waves or current.

Bass will eat small bluegill under 5" if nothing else is available, bluegill are spiny and hard for bass to swallow, they prefer longer skinny fish that are easier to sallow, like perch, crappie and any small baitfish.

A creek arm down south is more like a river arm miles long in big reservoirs, they shad don't go up streams, they stay in the lake.

Do yourself a favor and study the prey types where you fish. Build traps and catch prey that bass eat. This will help you become a better bass angler.

Tom

 

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