How to keep shad alive

  1. The first thing you need to do to keep shad alive is to keep sunscreen out of your bait tank!
  2. have a separate container to put your shad in before they are dumped in your bait tank!
  3. Condition Your Water!!!!!
  4. Have a proper bait tank with plenty aeration
  5. Get a can of oxygen to turn your shad into super shad and help keep them alive.
  6. Change your water fairly often
  7. Keep an eye on your shad! Happy shad tend to sit near the bottom of the bait tank. Fish that are gulping for air at the top of the tank are about to die if you don’t fix your problem!

A simple bucket can make it a lot easier to keep your shad swimming.

I always make sure I have at least a clean 5-gallon bucket that I have prepared and conditioned ready for my shad when they are coming out of the casting net. When shad are dumped into the water they tend to all let out of a bunch of poop that soils the water quickly.

The shad also lose a lot of scales when you catch them and dump them out of the casting net and the scales are notorious for stopping up the filter on your bait tank. This simple steps will help your shad stay alive a lot longer without as much maintenance on your bait tank.

Adding this step of putting shad in a bucket first will help keep your bait tank much cleaner for a lot longer and its easier to change the water in the bucket than it is to change the water in your bait tank.

Keeping sunscreen out of your bait tank is essential to keeping your shad alive!

After applying sunscreen make sure and wash your hands with unscented hand soap and drying with a paper towel when possible. Wear long sleeves and pants with a sun hat when possible to limit how much sunscreen you will need. Take extra care to not touch any part of your body that has sunscreen on it while you are fishing.

Condition your water if you want to keep your bait fish alive and swimming!

After bait tanks full of sunscreen this is the second most common reason for shad to die in the bait tank. You can not skip this step without hurting your shad. Even if you are able to keep your shad alive without conditioning your water they will not be as lively.

I generally start by adding a large handful or two small handfuls of some conditioning salt. This will generally reduce the stress that your fish have while in the bait tank.

It is important that you use non-iodized salt and stay away from any salt that has minerals added for enhanced taste or any other reason. Fish are very sensitive to all of these and your shad will quickly die if you add a bunch of mineral salt to your bait tank.

I then add Tetra water conditioner but I am sure there are many other ones that would work just as well.

The better your bait tank the longer your shad will live.

Notice I did not say the more expensive your bait tank is the longer your shad will live. Most of the effective bait tanks are oval in design and around 40-50 gallons. I have heard of bait tanks being as simple as a 5-gallon bucket with an oxygen tube in the bottom. This particular bait tank was changed often and the fisherman clearly kept a very close eye on his bait. If you tend to focus on the fish you’re trying to catch instead of the ones in your bait tank you need a proper bait tank.

Give your shad a boost of pure oxygen for ultimate longevity!

Without fail your shad will love all of the oxygen you provide them. High-end bait tanks designed for shad will have an easy attachment point for oxygen bottles to make this easy. If you have a lower end bait tank or one missing this feature you can add your own fairly easily.

picture of a massive net of shad caught in colorado. Your time is limited on how long you have before you have to change your water in your bait tank!
Colorado State Workers with a massive net of shad

Change the water in your bait tank fairly often

This can be a pain in the arse but can really contribute to keeping your shad alive longer than all the other fishers out that day. If you have a system where you pre dunk your baitfish you can likely get away with only doing this a couple of times a day but in the heat of the summer, you may have to do in more often in order to keep the water a healthy temperature.

Some Shad are much dirtier than other fish and will require you to clean your tank a lot more often. Naturally, the gizzard shad jumps to mind where if you have something like a yellowtail shad you will not have to change your bait water as often. Although generally the dirtier the baitfish the dirtier water they can handle so if you mix in a few gizzard shad with your yellowtail and they dirty the water your yellowtails would be the first ones to stress and then die.

Keep an eye on your shad if you want to keep them alive!

I am the first to tell you that I have lost a few bait tanks full of shad because I got too focused on the shad on the end of my line and the (hopefully) monster fish lurking around it. If possible check-in on your bait tank every half hour or so to monitor the temperature and take a quick look at your shad.

If they are near the halfway point or lower in your tank they are generally in good shape and happy enough.

If you see fish at the top of the tank gulping for air you need to stop fishing and work on keeping your shad alive, because they are in crisis if you see this.

Frequently asked questions about how to keep your shad alive

1. Do I really have to buy a high dollar bait tank to keep my shad alive the longest?

The short answer is no. If you want to take the time to build your own bait tank it can be done well. That being said the vast majority of fisherman report better longevity from their shad when they have bought a high-end bat tank. If you have a homemade bait tank that can keep your shad alive for beyond 8 hours send us a picture of your setup and we may feature it in an article!

2. What’s the cheapest salt to condition your water with if you fish with shad often?

Many fishermen who are out on the water as much as the rest of wish we could swear up and down that the cheapest salt out there is the salt they sell in 50-pound bags for softening hard water. Just make sure you don’t use any iodized or mineralized version of salt if you want to keep your shad alive!

3. Why can I buy shad at my local bait shop? Is it because they have a hard time keeping them alive?

That’s part of it, While shad is one of the best bait for many game fish it is notoriously hard to keep alive. In the wild shad are plentiful and swim and huge schools making them fairly easy to catch. This combined with it being so hard to keep them alive mean that even if a bait shop does figure out how to keep them alive for a long time it’s hard to command the price you need to for them without causing fishers to go catch their own bait!

4. Now that I know how to keep shad alive what kind of line should I use on my baitcaster when I am fishing them?

This really depends on the fish and your location more than the shad. If you are fishing in an area with a lot of debris and fish that are easily spooked you will likely want to go with something like the Berkley vanish line. It is great because its almost invisible and is tough as nails when it comes to abrasion resistance. It also has great sensitivity. That will allow you to better feel when that striper swallows your shad! If you want a more detailed guide for a fishing line for your baitcaster you can find it here!

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