Keeping Shad Alive

Keeping Shad Alive After you catch them will be a challenge.

Little has been published on the care of Gizzard and Threadfin Shad in captivity.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2018, it is illegal to use any live baitfish, including crayfish, in Arkansas unless:
It was:
Caught within the same body of water where it is being used.

Caught in a tributary entering upstream of the waterbody where it is being used.
Or purchased from a licensed dealer selling only certified farm-raised baitfish.
No baitfish is allowed to move upstream past a dam or barrier that prohibits the normal passage of fish.

Always check your states laws on the use of live bait.

Christopher Scharpf North American Fishes Association wrote that open water, schooling fish like the shad are poor subjects for captivity since they're accustomed to swimming unimpeded over large areas of water.
Life in the confines of a tank is simply too confining.
Shad are extremely nervous unless they are kept in large schools, and overly sensitive to vibrations and environmental changes.
Turning lights on-and-off will send frightened shad bashing into the sides of a tank.
Shad easily lose their loose-fitting scales, which, for such delicate fish, is almost always fatal.
(Shoemaker 1942; Bodola 1965; Reutter and Herdendorf 1974) Wrote shad of all ages are extremely fragile, and handling them or keeping them in captivity is difficult even under the best of circumstances consequently specific habitat requirements can only be assumed from observations and trial and error.

So with the above in mind, the below are some of my observations in my 20 years of using and keeping live shad.

Water quality must be managed when Shad are stressed during capture, hauling and holding.

Adequate water quality and volume will make the difference between healthy, active bait or heavy losses.
Temperature and dissolved oxygen are the two most influential criteria in determining survival of shad in captivity.

Aeration  -  Circulation  -  Filtration -  Temperature

To start with use a round or oval tank with a pump to circulate the water. Circulation helps the shad pull oxygen through their gills.
Keep the Circulation slow, excess water flow will force the baits to swim too hard and consume even more oxygen.

Cool bait is better bait!

Using ice reduces metabolism and oxygen consumption of fish and increases the amount of oxygen that can be dissolved in the water.
(( Caution: Try to limit water temperature change to 5° at a time which also means, in you holding tanks try and keep the temperature within 5° of the water you are fishing in.  )) .
Remember commercial ice has Chlorine.
Take your own treated water, freeze it in containers and use in your bait tanks.


Bad word: "Ammonia"  Ammonia is produced by the shad when they deposit their "waste" in you bait tank. Water changes will help prevent this build up. If you can't change the water, pet shops sell a product called "ammonia-sorb". It helps the bait by absorbing some of the ammonia out of the water that would otherwise build up in your tank. It looks like little white gravel chips. I put a scoop of it in a cloth bag and rinse it in the lake a dip or two to remove the powder that covers it. The bag I use is made is made of mom's old panty hose.

Foam on the surface

If your tank is foaming it is a sign your bait water is out of Balance.
The below methods are for short term help only.
Foam is normally caused by ammonia build up.
You want the water in your tank to mix with the air above it.
If there is foam floating on the top of the water it will prevent the air from transferring oxygen to the water.
You can use a powered dairy creamer if you must - there's also a product called "foam off".
The best cure is changing about 1/2 of the water in you tank and find out the problem.

Adding salt to the water will help by hardening the scales on the shad.
Don't go crazy with it. Add about a cup to 25 to 30 gallons. I've been buying water softener salt in 50# bags from a farmers co-op, its cheap.
Make sure the salt is not ionized and does not contains an anti caking chemical.
Natural sea salt is the best.

These few little "tricks" will help you keep your bait frisky. You want the best bait that you can get hanging on that hook you put down.
A half dead shad just will not do it. You want to have healthy, happy, shad in your tank which in turn will result in great fishing!

Stressed shad don't act normal. Once you've gained experience with shad you'll learn how healthy shad act.  Stress is a condition that causes physical or mental discomfort that results in the release of stress-related hormones or results in specific physiological responses. For example, stressful events will cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, increased blood sugar, and the release of cortisol.

Stress can be physical or environmental. Stress can either be short and sudden, or long and chronic. long-term stress or severe, short-term stress contribute to death in shad.

Symptoms that Shad are Stressed:

Red nose
Excessive lose of scales
Clamped fins
Visible spots, lesions, or white patches
Shad gasping at the surface of the water

Common causes of stress include:

Elevated ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate all create deterioration in shad due to stress.
High levels can cause severe stress, whereas slightly elevated levels can contribute to chronic stress.


pH levels that change abruptly cause acute stress and continually elevated or lowered pH levels can cause chronic stress. Chronic stress is often not visible. It can take weeks and months to develop. Shad can adapt to long-term changes, but there are limits. PH changes of more than 1.5 points below or above recommended levels are going to have a negative effect over time and should never be considered acceptable.


Temperature fluctuations are a much underappreciated stressor of fish. Shad do not tolerate temperature changes very well. You should never change water temperature by more than 10 degrees. Preferably 5 degrees. A 10 degree temperature rise roughly doubles the rate or speeds of many chemical reactions in the water environment. Cooling a system down by 10 degrees slows down the rates of such reactions by a similar factor.


Shad live within very specific salinity levels  (levels of salt in the water). Their bodies work hard to maintain the absorption of Water and Electrolytes between themselves and their environment. If their environmental salinity is not specific to their needs and is not held at a steady level, they have to work harder to maintain their absorption of Water and Electrolytes, which generates chronic stress.


Oxygen levels that are below recommended levels can cause fish to 'breathe' faster than optimum and this can result in chronic stress.
Obviously, very low oxygen levels can lead to severe short-term stress and death.


Overstocking of the tank is a problem that contributes to a lot of stress, from water pollution to oxygen depletion.
Do not overstock your tanks. If you want to stress your fish, put too many in the tank and it will happen every time.
A good number if your keeping shad in a storage tank is 1 shad to 3 gallons of water.
With a good boat bait tank with proper environment a 1-1 ratio will work .


If you add  water condition or medications, make sure you know you are using the correct chemicals and the correct amount.

How you eliminate stress in Shad

Stress is one of the most critical factors in shad keeping. Only by understanding the effects that stress have on shad, as well as being able to identify and prevent common stresses, can we eliminate and treat the stress problem. While it is impossible to eliminate all stress, fortunately we have the ability to limit or prevent many of the causes.

Here is the Biggest reason for stressed Shad:

Nothing stresses shad more than transporting from the wild.
In just a few hours, the shad will be netted, sorted, netted, held, transported, netted and so on through the catch and final release to your holding tank.

Throughout this process they may be exposed to drastic changes in temperature, ammonia, pH, salinity, medications etc. If they are not handled carefully and are not placed in an optimum environment, their stress is going to continue and they will die.

The majority of shad mortalities occur at or near the time of entering a new tank and only through an appreciation of stress and its effect on them can this problem be prevented.

Acute stress is more obvious and needs to be addressed very quickly.

Chronic stress is often not visible, It can take days to develop. If your shad appear to be doing fine, until one day  they die there is probably a source of stress that needs to be identified and remedied.

Temperature of natural waters is an important factor for aquatic life. Each creature is adapted to particular temperatures since fish and other aquatic life have no control over their body temperatures. Water temperature of 95F is considered the maximum for most aquatic life.

Trees and brush provide shade for natural waters such as creeks, ponds, and lakes. When these areas are cleared for construction, the temperature of the water may be raised due to the increase in sunlight on the once shaded area. Changes in water temperature can affect aquatic habitats. This may result in the death of many aquatic creatures.


Dissolved Oxygen

An important gas in water is oxygen. It is referred to as dissolved oxygen or DO. Oxygen is necessary for aquatic life. DO is found in cold water at higher levels than warm waters because oxygen is more soluble in cold waters. Cold waters have a DO measurement of 5.0 mg/L or higher. Oxygen is found in warm water at not less than 4.0 mg/L. Different organisms require different water temperatures and DO amounts. Some examples include carp, which is a warm water fish and lives in water with as little as 3 ppm of oxygen, while largemouth bass require 5 to 8 ppm.


The pH indicates the amount of hydrogen ion concentration.
The acid, neutral, or alkaline nature of materials can be determined by using a pH test.
Natural bodies of freshwater should have a pH of 5.0 to 8.5.
Seawater has a pH content of 8.1.
An acid level of less than 5.0 indicates that mine drainage or acid industrial waste has polluted the water.
Industrial alkaline wastes are indicated when the pH is 8.5 to 9.0.
A neutral pH of 7.0 is considered best for human consumption.

Nitrates (Nitrogen)

Nitrogen (nitrates) are found naturally in bodies of water at low levels. It is essential for plant growth.
Pollution is present when nitrates are found at excessive levels.
Nitrates are found in fertilizer, sewage, industrial, and livestock wastes.
High levels of nitrates when paired with phosphates can stimulate the growth of algae causing fish kills.
A nitrate reading of 0.1 ppm is considered normal; however, it is possible that due to the water source, or sensitivity of the test, a reading of zero may occur.

Phosphorus (phosphates)

Phosphorus (phosphates) is found naturally in bodies of water.
It is a nutrient for aquatic plants and is generally found 0.1 ppm in natural waters.
When phosphorus levels increase, it is a sign that agricultural wastes or wastewater has polluted the body of water.
Several detergents include phosphates (dishwashing and clothes washing products).
The phosphorus increases algal growth which increases oxygen levels from photosynthesis.
Several cloudy days in a row can result in the algae dying.
Oxygen is used in the decomposition of the algae resulting in fish kills due to a lack of oxygen.

Copper salts

Copper salts enter natural waters from industrial waste.
These salts are used in electroplating, photography, textile manufacturing, and pesticides.
A concentration of 0.015 to 3.0 ppm can be harmful to aquatic life.
Copper salts destroy growths of algae which can deplete oxygen supplies.

Feeding Shad

Shad feed primarily on zooplankton, Plankton feeders can be tricky to feed, the key thing being that they need multiple small meals per day to do well.
Shad are a classic example of plankton-feeding fish.

I have used PhytoPlex Phytoplankton from Kent Marine

Shad can be fed live baby brine shrimp. As they grow they can sometimes be weaned over to fine grain foods, but small live foods, such as adult brine shrimp, should always be part of their diet.

In one laboratory experiment, Threadfin Shad were maintained on a diet of live daphnia, chironomid larvae (bloodworms), and tubifex worms.


According to fisheries ecologist Karin E. Limburg, laboratory experiments on Shad metabolic rates in response to schooling density show that a good rule for keeping shad is definitely "the more, the merrier" .

The more shad that were in a tank, the lower their metabolic rates. "I'm sure there's a break-point where oxygen stress and the buildup of ammonia would counteract the benefits of schooling with large numbers of other shad," Dr. Limburg adds, "but we certainly did not reach that threshold.

Finally, Dr. Limburg advises that sea salt is a great aid in times of stress.
She used a salt solution of 5 ppt when she transferred fish, and found that larvae had the lowest mortality and best growth at 10 ppt (as opposed to 0 and 20 ppt).

Tanks should be as large as possible, with a large, open swimming area and efficient (but gentle) wet/dry filtration.

Use a circular rank; shad swim constantly and tend to accumulate in the corners of a rectangular tank.

Since shad are constantly swimming, feed a high-energy diet of small krill in the morning and Tetramin flakes throughout the day with the use of an automatic feeder.

Once shad are settled scale loss  should be minimal.

In one laboratory experiment,

Threadfin Shad were maintained in 40-gallon tanks on a diet of live daphnia, chironomid larvae (bloodworms), and tubifex worms.

A key to Shad  survival in captivity it seems, is light handling and quick transport from the field.

Native fish enthusiast Michael Hissom dip nets Threadfin Shad as they congregate at the bottom of a lake spillway. Here the fish are easy to catch -- which reduces handling-related stress and loss of their deciduous (easily shed) scales .
(Adding some salt to the water also helps reduce stress.) Hissom keeps about a dozen Threadfin Shad in a 125-gallon aquarium where they feed on micro-pellets. McLane (1955) reports catching Threadfin Shad at night with a flashlight; the fish were attracted to the beam and literally jumped out of the water onto dry sand at McLane's feet.

Gizzard Shad are displayed at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, but even here aquarists admit that the fish are delicate and that few of the shad they catch -- about one in 200 -- survive the journey from stocking ponds to the aquarium.

The few that do survive, however, readily accept prepared food and live a long time.

 By Ben Sanders

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Stress Loss Causes and Effect on Shad.

Keeping Shad Alive in Bait Tanks

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