Shoal Bass Basics
Shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae)
Located in the southeastern United States, the shoal bass is a small bass fish species. They typically reach between 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) in length and weigh 2-4 lb (0.9-1.8 kg).
The world record shoal bass, recognized by the International Game Fish Association, weighed 8 lb 12 oz (3.96 kg) and was caught in the Apalachicola River in 1995.
NT – Near Threatened
Also Known As
Until 1999, the shoal bass was not recognized as a stand-alone species and was considered a subspecies of the redeye bass.
Today, it doesn’t go by any other names but is commonly mistaken for smallmouth and redeye bass.
Identifying the shoal bass quickly can be challenging, even for a seasoned fisherman. For quick reference, look for their prominent red eyes and a small dark blotch on the back edge of the gill cover.
The shoal bass’s body is olive to bronze in color with a pale underbelly and decorated with prominent horizontal stripes. Their two dorsal fins are connected and have a total of 9-11 spines. They also boast a distinctive sizeable dark spot around the base of the tail.
Know the Difference
Shoal bass are commonly mistaken for redeye, smallmouth, and largemouth bass. Hybridization is very common and one of the leading factors in the decline of the species. Certain states and waterways have different laws regarding the shoal bass, so be sure to educate yourself before venturing out.
You can tell the difference between redeye and shoal bass by inspecting their fins. Shoal bass lack red coloration and white margins on their fins and tail, a trait observable in redeye bass.
Smallmouth and largemouth bass lack a prominent dark spot at the base of the tail. In addition, the two dorsal fins on a shoal bass are connected, which isn’t the case for largemouth bass.
A Note on Spawning
Shoal bass spawn in temperatures ranging from 64-79°F (18-26°C), generally occurring between April and mid-June. Males will prepare and guard their nests for the duration of the spawn.
Shoal bass spawn in coarse gravel areas within creek pools or near water inlets (if residing in a pond or lake). A small creek pool will usually only have one dominant bass nesting there.
How to Catch Shoal Bass
The shoal bass is an isolated member of the black bass family, located exclusively in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Shoals are most commonly found in Georgia, with the Apalachicola, Chipola, and Flint Rivers being renowned for the beautiful shoal bass they hold. They also have a strong preference for rocky shallows.
Unlike smallmouth bass, shoals do not thrive in extreme currents and, conversely, cannot survive in deep stagnant lakes, like the largemouth bass. Moderate currents with oxygen-rich water are ideal, although they can be found in some lakes, such as Lake Blackshear and West Point Lake.
Favorite Feeding Spots
Search for shoals around current breaks which have a steady flow of water. Deep water bends, submerged sandbars, and rocky outcroppings are all excellent spots to find shoal bass. If lake fishing, look for inlets, as moving water is required to attract this coveted bass species.
Spillways provide a nice feeding area for shoals, as smaller fish struggle to handle the current and serve as an easy snack.
Shoal bass can only be found in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida
Fishing for shoals in the winter can be highly productive, especially compared to other bass species. The shoal bass’s geographical range protects them from the extreme cold temperatures that their northern cousins endure.
When a cold snap does occur, search for shoals around springs and other inlets that provide warmer water. Outstanding success can be achieved fishing close to water treatment plants and field drain tiles. Shoal bass residing in lakes and ponds migrate to deeper regions during winter, so keep this in mind if targeting fish here.
Shoal bass fishing is best done in the spring. This is when the fish are most aggressive, particularly pre- and mid-spawn. During this time, make sure you’re targeting spawning areas, and hold on to your rod!
Take note of the insects buzzing around you. Plenty of fly fishermen have incredible sessions during the spring when insect numbers are high. For the best results, ensure you match your flies and casting technique to your fishing environment.
Sometimes overlooked, fly fishing is a very productive approach for shoals
When summer fishing for shoal bass, locate the cooler water, especially when the temperature peaks. Bends in large rivers and creeks are particularly great areas to target. The terrain on the outside edge of the bend deepens, providing cooler temperatures that fish actively seek out.
Higher water levels may lead to stronger currents in early summer, so try fishing the isolated areas with calmer water. Shoals tend to frequent these areas and use them for rest. These areas include rock piles, eddies, and in some cases merging currents will provide an excellent staging area. Take advantage of the times of day when temperatures are lower; overcast days, early morning, and even night fishing can produce fish.
Fall fishing is also a great time for shoal bass fishing as the weather and scenery provide a comfortable fishing experience. Search for areas rich in oxygen where there’s a mixing water flow. Spillways make extremely effective areas in the fall months.
Shoal bass have a diet similar to other bass species. Crayfish are at the top of the list, along with other small fish, including shad, bream, and catfish. Insects, hellgrammites, frogs, mice, and even small snakes also contribute to their natural diet.
One common misconception with shoals is that they won’t hit on large baits. This is not true. Shoals have a hunter’s instinct and will hit lures intended for much larger fish.
Shoal bass strike for two reasons: to defend their territory or because they are hungry. In slow-running water, live bait performs spectacularly well. Black leeches, horse leeches, earthworms, and minnows consistently get shoal bass on the bank.
In faster-flowing water, try throwing some lures. Soft lures like minnows and hellgrammites are nicely complimented with a colored jig head.
Crankbaits can also be effective but should match the speed and size of your body of water. Brightly colored minnow/crawfish cranks are effective on clear days, with darker colored cranks preferred after rain or on overcast days.
Soft plastic hellgrammite lures can work well for catching shoal bass
1. Float Fishing
Float fishing in rivers and large streams is a great way to cover a lot of shoal bass territory quickly. Cast off upriver from the stretch of water you’re targeting and ensure you have an exit or takeout point.
When strategizing a float trip, take note of the water level, as this affects your travel speed. A stretch that usually takes 4 hours to complete could easily take 8 if the water level is down.
Your first hour of floating should be spent experimenting with different lures and tactics. See what the fish are hitting on to make the rest of your float session a success.
Don’t underestimate the power of an overnight float session either; shoals are known to be prolific nighttime feeders.
Float fishing from a kayak or canoe can be an incredibly enjoyable and productive way to spend the afternoon
2. Bank Fishing
Bank fishing provides a great way to enjoy catching shoal bass and a safe opportunity to bring youngsters with you. Wear dark-colored clothing and give some distance between you and the area you believe the fish are in.
In thickly vegetated areas, use a smaller setup, maybe your favorite ultra-light.
Don’t forget about fly fishing. Shoal bass are prime targets for the fly fisherman and provide excellent sport when fished for. If you are taking the fly rod, take some waiters with you to give you better angles on hot spot areas.
Top Tips for Catching Shoal Bass
Tip 1: Be Educated
Shoal bass are a niche species and are highly sought after. All three states that produce shoals have different management guidelines and regulations. Furthermore, different waterways may also have additional rules for the species.
Read up on your area and talk to the locals at your bait shop. Ask what bugs are out, what they are feeding on, current water levels, or where the spawning cycle is. Use maps to identify potential shoal bass hot spots in rivers and lakes. All of this will help you save valuable fishing time.
Tip 2: Stay Positive
It’s called fishing, not catching. Despite being a small bass fish, shoals are aggressive river fish, and will always put up a good fight. This so true, that they may even feel bigger on the line than they actually are.
Be sure to bring a net to help land them for both bank and float fishing. If you have trouble hooking shoals, try adjusting your timing. As with smallmouths, shoal bass tend to strike rather than grab the bait. So be ready to set the hook immediately.
Remember, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work!
Remember to have fun and enjoy yourself