Tim Vaughn’s float, split-shot and gob of worms on a No. 4 hook arced through the air and plopped down on the surface of Black Shoals Lake. After a moment, the weight of the split-shot righted the stick-float, which bobbed on the surface. We were ready for a shellcracker to hit.
On April 18, I was on Black Shoals with Tim Vaughn of McDonough and Tim’s 10-year-old son Taylor for a preview of what should be great shellcracker fishing in May.
Black Shoals, a 650-acre water-supply reservoir in Rockdale County, has been open only since May of 2000. Already it has established itself as an exceptional bass-fishing lake for the trolling-motor-only anglers. It is also renowned for crappie fishing, with numbers of slabs weighing more than three pounds being caught.
The lake also has a less-well-known, but exceptional shellcracker population, and pound for pound, shellcracker are as fun a fish to catch as Georgia offers.
When a shellcracker hits, you know it. A bluegill will often sample the worm on your hook. Your float may twitch and bob while the fish considers the bait. Then the float may be pulled beneath the surface.
Not with shellcracker. When a shellcracker hits, it’s like your hook suddenly snagged a fast-moving freight train, your float rips violently sideways, and the fight is on.
After a few minutes of sitting motionless on the surface, Tim’s float jarred suddenly to the side and submerged. He picked up the rod, snapped his wrist to set the hook, and a half-pound shellcracker thrashed sideways left, sideways right, before coming into the boat.
For pure fishing fun, fishing a gob of pink worms under a float on a shellcracker bed is hard to beat — and that is just what is available at Black Shoals this month.
When it comes to bream fishing, May means shellcracker. Bluegill also go on the bed in May, and they will continue to bed every 28 days all summer. For shellcracker, aka redear, bedding happens once in May.
According to WRD Fisheries Biologist Chris Martin, Black Shoals has high potential for some bragging-sized shellcracker. Over the past two years during annual fall electro-fishing sampling on the lake Chris has seen good numbers of shellcracker in the 1- to 1-1/2-lb. range.
Tim Vaughn knows a thing or two about bream fishing. The lakes at Clybel are some of his favorite places to be fishing when bream are bedding. His best shellcracker there, out of Lower Raleigh Lake, weighed a whopping 2 1/2-pounds.
Black Shoals is new fishing territory for Tim, and it offers a lot of opportunity.
“This is not a farm pond,” he said. “It is a lot of water to fish.”
When you are on new water, Tim recommends using what you know, and all that you can learn from others who have fished the lake to get started. Then you have to get on the water to do your own scouting. He said to concentrate your bream-bed-searching efforts in the backs of pockets and coves in water two- to four-feet deep that has a hard, sandy substrate. Bream won’t bed on rocks, and they don’t like it too muddy. If a cove or cut has a creek or ditch running into it to bring runoff and sand, so much the better. And if the water is relatively clear, as Black Shoals usually is, you will be able to see the light-colored, round beds that are fanned out of the sand.
As you leave the ramp at Black Shoals and head down the lake, you will pass a good-sized cove on the right. On the downlake side of the cove is a small, barely out of the water island. Between the island and the shore is a wide saddle. This saddle, which ranges down to about five-feet deep across the 50-yard distance is a prime shellcracker bedding area. We caught a few scattered shellcracker on this blow-through the day we fished, but we were a couple of weeks early and the fish were not bedding. By the first week of May, with water temperatures hitting the 70-degree mark, this saddle should be pock-marked with shellcracker beds.
Ultra-light rods will make fighting a shellcracker more fun. After that, the tackle is simple: a hook, a split-shot and a float. Tim opts for the slightly larger No. 4 bait hook for shellcracker rather than a No. 6 hook that many bream fishermen use.
“A shellcracker has a bigger mouth,” he said. “And you can get a bigger gob of worm on the hook to hide it.”
Pink worms are Tim’s top pick to dress the hook, but crickets, red wigglers and pieces of nightcrawlers will all catch fish when the fish are on the bed and aggressive, he says.
You can catch them on artificials, too. A Beetle Spin running through a bedding area is asking to get slammed. A small Keystone jig fished under a small float and retrieved through a bedding area is also likely to get thumped. Small, flashy spinners like a Rooster Tail will also catch these aggressive panfish.
Some anglers use the artificials as fish-finders, casting to the bank as they look for bedding areas. Once they locate bedding fish they stop, anchor and put out worms under floats.
Tim recommends a stealthy approach to fishing a bedding area.
“When I see a bunch of beds, I fish the edges first,” he said. “If you cast right to the middle and catch a fish, it will scatter the rest of them. They will bite longer if you work the edges first.”
Because shellcrackers usually feed on the bottom, rig your worms so that they dangle just off the bottom.
Tim says he fishes when he has a chance, but that the fish are more active on the new and full moons. Bedding activity is usually considered best in the few days leading up to the full moon. The new moon in May is May 8, the full moon is May 23.
How good can the fishing be on a hot shellcracker bed?
“You can’t fish but one pole,” said Tim. “A lot of people get greedy and try to fish more than one, but it is too much work, and they are missing out on the fun of just catching a fish.”
Tim says May is also a great time to bring a kid fishing. When the fish are on the bed they are easy to catch. There is lots of fishing excitement to keep a young angler’s attention.
“When you expose a kid to bream fishing, they will be hooked on fishing,” said Tim. “The catch is that they may think fishing is that good all the time.”