Rolling Shad For Big Trout

By Danny Layne | 08/21/2013

I’ve been rolling shad since New Melones Reservoir was filled in 1981. Back then, the easiest way to catch big trout was rolling shad in the summer and fall. Since then, and to this day, when Melones and Don Pedro are super healthy you can see the bass and the trout driving the shad to the surface. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the trout eat shad.

It’s as simple as mimicking the hatch. If you see them pounding bait balls find that bait and use it. And, that’s what we do. Everyone that catches trout and cleans them knows the rainbows gorge themselves on shad here and in just about every reservoir in the state.

Sure, you can catch them on night crawlers and lures, but why not make it easier on yourself and troll what they are eating most. Shad is their natural forage. On a normal reservoir in California there’s shad in most of them. This can be applied with minnows and other baitfish that are found closer to you.

Shad is rainbow’s fastest meal ticket to getting bit in these waters. The entire fish population in our reservoirs revolves around threadfin shad. Using dead shad for bait is an easy way to catch lots of trout and bigger trout.

Some anglers use dip nets to obtain shad, but the easiest way is to go to your local tackle store. They all have night crawlers, anchovy, sardines, mealworms and shad. They are normally harvested in The Delta and sold throughout the state. If the bait shop sells bait, they’ll have frozen shad. It’s about $3.99 a pack, normally. That comes with 50 baits.

Personally, I’ve brined shad for ages, but that can be time consuming, messy and requires a lot of mixing. I use Fire Brine on all my shad before trolling them. The brine does many things to enhance the bait, but most importantly preserves it, enabling it to last longer, which also saves you time and money by buying less bait and making what you buy fish longer.


The brine also tightens up the shad so it doesn’t break apart as quickly when you are trolling and the color and UV properties can’t be overlooked.

Most of the time when you are trolling shad you are trolling deep. Down below 20 feet the light is fading fast. And, at 80 feet there isn’t much visibility. By using the chartreuse, blue and green it gives you more of a chance down deep. Those colors show up better and the chartreuse and green Fire Brine is UV.


Particularly in California where it’s hot bait doesn’t last unless brined and kept cool. When it gets hot the bait will get soft, but if you brine it the bait will last and all 50 baits will be usable for a few fishing trips as long as you take care of them. When on the water keep them in an ice chest.

For those of you who used to try and make your own brines, like I did, it’s time to move forward. Fire Brine is simple to use and effective. You don’t have to go add and mix salt, powdered milk, dyes, etc. It’s the complete package. You take the cap off, pour the liquid in and 24 hours later it’s ready to fish.


Oh, How Easy It Is

Step 1: Pour ½ bottle of Fire Brine (I like chartreuse, blue, green and natural) into a Ziploc or container.

Step 2: Add shad.

Step 3: Close container/Ziploc and let brine for 24 hours

When trolling shad it’s as easy as trolling a lure or flasher and night crawler combo. See the attached photo for rigging information.

Note: If you aren’t going to use them right away place them in the freeze. I’ll freeze them with liquid in them. After going fishing, you can refreeze them once or twice, but when I do this, I’ll drain the liquid first.


Editor’s Note: Veteran fishing guide Danny Layne operates Fish ‘n Dan’s Guide Service in California’s Motherlode Region. To learn more about his trips please visit