By Brian Brosdahl
A system is only as good as the weakest link. That's a profound statement and applies to everything from a football team to stereo systems. Think about it. Well, in fishing, it also pertains to the freshwater shrimp - or scud as they're referred to on the ice.
They'll never make it into a shrimp cocktail or even grow to scampi size, but they certainly fill a niche in the freshwater food chain. Scuds are a staple dietary item on many bodies of water, and a more important food source than you might realize.
Lakes that do contain scuds tend to produce tape-measure bluegills, crappies and perch. The key is availability. Baitfish are scarce at times. Aquatic invertebrates (immature insects) aren't always out in the open. Shrimp snacks, on the other hand, are always being served. Panfish might have to search-out the mother lode, but there's always a cloud of scud somewhere out there.
One sign of a lake being shrimp-free is finding empty stomachs while cleaning fish. Again, shrimp are the slow moving, easy to catch, fail-safe food. Panfish will literally go hungry at times, on some lakes, when shrimp aren't available. In fact, the absence of shrimp can diminish the overall size structure of panfish on a given lake. Scuds are a stop-gap in the food chain, ensuring that there's always food on the table.
Freshly found shrimp indicate that panfish are likely nearby. To first find shrimp, though, you need to know a little about their required habitat and dietary needs. Shrimp love vegetation. Large mats of weeds covering largely soft bottoms make for ideal habitat. Shrimp are omnivorous, dining on both detritus (decaying organic matter) and live critters, such as bloodworms (mayfly larvae) and daphnia (zooplankton), all of which share parallel surroundings.
Shrimp, like panfish, will also wait for zooplankton to rise in the water column, which generally occurs during low-light periods and into nightfall. I've seen this happen on open water, too. The Humminbird shows a cloud of bigger marks (shrimp) tracking smaller marks (zooplankton).
The volume of scuds in a lake also affects actual fishing success. If a lake is wall-to-wall with scuds, the fish are scattered and hungry less often. I prefer lakes with sizable but isolated populations of scuds. This keeps panfish on the prowl.
Fish recognize forage based on their profiles. Not always is a scud's color and pattern obvious, but its silhouette is omnipresent. That curled shape; those dangling legs; that flexing tail. It's hard to reproduce with a lure, though. With that inspiration, I designed Bro's Scud Bug, part of Bro's Bug Collection from Northland Fishing Tackle.
The emphasis is on realism. Not only does the Scud Bug physically resemble a freshwater shrimp; it swims like one. The hinged tail straightens and returns to its curled posture with every pull. Shrimp propel with a compound action. So does the Scud Bug.
From a technique standpoint, whether you're fishing a Scud Bug or some other plastic, there are key strokes that aim to mimic the real thing. Freshwater shrimp move in short bursts, kicking with their tails. Between motions they pause and gently fall, making up for the drop with the next kick. The action is easy to replicate. Make 2 inch or so pulls with the rod tip, following each jig with a limp-line freefall. Maintain the cadence while gradually working your way up the water column. Strikes typically come on the pause. And if you mark fish but they're uncooperative, go to a modest quiver. Maintain the action for 5 to 10 seconds between bursts.
You'll want a rod with a soft tip as well; something that promotes the soft stroke. I'm partial to longer, strike-signaling rods like the 24-inch quick tip Bro's Series Combo from Frabill. Spring bobbers are also effective for indicating strikes and making a smooth-moving, natural presentation.
Modern soft plastics nail the fluid motion of native forage, but not the scent. Only live bait can achieve that. My solution is threading a single waxworm or maggot up the hook shank and hiding it under the belly of the Scud Bug. This adds seductive scent while not jeopardizing the desired action.
Okay, so scud isn't the most flattering 4-letter word, but neither are the street names for burbot (lawyer), dogfish (bowfin) or junk fish (carp and other bottom feeders). "Scud," however, is music to the ears (lateral lines) of crappies, bluegills and perch.