Pictured above: The SteelShad’s versatility makes it effective for both freshwater and saltwater species. Photo by Shawn Hayes-Costello
Traditionally used for cold-water smallmouth fishing, the SteelShad’s versatility makes it a solid addition to the fall-run plug bag or boat box.
Bladebaits have long been associated with cold-water fishing for smallmouth bass. The shad-like profile, fast sink rate, and strong vibrations make vertical jigging a bladebait a great imitation of the winter-kill baitfish that deep-water smallmouth feast on. Many different bladebaits are designed for this precise purpose, and many excel at it, but few bladebait manufacturers dare to think outside of that smallmouth box—except, that is, for the SteelShad.
Made of malleable stainless steel with a lead keel, the SteelShad looks superficially like many other bladebaits. The difference, however, lies in its versatility.
The SteelShad’s packaging says it all: “Any Depth, Any Fish,” and the website’s testimonials page supports the claim. There, you’ll see pictures of fishermen holding everything from sunnies to tuna caught on the SteelShad.
The lure can be modified on the spot by bending the blade, made of malleable 440 stainless steel. One of the most popular modifications is bending the blade at a 45-degree angle at the letter “d” in SteelShad. This forces the lure to swim near the surface on a straight, slower retrieve, allowing fishermen to work it over weeds or in shallow water. Bending the lure in a “U” just behind the weight will cause it to spin and thrash on the surface like a buzzbait.
The original SteelShad weighs 3/8 ounce and is 2½ inches long. It was designed by Kentucky Lake fisherman, B.A. Gills. For decades, fishermen working the deep ledges of Kentucky Lake used the classic lure, the Silver Buddy, to catch their bass. Gills sought to improve on the Silver Buddy’s design, creating the SteelShad.
Gill’s design became available for sale in 2008. He enlisted the help of Florida fishing pro, Captain Steve Niemoeller, in promoting the lure. The SteelShad became regionally popular throughout Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky, but it wasn’t until Stephen Price of Manchester, Vermont, fished with Niemoeller that the SteelShad began gaining traction throughout the United States.
Price was fishing Lake George, a part of the St. John’s River in Florida, casting SteelShads to schooling bass. Price let the lure sink a bit before beginning his retrieve, and hooked and landed a 9½-pound largemouth. “That’s when I realized I wanted to get involved with the company,” Price explained.
Now the CEO of SteelShad Fishing Company, Price helped bring the SteelShad to the Northeast, where the original SteelShad was already being used on smallmouth, largemouth, and walleye.
In early September 2017, SteelShad introduced the XL Series. Niemoeller had been after a larger version of the lure for years, one that he could use to imitate larger baitfish in fresh water and also use in the salt.
The saltwater-sized ¾-ounce, 3 ¾-inch SteelShad matches mullet, peanut bunker, and juvenile herring, making it a solid addition to the fall-run plug bag or boat box. Vertical jigging the lure from the boat tempts stripers, while burning it back through the surf is a good way to lock horns with a big bluefish. The compact shape of the SteelShad XL allows for long casts and a fast sink rate, traits that make it useful for both boat and surf fishermen.
Anglers have also been having success adding the original SteelShad to their saltwater arsenal. Trolled at 5 to 7 knots, the bait—with upgraded hooks—has proven itself with bonito, Spanish mackerel, and even keen-eyed false albacore.
The SteelShad XL is available in two finishes, silver and gold. The gold seems to work best at first and last light, and in murky water. The silver finish shines when the sun is high. The original SteelShad comes in five patterns, gold and silver, as well as fire tiger, rainbow trout, and crawfish.