The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing! 






the ultimate fish food!

by Max Hunn
Spring 1998

For day in and day out successfull saltwater baitfishing, nothing is better than a shrimp cocktail -- naturally minus the sauce humans prefer. Using shrimp is almost a guarantee of fish in the boat, if you're fishing productive waters and fishing properly.

On days when artificials fail, when cut bait is ineffective, the angler using shrimp -- either live or dead -- usually scores. When you can't score with shrimp, fishing, indeed, is horrible.

Tiny in comparison to the fish that feast upon them, shrimp are the prime natural food for most of the fish in the sea. Properly present a shrimp, and you're virtually assured of action. Whether you set the hook and eventually land the bait grabber depends upon your fishing ability.

Whether you're a bridge fisherman, a pier angler, a bank expert or a boat angler, you soon realize that shrimp are the BAIT more times than not. Fortunately shrimp are abundant, and available as bait, although sometimes you encounter bait shrimp shortages. Then you have to improvise with whatever is available. Although shrimp are a prime natural bait, proper presentation is the key to fishing success. If not handled properly, you reduce your chances of succeeding. There's more to using shrimp than just haphazardly baiting a hook. Live shrimp, of course, are the prime bait but oddly some times fish seem to prefer dead ones. However, with either type, your first concern is proper hooking.

Using live shrimp, it's preferable to hook from behind the head BUT BE CAREFUL NOT TO HOOK THROUGH THE BLACK SPOT! Doing so kills the shrimp immediately, and causes loss of all swimming motion. A dead shrimp with no natural action may or may not be effective.




Most fishermen run the hook from beneath the shrimp's head so that the barb comes out on top, avoiding the black spot. Some call this the casting or trolling method. It works very well.

Others insert the hook from the top of the shrimp, work the point around beneath the black spot, and finally bring the barb out on top again. This method is considered the best one for bottom fishing.

A third method preferred by many anglers encountering bait stealing fish, is to insert the hook from the tail of the shrimp and thread the body onto the hook, passing the barb beneath the black spot. With this system, the barb remains covered, and wary fish are more inclined to strike. However, the shrimp can't swim, but will remain alive for awhile. The advantage is clever bait stealers such as mangrove snappers, sheepshead, and tiny, nibbling bait fish can't clean your hook as quickly. And by using hooks with tiny barbs on the shank -- special bait hooks -- the shrimp is fastened even more firmly, and much more difficult for bait stealers to grab.

You don't have to be as careful hooking dead shrimp. The most effective method is to break off the head, remove the feet and tail, and thread the body onto the hook. Some don't even bother to do this. The effectiveness of dead shrimp depends upon the smell rather than the action. Salt water fish either are capable of swallowing the shrimp's body shell, or they're able to swallow the meat and exhale the shell.

With dead shrimp, some prefer to insert the hook from the tail, while others do so from the headless end of the body. Both hooking methods are effective.

Obviously, you must use care in selecting the size hooks for shrimp fishing. While the size isn't as important using dead shrimp because you can always put on more than one shrimp to cover a big hook, size is vital using live shrimp. Depending upon the size fish you're seeking, hooks can range from 3/0. This latter size usually is for sea trout in the Aberdeen wire style. Usually the smaller the hook, the better. The smaller, lighter hooks hamper the least the live shrimp's swimming ability. Naturally, if you're after bigger prizes, you have to sacrifice swimming ability for hooking power.

Dead shrimp are excellent bait for tipping all types of jigs. However, often anglers use pieces that are too large. If you use a big chunk of shrimp, you may damage the action of the jig's skirt. One way to make certain the pieces aren't too large is to cut them with a knife, rather than pinching off chunks with your fingers. By cutting, you get a firmer shrimp chunk, and also you bait supply lasts longer.

Another method of keeping the jig action while tipping with dead shrimp is to use a trailer hook. Use one with a shank long enough to extend behind the jig's skirt. You put the piece of shrimp on the trailer hook making certain the bait doesn't inter fere with the skirt's action.

A trailer hook is a good system for hooking short strikers, fish that just nip at the jig's skirt. The fish often avoid the main jig hook, but hit the trailer. Since the latter has the shrimp chunk, they're more like to zero in on that part of the lure, too. One of the biggest problems fishing with live shrimp is keeping them lively particularly in warm weather. Many professional guides use plastic garbage cans holding 5 to 15 gallons of water with an electrically operated aerator running off a storage battery. By thus replacing the oxygen in the water, they're able to keep their shrimp lively.

However, the water must not get too hot. Boiled shrimp hardly fall in the live shrimp category. It's a good idea to check the temperature regularly, and to drop a piece of ice into the shrimp tank. But be careful! You don't want frozen shrimp either.

If you want to keep shrimp alive -- not necessarily lively but not decaying -- without a live well, you can place your bait in an insulated container in a seldom opened ice chest. Some anglers purchase a small, insulated ice bucket or shrimp carrier, and place the smaller container inside a larger, ice chest, packing as much ice as possible around it. Shrimp will keep for a day or two with this method.

Some fishermen carry shrimp in live bait buckets, the same type as used for fresh water fishing. If the bucket is the typical, double style, it's no problem to change the water supply and thus the oxygen. However, with a single bucket, water changing is a little more difficult. You can adopt a fresh water idea -- little tabs of an oxygen generating substance (trademark OTAB). These pellets generate oxygen when placed in the water of a bait bucket, and help keep the shrimp alive. However, it's still advisable to change the water regularly, particularly to keep it from getting too hot.

Another secret of keeping shrimp alive, regardless of the container is DON'T OVER CROWD! Dumping a large number of shrimp into a small container guarantees a high mortality rate. Also, dead shrimp pollute the water. Professional bait dealers know this. They try to remove dead shrimp from their tanks as quickly as possible.

You can use frozen shrimp, too, although they tend to disintegrate rapidly, and spoil fast. However, there are times when only frozen shrimp are available, and you have to use them. Some ardent anglers keep their own supply of frozen shrimp. They bring home any shrimp (unspoiled ones) from a day's fishing, package them, and put them into their freezers. Of course, it's a good idea to check with your better half first. She may disagree with using the freezer for bait storage.

Off hand, you wouldn't think it possible to carry dead shrimp in your tackle box. No, it's not a stinking idea, and it's not as crazy as it seems. Fresh water anglers carry pork rinds in little jars, and salt water anglers can do the same with dead shrimp. Captain Andy McLean, a veteran guide operating in the famous Ten Thousand Islands of southwest Florida showed me this trick. It works. It's not difficult either, and can be a blessing when you run out of live shrimp, or can't buy any.

The procedure is to buy a half or a pound of fresh shrimp. Take them home, shell them, remove heads and tails, and cut them into small pieces about twice the size you would if they were fresh. Take a small jar, put in a layer of salt, then a layer of shrimp, then a layer of salt, continuing to alternate layers until the jar is filled. The salt not only preserves, but also toughens the shrimp. They stay on your hook longer when tipping a jig.

For consistent fishing success, you can't beat shrimp. Fish like a shrimp cocktail, too.