Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy
But it’s not hard either. There’s a few tips and tricks that will make you much more likely to catch your limit, and make your time on the water more productive, safer, and more fun.
My family has a house just north of Hoodsport, on the west side of Hood Canal. My parents inherited it from my grandparents, so it’s been in our family for a few generations now. When I was a kid, I would go out there to help my grandfather set and pull his shrimp pots. It was really neat as an 8-year-old kid being able to spend a few weeks away from home, but even cooler was getting to drive grandpa’s boat. I’d run the steering and throttle while he prepped bait cans or dropped and retrieved our shrimp pots. 35 years later, and I still go out there during shrimp season to catch my limits of shrimp.
We’ve refined our technique over the years, and believe we have a well oiled operation that would be in the running for the best way to catch spot shrimp.
The instructions in this article apply equally well to other areas of Puget Sound, or even other parts of the country.
Time To Gear Up
Shrimping gear is a pretty basic setup – you need only a few things:
- A shrimp pot
- Lots of rope
- A yellow buoy
- Bait to go in the shrimp pot
- Weights to clip on your line (if not using leaded line)
- Optionally, a puller to assist in retrieving the pots
There are a number of different kinds of shrimp pots on the market. However not every pot will match the state’s regulations. Current regulations require a 1 inch minimum mesh size.
Personally, I like using the medium sized square rigid pots. These are sturdy, don’t take up too much room in the boat, and sink easily. Properly cleaned and maintained they will last many years.
Most models of shrimp pots need to be prepared before they can be put in the water.
Weigh Down Your Pots
First you need to add extra weight to keep the pot in position on the bottom, despite the current pulling on the pot, line and buoy. If your pot is moving around, then you will not be catching many shrimp.
What I do to weigh my pots down, is to add some strips of rebar to the inside edges of the pot. This is nice because it doesn’t take up much room in the pot, and is along the edge. Just zip tie it in a couple places to the frame.
If you don’t have rebar handy then another approach is to use weights from a fitness weight set. The ones with the grips give you a nice place to zip tie it to the frame. Fasten it as close as you can to the center of the pot. If you don’t have extra weights handy, then check out Goodwill. They often have quite a few for sale.
Always Have a Way To Escape
Next make sure that you have an escape door properly rigged up. Some shrimp pots go missing every year, so the intention of the regulations is to cause these lost pots to eventually stop fishing. Without it the shrimp that made it into your pot will eventually die – their bodies will then attract more sea life, which will get stuck and die, all in a never ending cycle.
The easiest way to make this escape hatch is to use thin cord (sometimes called rot or escape cord) as the hinge for the door you use to bait the pot. The theory is that the cord will eventually rot, thus opening the door and allowing the critters to escape.
Make sure to replace that cord every season, so your pots are in good condition.
It is also good to double check that the elastic strap that holds the door closed is in good condition and provides plenty of strength to do its job.
Keep That Bait In Place
Lastly you need some way to keep your bait securely fastened in the trap. A wide strip of elastic is a good choice. Tie one end securely to the frame, and the other end to a metal hook. That will allow you to adjust the tension on the bait, as needed.
A rubber strap like this works great, and comes with hooks on the end already.
You will be fishing deep, so you’ll need a lot of rope. To fish in 250 -270 feet you will need 300 -330 feet of rope. Remember, due to currents your rope will not be straight down, but at an angle. So you need enough rope to account for that. Also keep in mind that tides go in and out – more than one pot has been lost because what was enough rope at low tide, isn’t quite enough at high tide.
Good poly rope will work fine – but will require weight to be added to prevent any loose rope from floating to the surface where it can get snagged up in boat props.
Other people prefer using leaded rope, which has the weight built in.
The buoy needs to be yellow and float. That’s all the regulations require. Something simple like these work fine.
However, I think it’s worth investing in a larger, nicer buoy setup. We use large foam buoys with 1 inch dowel rod running down the middle. Rope is attached to the rod and half-hitched down its length in several places. Finally, a small weight is clipped to the bottom to help orient the buoy upright. You can even add a flag to the upper end of the dowel to increase the visibility.
A setup like this takes a little more time to build than just a couple of foam floats on a line, but it is visible from a long distance away even in rough water and doesn’t risk coming loose. Wash them down after use, replace the line when it is worn, and they will last a long time. I’m pretty sure the ones I still use are the ones my grandpa made in the 70’s.
Regardless if you keep it simple, or use a more elaborate setup, be sure to mark the buoys with your name and address, as required by the regulations.
If you are using lead line, then you don’t need to worry about line weights. This is because that weight built into the line will prevent the line from floating on the surface.
If you are using poly rope, however, then it will float. Weights need to be clipped to your free line, in order to keep the slack line from floating and becoming a hazard to other boats. Line weights have another advantage as well: they serve as a shock absorber between the buoy and pot. Without them, wind and waves pushing on the buoy can pull the pot around, making it difficult for shrimp to get in, or scaring them off. With a weight on the free line it absorbs the shock of the buoy bobbing around and keeps it from transferring to the pot.
There are commercial made weights, which snap onto the line.
You can also make them yourself. My grandfather made his by filling old caulking tubes with concrete and attaching a bent rod for a loop. Add a line snap and you are all set. They are a bit bulkier than the commercial lead ones, but much cheaper – especially if you need quite a few.
Other containers, like old soda bottles, may work just as well as caulk tubes and are easier to get.
Some folks get really fancy, mixing up their old salmon catch, old herring, etc. I think that’s a waste of time. Using just cans of cat food I’m able to get limits, so I save my freezer burned stuff for crab fishing.
There is one flavor which out fishes any other I’ve tried, and that flavor is Friskies White Ocean fish and Tuna “classic pate.” For not much more than $1 a can, you can have all the bait you need. It is best to stock up early, as stores near shrimping areas will run out of this preferred flavor.
When using the cans for bait you need to prepare it so that cat food goodness can get to where the shrimp can smell it.
What I do is take a hammer and nail and make rows of holes around the top and bottom of the can, as well as a row around the middle. Don’t use a church key or large punch – you want the holes to be small. The idea is to let the scent flow out of the can over time, not wash out all your bait in the first hour.
The cat food will drip out a little, so punch the holes on a board or other surface that is easily washable. Have a container handy to put the cans in, so any additional leakage in contained.
It is certainly possible to just haul on the rope and bring your pots up. However, things get easier with a pot puller of some sort.
On the budget end of the spectrum is a pulley which holds the line away from the boat, and changes the angle you need to pull. Scotty makes one which fits right into Scotty rod holders.
You only have to pull a full shrimp pot by hand a few times to recognize the value in an assisted puller. These can be gas operated (often homebuilt using old lawnmower engines) or electric, operating off the boat batteries. Many have an overhead boom that allows the pot to come up next to the boat, then be swung in.
Modern electric pullers will even plug into your existing downrigger plugs, if your boat is so equipped.
Look at your boat layout, determine the best type of puller for your boat, and plan your installation carefully. On my boat, I elected to go with a Brutus Ace Line Hauler. This worked great for me since it mounts on my existing downrigger mounts, as well as being compact enough to easily store.
I coughed up the extra money for the “hands free” option, and in my opinion, it’s worth it. As a friend of mine said, “it’s a nice change that it takes more work to count your catch than it does to pull the pot.”
I like to fish shrimp pots in 250-280 feet of water. An ideal spot is next to a drop off.
If you are shrimping in a new area, take the time to do some research. Look at bathygraphic maps of the area. Talk to other shrimpers – both in person and online. If all else fails then see where other boats are located.
Once you are in the general area you can use your electronics to fine tune your position.
Keep some space from other boats and buoys. You aren’t going to do yourself any favors by positioning your pot close to someone else’s pot. Not only is there the potential of the lines tangling – which may prevent your pot from fishing well, but your bait is now competing with theirs for the shrimp in that nearby area.
As your boat – and pot – will drift with the wind and current while dropping, you want to go upwind a good distance before starting your drop. It takes some time to play out that much line.
I have seen some foolish methods of dropping your shrimp pots. Keep it very simple- just drop the pot over the side of the boat and let it sink straight down. It may be needed to tap the boat into forward or reverse gear from time to time to keep your orientation or position, but don’t go too crazy here – better to drift a bit than it is to drag your pot around.
Don’t “troll” your pot out the back of the boat, playing out 300 feet of line across the surface. This gains nothing, can cause tangles, and is a hazard to other boats when dropping pots in crowded conditions. Not to mention there is then no way to know when the pot hits bottom.
When the pot does hit bottom, you should feel the line go slack (particularly if you were good and kept things vertical while you dropped the pot). Clip a line weight to the slack line and feed it out. If your depth and rope length match well, you should only need a single weight – likely about 10 feet from the end of the rope.
If you line is much longer than the depth, then you probably want to add a second weight closer to where the line was when the pot hit bottom.
Finally, clip in your buoy and toss it overboard gently. Watch to make sure everything looks correct and untangled.
Don’t forget to look around and remember the spot. If you have a GPS chart plotter – or handheld unit – then add a way point for the spot.
Just Let It Soak
Many folks will check their pots every hour or so. This is useful if you are not confident in the location and want to consider moving the pot, or if you are on a schedule.
The window to shrimp is limited, and when your pot isn’t sitting on bottom it isn’t fishing. So if you raise and lower your pots a lot, then you are actually decreasing your odds of getting your limit.
If possible, I prefer to let the pots soak in one location as long as possible. I’ll drop my pots at 9am and won’t start pulling them until noon. If you are confident with your spot then letting them sit hurts nothing, and they have that much more time to fill.
If you do want to check your pots often, then be efficient. Get the pot counted out and back down quickly.
The Long Haul
When you are ready to retrieve your pots, simply motor over to one and grab the buoy.
I like to keep a hook in the boat to help grab the buoys. Most of the time it’s not needed, as I can just pull up within reaching distance, but sometimes due to wind or miscalculation, the hook helps to reach out a little further to grab the buoy.
Once you have a hold of the buoy and line start pulling it up. If you are pulling up the pot manually keep the pulls steady and deliberate, so that the shrimp can’t wiggle their way free.
If using a powered puller be sure to familiarize yourself with its operation on shore before using it on the water for the first time. Take care to keep your hands clear of the rotating parts and know how your line is to feed through the sheave and capstan.
Once the buoy is on board, hook the rope into your puller and start bringing it up. Don’t forget to pause it when you get to the weights on the free portion.
I like to drop the line into a bucket to keep from tangling it or causing a tripping hazard on the floor. There are elaborate setups to coil the line while on the boat, but I prefer to do that on the shore, as I like to clean my lines before recoiling them. Depending on your setup it might be helpful to designate a “line buddy” who can manage the rope coming up, leaving you free to focus on the pulling operation.
When you bring up the pot, try not to pause too much as you bring it up. The pressure of the water on the pot as your raise it will help keep any shrimp from escaping.
Swing or lift the pot into the boat, unclip it from the line, and start counting your shrimp
Count ‘Em Up
You MUST count your shrimp out immediately. Do not travel to the next pot, do not move 100 yards away, do not pass go and collect $200… or the game warden will. The warden will gladly issue you a ticket if you move your boat at this time, as they will interpret this as you keeping all the shrimp you pulled, even if you are still on the water. If you have over twice your limit at that point, it’s a gross misdemeanor charge; up to a $5000 fine and a year in jail. So count out your catch immediately before moving your boat to the next pot.
To follow the regulations each person needs their own container for their shrimp. Have those containers handy and count each shrimp as you transfer it into the container. Once you hit the limit of 80, start on the next container.
Keeping them in containers of 80 also makes it easy to keep track of how many shrimp you have, and what is left on your limit.
Once you hit the limit for everyone on board you need to throw the rest of the shrimp overboard.
Putting It All Together
Check out this video which goes from putting bait in the pot, to a full pot comming up.
Clean It Up
You can start cleaning the shrimp on the boat, or wait until you are back to shore.
It is really simple to clean shrimp. Follow these simple steps:
- Grasp the head-to-body joint with one hand, and the tail portion with the other.
- Gently twist and pull on the head portion while holding the tail portion firmly. The two halves should separate.
- If you’re lucky the back vein should come out too, but you may need to pull it out after separation.
Throw the heads in one bucket, and the tails into another. Throwing the heads into buckets is nice because sometimes you’ll throw things in the wrong bucket.
If you position the various buckets in convenient locations, then you can process all the shrimp relatively quickly.
Like any seafood it is best to keep it cold. Having your shrimp sit in cold water while waiting to be cleaned is a good idea. Likewise, the tails should be going into cold water after being cleaned.
When you are ready to bag them, give the tails a final wash or two while double checking for any remaining bits of vein, sand or other dirt that may have gotten on them.
Take Care Of Your Gear
You’ve invested money in your gear, and want it to be in good condition for next time. So take the time to clean it off.
Start by rinsing everything off in fresh water after you are done for the day – even the ropes. Washing the saltwater off will give everything a much longer lifespan and keep it in good condition for the next use.
Discard or freeze any remaining bait.
Ropes should be recoiled and ready for next time. I like to roll my ropes out into long sections on a grassy area, the then run them through a wet rag as I re-coil them after I rinse them off. This removes any extra dirt, seaweed or other flotsam. It also helps to take out any line twist as you coil, and leaves your rope in a condition where they are prepared to be used again on your next shrimping trip.
We use a simple “coiling machine” which holds the tie off ropes in position while we coil the rope. This makes things easy.
Store your pots, buoys and ropes someplace where any remaining water will dry off.
Like most seafood, spot shrimp are best enjoyed fresh. If you are going to eat them that day then keeping them in the refrigerator until dinner time is fine. If it will be a couple days, then adding some ice around your shrimp – like you see in the seafood section at the grocery store – can bring the temperature down even more.
For longer than that you should freeze them. Remember – air is the enemy. The easiest way is to put a meal size portion in a zip lock bag. Fill the bag with water, until the shrimp are covered. Squeeze any remaining air, and seal the bag. Place in your freezer until you are ready to defrost and eat.
Have you seen the scene in Forrest Gump where Bubba talks about shrimp? There are literally hundreds of ways to prepare it. Cook it thoroughly for safety, and enjoy in your favorite recipe!
Here is a simple recipe to get you started:
Old Bay Grilled Shrimp
- A meal sized portion of shrimp
- Some wooden skewers
- Old Bay Seasoning
Take the shell off the shrimp. This is easily done by using a fork or other instrument to help cut the shell open.
Place shrimp tails on the skewers with a small gap between each shrimp. Use as many skewers are you need.
Gently shake some Old Bay seasoning on one side of the shrimp. Flip the skewers over, and add Old Bay to the other side.
Setup your grill for medium direct heat. Lay the skewers down on the grill, without overlapping them. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until done. Do not overcook.
Remove from heat and serve immediately.
How Do You Do It?
I’d love to hear from you. Is there anything you do differently that helps you catch shrimp? What do you think the best way is to prepare your catch?
Please comment below.
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