We mostly fish with soft plastic lures, but there are times when having a couple of dozen live shrimp on board (or shiners and minnows for freshwater fishing) can make the difference between fishing and catching.
Baitfish and live shrimp require aeration to keep them alive and frisky. There are kayaks with homemade circulating baitwells big enough for whitebait or pinfish behind the seat, but these take up a lot of room and space is a limited commodity. We use the same yellow-and-white shrimp buckets anglers have used for years and are readily available at any bait and tackle store. Secured behind the seat in the cargo well and equipped with a battery-powered air pump, it will do the job.
You do need to be somewhat agile to be able to reach behind you to retrieve a shrimp. The spring-loaded door closes automatically after each bait grab. One important detail: Make sure the pump doesn’t touch the kayak. The vibrations from the pump are amplified by the hollow boat, and the noise will cause your shallow-water targets to leave the area. Hang it from a bungee cord or something to keep it from touching the kayak hull.
If you don’t have a pump or the pump battery dies while you’re out fishing, you can hang the bucket over the side on a rope or stringer to aerate and exchange the water. If you end up trolling the bait bucket over the side, it will tend to bump into the kayak, spooking wary flats fish. It also gets in the way when paddling or landing a fish. Shrimp react poorly to tainted water or rapid changes in temperature. In other words, they die. This is why it’s usually better to use a pump.
On trips where we want live shrimp but don’t want to carry a bait bucket, there’s an innovative alternative: Shrimp will live for hours in a cold wet towel. We use this method exclusively when walking the beach, but it also works great in a kayak. Just before you launch, soak a small towel with water from your bait bucket and wring it out. Now put a dozen or two shrimp on the towel. Sounds simple but the shrimp won’t cooperate.
So, quickly spread out the shrimp on the towel, fold in the edges and roll it up. Then wrap a plastic ice cube blanket around the towel holding the shrimp. Put this assemblage into a large plastic zipper bag, then put the bag in a separate small cooler or in with your cold beverages. With the bag upright, you can reach in between the towel layers to pick out one shrimp at a time. Shrimp carried this way are a bit lethargic at first but get frisky when they warm up.
This towel trick is also a good idea for bringing along a few shrimp for tipping a plastic-rigged jig to add a scent trail. We tip jigs in sandy or cloudy water. Some folks use sections of frozen shrimp for this, but we think fresh shrimp smell better to fish.
The most common mistake anglers make when tipping a jig is using too large a chunk. One section of a medium shrimp tail is about right. Cutting the shrimp sections with a knife or scissors works better than pinching a piece off. Push the point of the hook in one side of the shell and out the other for holding power. Of course, if your game plan changes to bottom fishing, you can remove the plastic and hook a whole shrimp on the jig. Either way, it never hurts to have a few fresh shrimp along.
Here’s an idea for using baitfish. On some trips, we find ourselves standing on a shallow beach with baitfish all around our feet, so we carry a small castnet in a minnow bait bucket with an air pump that will fit into a hatch or storage area. A quick toss of the net will catch a few for the bucket and the air pump will keep them alive for a while.
Don’t forget to toss out live bait under a cork during your lunch break. While doing that we’ve been pleasantly interrupted by hungry snook. Bait is in the shallows to avoid the predators lurking off shore. If you wade out a bit and deliver something tasty to these predators with a long cast, you can make their day (and they can make yours).
Kimball, though she is an expert with artificials, is more likely than Les to bring along some live bait, and she consistently catches more fish. Les, being slightly more devoted to artificials (and a wee bit lazy) will toss soft baits all day until Kimball starts catching fish on bait. About then, he gladly takes advantage of any extra bait she brought along and turns into an enthusiastic bait fisherman. Hey — if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area or at AnglerPocketGuides.com as a download or waterproof hard copy.