Shrimp are on the bottom of the food chain — everything eats shrimp. I love shrimp and eat them all the time, and so do all of our gamefish. They’re great bait, but there are so many different ways to rig a live shrimp. Let’s start off with a few ways to hook them.
Let’s say I’m fishing an area that is pretty sandy (not too much grass) and I want to try to catch some redfish. What I’ll do is pinch the tail fan off the shrimp. That puts a lot of scent in the water. The more scent the better for redfish.
After I get rid of the tail, I take a Rockport Rattler jighead and put the hook through the shrimp’s body and out the back. This allows me to pitch my bait up under the bushes or docks — and I can work that shrimp very slowly, bouncing it off the bottom.
If you’ve ever put your hand in a bucket full of shrimp, you already know they snap backward in the water when they’re startled. That’s why hook my shrimp backward on a jighead: I can make the shrimp snap backward and trigger a strike.
Now say I am fishing a very shallow area with a lot of grass. That jighead just won’t work — all I’ll be catching is grass. So I turn my live shrimp into a weedless shrimp.
Take the tail fan off the shrimp and put a 1/0 or 2/0 J-hook through the body, just a little bit just like you would with an artificial worm weedless. Then I pull the eye of the hook into the body, rotate the hook 180 degrees and put it back into the shrimp’s back. Now I can throw a live shrimp in very grassy areas and not get hung up at all.
To fish it, I’ll throw the shrimp into an area that holds fish (or that I think holds fish). That shrimp is going to swim around for a second or two then settle on the bottom, because that’s where shrimp live. After a 30 seconds or so, I lift my rod up in the air very slowly and bring the shrimp up to the surface. Then I slack the line off a little and he does his thing. Repeat as needed.
What if I see a bunch of snook? Snook don’t usually eat off the bottom as well as they do the surface or mid water, so when I’m targeting snook, I freeline the shrimp.
Usually I hook a freelined shrimp across the back so it can swim around, but if I’m in a strong current, I prefer to hook them in the head under the horn. You have to be careful when you hook them in the head because the dark blobs are vital organs. If you hit those black dots, they are dead.
Despite that risk, in strong current I hook them in the head because I can throw the shrimp out and then keep my line tight. That will keep that shrimp straight in the water and makes it look like he is swimming. This is a great method in strong water flow.
Shrimp are very popular for trout fishing. Most of the time I rig mine under a float. I usually hook them through the back with a Rockport Rattler jig. When I pop my float, the jighead rattles and draws the attention to my bait instead of to my float. The hook isn’t in the float.
Now for the best one of them all: Sheepshead. Everyone knows that sheepshead are professionals at getting the bait of the hook. Most of the time it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for them. If you want to catch fish instead of feed them, don’t put a whole shrimp on the hook.
I like to use a jighead for sheepshead, and I rig it the same way I do for redfish — except right where the bend of the hook starts, I cut the rest of the shrimp off. To get the bait, the fish have to bite where the hook is. Plus, I can get two or three baits from one shrimp.
These are just a few ways I like to hook shrimp. There are a lot of other ways to hook them that will work. What are your favorite methods?
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.