We’re on the edge of winter. Cold nights have drive water temperatures on the flats as low as the 60s (and the high 50s on a couple mornings). The whitebait are few and far between. For anglers who prefer to use natural bait, it’s the season of the shrimp.
While shrimp are by far the most commonly used live bait here, I see a whole lot of anglers using them in ways that are less than effective. Let’s look at some techniques that are proven to work well.
This is my favorite way to hook a shrimp for general use. It has a few strong advantages: With the tail fan removed, there’s a constant leakage of shrimpy smell into the water, which is mighty tempting for any fish that gets close enough to catch a whiff. With the head forward on the cast, it’s more aerodynamic and will cast a bit farther. And the meaty tail does a great job of keeping the hook in the shrimp.
1-Pinch off the tail fan, being careful not to remove too much meat. Some hard-core dudes like to bite it off, but I just use my thumbnail and forefinger. 2-Place the point of the hook into the opening at the end of the tail and then slide it in along the top of the shell. 3-When it won’t go in farther, bend the shrimp’s tail and push the hook point back out the bottom.
I don’t use this method as often. In fact, I really use it only when I’m freelining a shrimp, which I do for fish that might be spooked by any other terminal tackle (e.g., snook around an underwater light). A lot of anglers like this technique because it allows the shrimp full freedom of movement and therefore the most natural presentation. However, it’s also the most likely to snap off on casting and the easiest for a bait-thieving fish to remove from the hook.
Hook choice matters here. You want a relatively lightweight hook (remember, the goal is natural action), but it needs to be strong enough to handle the fish. Forget cheap hooks. 1-Place the point of the hook at the base of the front spine (horn). 2-Slide it through one side and out the other. Try to avoid the dark mass visible in the body of the shrimp. That’s not the brain, as some folks might tell you (shrimp really don’t have a brain as we know it). It’s the digestive organs, but having a hook through them will definitely not help with natural action.
This is a way to solidly connect the shrimp to your hook, but it has one major disadvantage in that it tends to kill or disable the shrimp. Therefore, I use this technique only when the motion of the shrimp really doesn’t matter — for example, when I’m suspending the shrimp under a popping cork. Some anglers will like this one for the simplicity, and it’s hard to disagree. Just remember that your shrimp will be less lively, so you need some other way to draw in the bites.
1-Slide the hook in the front of the shrimp, roughly between the first pair of legs. 2- … and then back out the top. Easy-peasy.
The weedless rig
There are lots of ways to rig a shrimp so the hook point won’t collect a bunch of vegetation when you’re fishing in a grassy area, but this one is simple and it works. It’s illustrated here two ways: Backward and forward. Many people seem to think that shrimp swim backward, but they don’t. Most of the time, they walk forward across the bottom, and when they’re swimming in current, they swim the same way. Only when they feel danger do they pop backwards by rapidly flipping their tails. I’m showing you both ways because each has fans; I prefer to hook them in the tail because they spin less as I reel.
Tail: Start with a long-shanked hook. As with the tail-hook, start by pinching off the tail fan. 1-Push the hook point into the hole. 2-Holding the shrimp in one position, slide the hook all the way through to the eye. 3-Spin the hook 180 degrees. 4-Then push the point into the body or tail.
Head: Again, a long-shanked hook is needed. 1-Push the point of the hook in roughly at the mouth and back out around the third pair of legs. 2-Holding the shrimp in one position, slide the hook all the way through to the eye. 3-Spin the hook 180 degrees. 4-Then push the point into the body or tail.
With this rig, natural action goes out the window. Just don’t even think about it anymore. Not gonna happen. But there are definite advantages here. Ever try to cast a shrimp under a dock and then get it to the bottom? Really hard — unless you use a jighead. When you’re trying to skip a shrimp up underneath a mangrove overhang, the jighead is a godsend. I also like it for making long casts and for targeting sheepshead and flounder on the shallower reefs.
We’re going to cut off a pretty good bit of the shrimp: At least the last segment, and if you want to use a Rockport Rattler, the last two segments. We need to fit the barbs of the jighead in the shrimp if it’s going to stay on. You can rig downside-up or upside-up (these are rigged upside-up, which is how I prefer them). Push the hook point into the meat until you can’t go farther, then rotate the hook and the point will pop out the top of the shrimp’s tail. Slide the tail over the barbs and Bob’s your uncle.
Again, no natural action here. But this works very well for many species, especially those that forage by smell or are used to picking at small bits as they feed (redfish, sheepshead, black drum, sand bream, etc.). I usually fish these chunks on a jighead, but if you want to use a different hook style, you can make a jighead on the fly by pinching whatever size splitshot you want on the line just above the hook.
If you’re using the entire tail, you can just tear the head off. If the shrimp is bigger and you’re making multiple baits, they’ll stay together a lot better if you cut the pieces with a sharp knife. With a shrimp tail, just thread it onto the hook. With cut pieces, I put the hook through the shell, then the meat, then back out the shell. It’s more secure that way. If you’re trying to catch sand bream, which can be picky about the shells, remove them but let the chunks air-dry until they get a bit rubbery and will be harder to steal off the hook.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.