Friday, March 11, 2011

Summer Trip Planning - Catching Shrimp

I remarked in an earlier post that I like "catching" more than "fishing."  Well, when it comes to shrimp I definitely like catching more than fishing.  While enjoying a nice salmon, or ling cod, or halibut dinner is good, having a shrimp cocktail before dinner is the best.  To me this is Pacific Northwest cruising at its finest.

When you are on the water, you will find that you need to live your life with the tides & currents.  There are times when you can maximize your crabbing or shrimping, and other times when you set down a pot but your "take" or catch just won't be as good.  Once again, choosing the right tide is oh so important.  As with catching salmon or halibut, taking advantage of a "neap" tide or tide where there's little water difference (generally less than 5') are your best opportunities for catching shrimp.

Spot shrimp are the best.
There are two species of shrimp that you will catch - "Coon Stripes" and "Spots."  "Coon Stripes" have darker red bands that circle the tail of the shrimp and generally smaller rarely exceeding 4-5" in length.  "Spots" have a distinct white spot on the tail and can get to 9-10" in length.  My personal opinion is that "Spots" taste better than "Coonies."  I believe the meat is firmer and the taste just a bit sweeter, but I'll eat either.

To catch shrimp, you will need to find those places where there isn't much current, just at the base of an underwater cliff or drop-off, between 200 and 400' deep, and hopefully close to where a freshwater stream enters.  Many of the long narrow inlets of BC are perfect for shrimping.  When I fish for shrimp I'll put my pot down late in the afternoon and retrieve it the next morning allowing it to "soak" all night.  Shrimp like to actively feed at night, and tend to "bed down" or hide during the day.  Consequently my overnight soaking strategy.  Shrimp are also "opportunistic bottom feeders" looking to feed on anything that might have died and fallen to the bottom.  They don't like high current areas they have to expend a lot of energy to move around against the current.  Besides that, any food that falls to the bottom tends to move with the current so the shrimp have a tough time finding or feeding on it.  Again you'll want to find a time when there's very little current.  Again, a "neap tide" or when there's little tidal exchange.

When I look at the tides for the inlets in and around Desolation Sound this summer (2011) it doesn't look good for shrimping.  Most of the smaller tidal exchanges occur during the daylight hours with large tidal exchanges (more than 10') happening during the nighttime hours.  In fact, the last "good" nighttime shrimping tides occur in May and then don't return again until late fall.  So I can't expect huge hauls of shrimp, rather maybe smaller hauls of between 5-30 shrimp per pot.  This correlates very nicely with the notes that I have taken in my 21 years of cruising and fishing the BC coast.  Of course there are other factors too that will determine your shrimp "take."  My notes tell me that water temperature is a big factor, also how hard was the area hit by commercial shrimpers recently, and how much bait (herring, anchovies, etc.) are in the area.

Last year wasn't a good shrimp year for the MV Independence to some of the inlets that we visited, but we still enjoyed some shrimp dinners and cocktails.  Tides weren't conducive - over 12' exchanges at night.  The water temperature was 38F which is very cold.  When cruising I saw very few sea birds and noticed few "bait soundings" on my depth sounder.  And locals told me that the area was heavily fished during the winter months.

However, my desire and appetite for fresh shrimp is strong and so I'll still set a few shrimp pots, I just have to temper my expectations.  To go shrimping you will need the following (which are all available at Cabelas):
  • A sturdy shrimp pot, preferable a heavy guage metal pot.  Note, shrimp pots sold in BC may not be legal in Washington, because the mesh size might be smaller.
  • A minimum of 350' of good nylon line.  Too thin it will hurt your hands to pull up, and too thick and it will take a huge spool of line.  I like 3/8" yellow poly line.
  • A heavy duty float, I use a large "cherry buoy."  You'll need to put your name, boat name, and phone number on it.  A couple of times I'm glad I used a large buoy, because the pot "floated" and I could spot the buoy down the inlet.
  • A couple of clip on lead weights to ensure that your line does not float.
  • A plastic container to hold your bait that is secured inside your pot.  I like to use a mix of commercial fish food pellets and pieces of fish carcass.
  • And a fishing license and knowledge about the fishing regulations in your area.
Study your chart and look for the flat areas that are just below a steep drop off at about 250-300' deep and hopefully close to a stream or creek.  Slowly drop your pot down and keep tension on the line as it drops.  Notice that wind or current may stray you from the spot you originally picked.  I also suggest stopping your motor because you don't want to get your shrimp pot line tangled in your prop.  That will ruin your day.  Once you notice the pot is on the bottom, place a clip on lead weight on the line, and spool out about another 30-50' of line to account for the tide and current.  Securely tie your buoy to your line and place the second clip on lead weight just below the buoy, about 1'-2'.  Mark the spot with your GPS.  Then when you return later you can see if your pot moved because of the current, if it did, your shrimp haul will be less than expected.  I also suggest entering notes in your log book about your shrimp pot set such as where, when (time of day), the tide height, the depth, temperature, current, water clarity, and weather conditions (cloudy, sunny).  From your notes, you will start learning about catching shrimp and improve your shrimp catching prowess.

I'll follow up this blog post with some great shrimp recipes.  Good luck.

1 comment:

DeBacle said...

This is great info, Don - thanks! I've long wanted to take up shrimping. Maybe this will be the summer we finally try it.