Today we headed to the Hood Canal in search of its famed Spot Shrimp. The residents of the Canal are a laid back type of folk, living on the rural fringe of civilization that offers breathtaking scenery, plenty of great shellfish harvesting options, and is just enough of a drive to keep half of Seattle from settling its shorelines. It boasts phenomenal fishing for Spot Shrimp, and with plenty of dedicated Shrimpers chomping at the bit for a shot at ‘em, the harvest quota gets gobbled up pretty quickly these days, meaning that shrimpers from Ludlow to Lilliwaup only get a few days a year to shrimp. My friend Ryan called me with an invite the day before and I leaped on the opportunity.
A dozen years ago, I travelled with friends to see what all this hype was about. We wanted to see for ourselves what so many had told us, that You Just Gotta Go Try It! So after some planning, we secured moorage at Pleasant Harbor Marina, and had a phenomenal time. I realize now as I did then, that even with a full boatload of shellfish licenses, if you know what you are doing and conditions are right, you can limit the boat in any marine area north of Tacoma pretty easily. But the Canal is a treasure, and just spending time on the water there, admiring the Olympic Mountains to the west, and the steep wooded bluffs of the Kitsap Peninsula is alone worth a trip. So I knew it would be worth a little drive.
By using the terms hype and gobbled up quota and you just gotta go, you will understand that Hood Canal Spot Shrimp are no secret. Boats speckle the Canal’s waters as far as one can see, all hovering along that narrow ribbon of water above the magic depth of 200 to 275 feet. This is where we find them. There is a carpet of Spot Shrimp, sometimes so thick that one can see mass piles of them on the fish finder (at least a dozen salty old timers have sworn this to me). Long lines of trailers crawl towards the boat launch patiently (and occasionally impatiently) waiting their turn. Pots are set extremely close to other pots. Lines can cross and tangles do happen. It can seem like a frenzy. Today was not one of those days. Ryan’s father has a slip at a small marina just south of the Hood Canal Bridge. Ryan and I rendezvoused at his home in Seattle to carpool up. We hit the 7:10 Edmonds ferry and made a quick trip to Ludlow. It wasn’t a half minute from parking at the marina to shoving off. We were on our way.
We headed south to Toandos and waited for 9am, the official start time for the day. Nine to One. That is our window. We needed three limits, 240 Spot Shrimp. Shouldn’t be too tough, we are with the master. Gary lives and breathes this kind of stuff, he is in his element. I admire his bait mixture, it looks good and I wouldn’t mind getting the recipe. I pry, he withholds. True to the Shrimper code I guess. We joke about his homemade bait spoon. But I am more than fortunate to be on board. So we hit 9am, and everyone within sight deployed their first pot. We set all four pots within close proximity. We were on a steep drop off, and running a shallow one at 200 feet and a deep one at 260 feet still kept our gear within a one hundred yard sphere.
Our target was a one hour soak. Gary was anxious and excited. “If you two weren’t here I would’ve pulled em up already!” Waiting for the first pull is always the longest. After that, by the time all the pots are found, pulled, emptied and baited you’ve almost given that initial pot an hour… so it goes quick. We joked around, and one by one the old timers who moor their boats at Gary’s marina idled by to chit chat. “They won’t let me pull them up Larry! The wait is killing me!” You could tell that everyone was pleased to be on the water and in a very jovial mood. We finally hit that one hour mark gave Gary the go ahead to take us to the first buoy. We were off to pull our first pot of the day.
The day couldn’t have been better. Bluebird skies and no wind, and the minor tidal exchange made our task a breeze. Our first pot yielded seventy, and the second, third and fourth each yielded about fifty. I’ve witnessed one pot with over three limits before, but we didn’t experience any gaggers today. We had just shy of our three limits, so Gary only dropped three pots on our second set. I am sure that just one would’ve sufficed, but there sure were a lot of little ones, so we figured we would see if we couldn’t cull out the littlest and find some jumbos. Sure enough each pull yielded about fifty shrimp each, so we picked out the largest and threw back the rest. It’s a bitter sweet sensation one gets when he lets go a hundred beautiful Spot Shrimp after waiting a year to catch them. But we had our limit and were pleased with the day. The water was flat calm, and we enjoyed a few raw Prawns with Soy and Wasabi on the ride in.
We had another phenomenal day on the water and I can’t imagine that anything could’ve gone smoother. Plus a bounty of eighty large Spot Shrimp for the family really added to our accomplished mission. Thanks guys!