Catching Spot Shrimp in Puget Sound
Our Northwest waters provide us with arguably one of the most delectably succulent shellfish found anywhere. The Spot Shrimp thrive in our protected Sound, our expansive Straits, our San Juan Archipelago, and in the Pacific near the edge of the continental shelf. These large shrimp abound in the heavy tidal currents of our main waterways, and they are prized for their flavor. This coldwater species is called by many names: Alaska Spot Prawn, Sitka Spot Prawn, Puget Sound Spot Shrimp. They are even referred to as Puget Sound Lobster and while we must remember they are technically a shrimp, their larger size and sweet robust flavor makes the comparison understandable. Spot Shrimp average 3 to 6 inches, and with a generous limit of 80 Spot Shrimp per person here in Washington the time, effort and cost of becoming a shrimper is well worth it.
About Puget Sound Spot Shrimp
Spot Shrimp thrive in the depths of Puget Sound. While many shrimp species are found in shallow waters, Spot Shrimp live in deeper water. Most Puget Sound shrimpers will target Spot Shrimp at 200-350 feet. Spot Shrimp are the largest shrimp species in Puget Sound, with an average body length of three to five inches.
There are numerous manufacturers of shrimp pots, from local garage operations to major importing companies. All recreational shrimp pots must meet WDFW shrimp gear requirements. I highly recommend purchasing a quality pot built by a local company, those that are based in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska or British Columbia will understand the unique challenges that we must face when we go shrimping. I would recommend pots made by Ladner, Beau Mac and McKay; all are located here and each offers a variety of great designs. Ladner offers a pot that has a rigid frame wrapped with a soft mesh net which can be loosened so that pots can be stacked one-inside-the-other like a stack of disposable coffee cups (Very convenient for storage on the boat). Due to the extreme depths that Spot Shrimp live at, weighing down pots so they aren’t swept away by the current is essential.
Many pots are lost each season due to being improperly rigged. It pays to understand the currents in your area. For example, while shrimpers in Edmonds or Mukilteo may be just fine with ten or fifteen pounds of weight, if you travel to shrimp in the heavy currents of the San Juan Islands, you will need at least double that to ensure your pots will not drift away. As the currents push at your lines, a pot can even slightly drag along the bottom, and shrimp will be less prone to enter. Pots should weigh 10 pounds to 30 pounds, depending on how severe the tidal movement and currents are in the area.
Most shrimpers use standard 1/4″ yellow poly rope (oyster rope). It is relatively inexpensive, and is available in 400 foot rolls. The disadvantage with yellow poly rope, it floats. In Puget Sound’s crowded shrimp fishery, floating slack line often ends up in boat propellers, or wrapped with other pots. It is important to use some form of line weight to limit these problems. As you tend the line as the pot drops into the deep, snap on a pound of lead to the poly line. While this will draw the excess line downward, the disadvantage is seen when using an electic winch, you will have to be vigilant and be prepared to remove the weight before it reaches your gavit block. Due to tidal fluctuations and currents, it is a good idea to have some excess rope, but 400′ of rope in 200′ of water is asking for trouble unless you use a leaded line.
A popular alternative to yellow poly rope is leaded line. Leaded line is more expensive but it is well worth the extra cost, it ensures that there isn’t any floating slack. Many Puget Sound veteran crabbers will take their leaded rope for crabbing, build loops at each end, and link it into longer stretches for shrimping.
Storing lines can be a challege, and keeping everything ship shape and organized is important. We use large laundry tubs (in pics) and designate someone to coil each line as the pot is pulled. A large garden hose reel can be a great way to store all of your lines. Just stap the top line to the first pot, and remember to snap in a buoy before throwing overboard! Multiple lines can be neatly wrapped on a reel if you can purchase one large enough.
Pulling shrimp pots by hand isn’t feasible by most people’s standards. With strict time constraints in Puget Sound and Hood Canal, managing one’s time leads to limits. There are many great electric and gas powered models on the market. Do a little research, find one that will mount easily to your boat, and you’re ready! If you cannot justify the cost of a power puller, at least look into purchasing a davit (a davit is an arched apparatus that you will see in several of these pictures, it is the metal arm that extends out past the gunnel and keeps the pot from scratching your boat, makes hand pulling easier as well)
Ask 10 veteran shrimper’s what their recipe for success is and likely you will get 10 veteran shrimpers who keep their hard-earned bait recipes a secret. But guaranteed they would all have something a little different soaking in their pots during opening day. The most common shrimp bait available is pellet baits, which resembles dog food. These baits leech out scent slowly, and would be great if we could soak our pots overnight, or for longer periods.
Since we in Puget Sound have only a few precious hours each day, creating a mixture that leeches out scent quickly is important. Blend up a mixture of pellet bait, mackerel, seafood flavored wet catfood to start…eventually every shrimper will have their own secret recipe.
Tending the Pots
Soak each pot for two or three hours, pull and repeat. Make sure not to crowd other pots, be respectful for your neighbors. Puget Sound and Hood Canal get extremely crowded on days when shrimping is open. Make sure your buoys are highly visible, and unique. Being able to recognize your buoys by special markings or flags will save time, and the potential for a lost pot. Each limit in Puget Sound must be kept in a separate container. It is easiest to sort as you go, this keeps the danger of overharvesting from being an issue.