How to Catch Spot Shrimp
Spot Shrimp are the most sought after shrimp on our coast because they are huge an oh so tasty! Spot Shrimp will congregate by the thousands in small areas that provide enough junk on the bottom for them to graze on. When they are spawning they can form into swarms as high as ten feet off the bottom, and if you happen to drop a baited shrimp pot nearby? Ring that dinner bell! Catching Spot Shrimp is not difficult but you do have to find where they are concentrated and use the right equipment. I am writing this post to help you visualize what catching Spot Shrimp is all about. My hope is that it will educate and encourage you to go out and try catching Spot Shrimp yourself!
Where to Find Spot Shrimp
Spot Shrimp thrive in deep water areas along the North Pacific Coast. Usually they are caught in 200′ to 750′ depending on the region. Spot Shrimp are light sensitive, so the magic morning depth of 225′ might lose its luster by mid day as the shrimp move to deeper and darker pastures. They love steep shelves and ledges, most of these areas have a bottom that is rocky or gravel. They can be found in muddy flats but these areas rarely have the highest concentrations of Spot Shrimp.
Pacific Ocean Shrimping
Spot Shrimp live in the open ocean at depths of 400′ to 800′ but the difficult conditions means that most of the ocean harvest goes to commercial shrimping boats. A quick search of Oregon and California Spot Shrimp yields almost no information about recreational Spot Shrimping.
The majority of all recreational Spot Shrimp harvest happens in the protected saltwater inlets, sounds and bays of the North Pacific Coast. California and Oregon do not have protected bays that are deep enough for Spot Shrimp abundance.
Washington Spot Shrimp
Washington’s Puget Sound, Hood Canal, Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands are prime shrimping locations. Best depths are 200′ to 350′. Shrimping is mega popular and it gets busy out on the water. Regulations are tight but the payoff can be huge! Some areas are open for an extended season. Expect a one or two day season near Seattle and Tacoma, yes you read that right one or two days for the entire year!
British Columbia Spot Prawns
British Columbia offers great shrimping in the Gulf Islands, Nootka Sound, Barkley Sound, Howe Sound, Sunshine Coast just to name a few. Up in Canada they like calling them Spot Prawns. The entire provincial coastline is one deep water fjord or sound after another so Spot Prawns are very well distributed and abundant. Best depths are 180′ to 350′.
Alaska Spot Shrimp
The Last Frontier offers as much boundless wilderness coast as British Columbia and an equally amazing number of places to catch Spot Shrimp. There are two main regions that most of the shrimping occurs.
Folks from Anchorage usually head to Prince William Sound, where they can span out and find their own little piece of solitude. Find some rocky bottom structure or edge into the bays and drop your pots on the glacial gravel deposits. Running pot strings is popular. Best shrimping depth is 400′ to 650′.
Southeast Alaskans also get their fair share of Spot Shrimp. Depths and tactics are similar to further south. String pots or singles and depths of 200′ to 350′ should work out just fine for you.
Spot Shrimping With Single Pots
Catching Spot Shrimp with one pot per line/buoy is common in Washington and much of British Columbia. Every area has a maximum number of pots you can use and soaking single pots allows you to spread them out and search for the best depth and location. You aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket with single pots. We will often drop our 4 pots at 4 different depths, then consolidate to the most productive area after the first pull.
Spot Shrimping With A Pot String
Many Alaskans and Canadians like to run a string of pots. So your string is pot-to-line-to-pot-to-line-to-pot-to-line-to-buoy. Some prefer to use all 4 or 5 of their allowed pots in one string, others will run two pots per string.
Most strings can have 50′ to 100′ of ground line between pots to spread them out. Each pot is appropriately weighted so they don’t drift. It can be a very effective tactic. I have personally never done it, but I know it is most popular in Prince William Sound where many people will leave their pots soaking for at least 24 hours. Good fishing areas and good shrimping areas can be far apart. Set ’em and forget ’em and pick ’em up on your way back from the Halibut grounds.
In Washington we have a very short time limit (usually 4 to 6 hours) in most places so we use single pots and constantly pull and set them until our time is up.
Pot Pullers For Spot Shrimp
An electric pot puller is an essential item for anyone trying to catch Spot Shrimp. I have pulled up a few by hand and it is way more work than you want to do. If you are pulling a string of pots forget hand pulling altogether. Electric pullers are quiet and efficient. I like the Ace Line Hauler and Scotty Pot Puller because they mount onto my downrigger base and plug into my downrigger plug. I have yet to have any issue with my pot puller draining my batteries, but stay vigilant people!
Spot Shrimp Pots
There are a variety of pot styles on the market and most of them will work just fine. Every region has specific gear and equipment regulations and it is important to purchase pots that meet those requirements such as overall size, mesh size, having a rot cord and more. It is also important to make sure your pots are heavy enough to withstand the currents in the area you are shrimping. My pots weigh 30 pounds each and I find that suitable for the areas I go.
I like the nesting style pots that stack neatly; Ladner and Beau Mac/SMI make these in different sizes. Most pots are 24″ up to 36″ across. I like using the biggest pots that I can easily store on my boat.
Best Spot Shrimp Bait
When the bait leaches out a nice scent trail, the shrimp come marching in! That herd of Spot Shrimp grazing on the bottom near where you dropped your trap forget all about what they were doing. They race to find out what that intoxicating aroma is! Dozens, if not hundreds will all scramble into the pot to gorge on delicious cat food!
Best Shrimp Bait For Short Soaks
If you are shrimping on a time limit like in Puget Sound (we pull our pots twice in a 4 hour time frame), then you will want a very soupy bait that creates a massive blast of scent immediately. We use canned cat food (ocean whitefish or salmon dinner), canned tuna in oil, canned mackerel and mix it in with crushed shrimp pellet bait to give it a thicker consistency. It works wonders! As soon as the bait is gone, the shrimp will find their way out of the pot. Also, I think it does not hurt to give the Spot Shrimp something to munch on as the bait starts to dissolve, so I will hang a salmon head or backbone in the trap in addition to my bait.
Best Shrimp Bait For Long Soaks
Some of my friends use shrimp pellet bait and marinate them in shrimp/prawn oil. If you are soaking overnight or for multiple days I would use the pellet bait and shrimp oil mixture. Pellets will last days before dissolving.
Shrimp Buoys and Lines
Buoys must be large enough to stay afloat through the strongest currents and tides in your area. Foam buoys and inflatable commercial A1 buoys are popular. Check local regulations to determine what, if any, information needs to be written on the buoy. There are two common types of line used for shrimping.
Yellow poly 1/4″ line does the job and is cheap; but it floats and requires line weights to be snapped on to drag the excess line under the surface. You have to stop the pot puller every time to unsnap the line weights, and it is one more interruption that you don’t need. Plus yellow poly tangles easily.
I prefer leaded ground line. It is a commercial style line and it sinks. It does not require line weights. Ground line doesn’t tangle as often and is extremely strong.
The Harvest and Time Management
Once you determine that your pots have soaked for long enough, it is time to harvest! This is the best part of the whole gig! The pot puller methodically and slowly draws in hundreds of feet of ground line. An eternity has passed. You stare into the water where the end of your line dissappears into the depths, then the pot appears and it is loaded with orange gold! I love the anticipation.
Shrimping season is wide open in some places and you can drop and pull pots to your heart’s content. Seattle’s marine areas are hyper-regulated. There are only four hour openers in Hood Canal, Washington. That season typically lasts (as of 2017) four days and each day shrimping is only allowed from 9 am to 1 pm. And yet, that is all it takes to get the daily 80 Spot Shrimp limit for as many people as your boat can hold. But racing the clock requires good time management. The minute it opens you must drop the first pot. The last pot must be out of the water before the deadline time. You do not have much time and must be prepared.
Care For Your Catch
Spot Shrimp are fairly fragile, as are most high value shellfish. If you show great care for your catch from the moment you remove them from the sea, you will have the freshest and most delicious seafood ever! Here are the steps we take when caring for our catch.
Keep Them In Seawater Until You Can Get Them On Ice
First we dump the shrimp right out of the pot into a big bucket of seawater. This gives us time to go about dealing with gear. We usually put one person in charge of separating the heads and tails. The shrimp tails are counted and bagged. Where I live we need to keep everyone’s limits separate on the boat for easy counting. The bags are placed in a cooler on ice.
When I get home I make sure all the shrimp at properly deveined. I think a day or two in the fridge is just fine for quality if we plan on eating them right away. If I know that some will get frozen, they get processed immediately! I like to freeze my shrimp in water. It is really simple and they retain their freshness and never freezer burn! I take a Tupperware container and put a portion of shrimp in, then fill enough water to cover the shrimp and freeze. I used to vacuum seal them but they have such sharp shells that many of the bags would get punctured. With all the time, cost and effort that goes into a Spot Shrimp foray it is a shame to let their sweet fresh flavor go to waste!
To be honest, most of the Spot Shrimp I catch don’t make it to the freezer. It ends up on a grill and enjoyed by friends and family.
When preparing Spot Shrimp I think simple is best. To truly enjoy the unmatched flavor they have, I brush some melted butter on them as you grill them up.
Helpful Spot Shrimp Resources
Riptidefish Spot Shrimp Articles
Alaska Fish and Game Spot Shrimp Page
Prince William Sound Spot Shrimp PDF
British Columbia Spot Shrimp Regulations
Washington Fish & Wildlife Shrimp Seasons
Oregon Fish & Wildlife Spot Prawn