Puget Sound Spot Shrimp
Puget Sound Spot Shrimp are incredibly abundant and the season is almost underway! May is shrimping month but there are usually only a few days that we can harvest Spot Shrimp. So it is critical to clear your schedule, prep your gear and mix your bait. Spot Shrimp are a local favorite and very popular.
Spot Shrimp are the largest shrimp found in Puget Sound. They live on steep ledges and gradients throughout Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the San Juan Islands. They can grow to 9″ long but most shrimp we catch are 3″ to 6″. I think that the entire process of shrimping is fun, but the real reward comes later when you shift from pulling heavy pots to pulling succulent prawns off the grill. I would be so bold as to say that my favorite locally harvested food is the Spot Shrimp.
Spot Shrimp Are Abundant in Puget Sound
Puget Sound’s shoreline is dominated by tall cliffs and banks. The underwater side looks similar and most of the gradient is steep. Your boat might be a quarter mile from the beach and sitting over 200′ of water or more! In most of Puget Sound the bottom substrate is hard clay and gravel. Spot Shrimp consider these areas prime habitat. They usually concentrate in 200′ to 350′ depths.
Think of them as grazers. Herds of Spot Shrimp move around these inclines picking over whatever bottom detritus is available to eat. When they spawn they will cluster into massive swarms that look like clouds near the bottom. If you see that on your sonar you are in for a great haul.
Puget Sound Spot Shrimp Season
The Puget Sound Spot Shrimp season is brief. This year (2022) most areas will only be open a day or two. Seattle gets a day, Tacoma gets a day, South Sound gets two days, Hood Canal gets four days, San Juan Islands and the Straits get longer. Check out Washington’s Shrimping Season here.
On a Spot Shrimp opener, most areas have a time limit. As an example, say it is 9 am to 1 pm in the area you are shrimping. You cannot drop a pot until 9 am and every pot needs to be back on the boat by 1 pm.
Puget Sound Shrimping Rules
Puget Sound’s shrimping rules are fairly simple and easy to live by. Check out the official daily limits and rules click here. Daily limit of 80 shrimp per person. Each person needs to have their limit of shrimp in a separate container. There is no size restrictions for the shrimp you keep.
Only two shrimp pots per person, and a maximum of four shrimp pots per boat. The pots must be made with 1″ mesh and no smaller. Shrimp pots need to be marked by a yellow buoy and it must have the operator’s name and permanent address marked on it. For all the gear rules click here.
How to Catch Puget Sound Spot Shrimp
Once you located an area that looks good, scatter your pots in that area. I like to stagger my pot’s depths at first. If I drop them say at 200′, 225′, 250′ and 290′ then usually one might outproduce the others. Maybe they are a little shallower this morning? They are light sensitive and do migrate and change depths as a group. You might find them concentrated at 180′ on a dark rainy day. Then again they might be at 275′ on a bright sunny day. They might move from 180′ to 300′ from 7 am to 1 pm. Be versatile.
Preparing a good quality bait mix is also important. I like a mushy soggy bait mix for our short openers because it will quickly leach out a cloud of scent and entice more Spot Shrimp into your pot. But be aware that your pot has to travel a couple hundred feet to the bottom. Much of the bait mix can disappear before the pot hits bottom.
My bait mixture always starts with a pellet bait as its base, that way there is always something in the bait barrel to draw them in. Punch a few holes in a couple cans of cat food and throw them in the pot for good measure. Ocean whitefish and tuna or salmon dinner are good flavors.
Once the pot soaks for a while go ahead and start pulling pots. My soak time is usually an hour or two. I like to get in two pulls if we have a four hour opener. A pull means pulling all four pots in succession.
For more information check out my article How to Catch Spot Shrimp.
Preparing Bait for Spot Prawns
That strip of seafloor between 200′ and 300′ underneath your boat is probably carpeted with Spot Prawns, and luckily for your crew, you spent yesterday preparing quite the concoction of bait to coax them into your trap.
If you are in Puget Sound or the Hood Canal, you have a four hour window between dropping the first pot, and having your very last pot pulled out of the water. If you have four pots and manage your time right, you should be able to set and pull each trap twice, if you want to. I always want to pull each pot twice when I’m on a four hour opener.
By preparing a bait that disburses quickly and sends out a strong scent trail, you will have Spot Shrimp charging through the entrance of your pots, looking for where that intoxicating smell is coming from! If you happen to find yourself in a good area, a one hour soak is all you need before making your first pull. Bait ingredients and thickness will both play a very big part in determining how well you do.
The afternoon before opening day is my preparation time. I already have my boat and gear prepped, and it’s mainly a time to double check everything and mix up the bait. I like to take Friskies canned catfood (ocean whitefish and tuna, mariner’s catch, or salmon dinner), canned chub mackerel, shrimp bait pellets and maybe a little shrimp attractor oil and mix it all up in a bucket. You are going to need more cat food than anything, as this is the base ingredient. I believe that the pellets are a great addition, but you need to add more oil to thin out the consistency of your batch. Everything else gets mixed into the bucket, and the final consistency should be somewhere between yogurt and peanut butter.
I like to prepare enough bait, so that I can rebait each of my four traps once. My goal is to not have a bunch of extra pre-mixed bait left over, only to be tossed out or to be sent to be forgotten about for all eternity in my chest freezer. If we run out, no biggie, as I always have an extra dozen or so cans of cat food as backup in the boat.
The standard set up is a pot with a bait barrel, connect a 4-way harness, then a 400′ shot of ground line to a large buoy. Pots should be heavy enough to anchor them to the bottom. I like mine to weigh 25 to 30 pounds so they don’t walk along the bottom with the current. Ground line is lead core and usually 1/4″ or 5/16″. It sinks so no excess line on the surface to get tangled up in someone’s prop. Use a large buoy or several smaller ones. You want enough buoyancy so that the current doesn’t drag them under the surface. This gear is expensive and losing a pot really hurts the pocket book!
Investing in a Pot Puller
Regardless of how fit you and your crew are, pulling up 30 to 40 pound shrimp traps from 200′ to 350′ all morning will put anyone’s endurance to the test. The first shrimping experience was both the first and the last time that we hand-pulled shrimp traps. It was about halfway through pulling the second trap that morning that my friend’s dad was convinced that an electric pot puller would be a sound investment. The Scotty Electric Pot Puller is a great choice.
The most common fishing contraption that you will find on a local fishing boat is a set of Scotty electric downriggers. If your boat is equipped with them, you have the mount and plug in already installed on the boat, and the Scotty Puller is plug-and-play. However, if you don’t have electric downriggers, wiring and mounting isn’t too complicated.
Preparing for a Spot Shrimp Opener
Preparation is the key to shrimping success. Part of my annual shrimping tradition is to get all the gear out and prepped a week before the opener. All the lines are pulled out, checked and recoiled. Buoys are marked with the names of the new year’s crew. I’ve got enough bait barrels, I found a few good buckets for sorting shrimp and mixing bait. I have more than enough pellet bait. I make my annual binge buy of cat food and canned tuna in oil. Everything looks good! I don’t want to have any gear worries when I head out opening morning!
The Morning Shotgun Start!
Puget Sound’s Spot Shrimp opener is short and sweet, and we don’t have a minute to waste. Being in line at the boat launch when opening bell rings would be a tragedy. I always like to be on the water an hour or two before I can drop pots. We position our boat over where we plan to drop the first pot and wait it out. I always want to drop my first pot the minute we are allowed. There is a short window of time, usually 4 hours or 6 hours depending on the location, and getting in a few pulls is crucial!
Best Places to Catch Spot Shrimp in Puget Sound
Puget Sound has plenty of prime shrimping areas. Study your charts and seek out steep inclines where the depth is 200′ to 325′. I focus on the 200′ to 250′ range but other veterans shrimp deeper and shallower. There is no substitute for experience, but if you are new to shrimping you can experiment with your first set of pots and move them around if need be. But be aware of the time limitations.
Everett has Camano Head, Hat Island, the Mukilteo shoreline into Port Gardner and East Possession Point. You can do very well right in front of the Edmonds Marina and Browns Bay. Seattle area shrimpers focus on Bainbridge Island’s eastern shore, inside Elliott Bay at Four Mile Rock, Alki, and inner Elliott Bay. South Sound has many areas around Vashon Island, Colvos Passage, Redondo, Fox Island.
A quick web search will get you even more of the standard shrimping areas, but there are countless of other great spots that aren’t published. Get out an explore!
Top Ten Tips for Puget Sound Spot Shrimp
1.) Preparation is the key to success.
Take an inventory of your equipment and make sure you have everything you need. Make sure lines are coiled neatly and ready to deploy. Mark buoys with your crew’s names and addresses. Each person can only claim two pots but everyone can help out pulling and baiting.
2.) Get to your shrimping spot early.
Plan for transit time and plan for the time it will take you to launch your boat. Travel to your spot with plenty of time to set up and wait for the opening time.
3.) Be ready to drop your pots the minute it opens.
Have everything ready and pots baited so you can drop your first pot the minute it opens.
4.) Experiment with different depths.
Stagger the depths you drop your pots on the first round. You can move pots around to the best depths after your first pull.
5.) Look for shrimp on your sonar.
If you drop your pots anywhere you will probably find at least a few, but if you mark small clouds of shrimp swarms on the bottom that is where the big haul will come from.
6.) Understand the rules and regulations.
Make sure you understand all the regulations and your equipment is legal. Check out the official WDFW links below for regulations and seasons.
7.) Have ample shrimp bait on board.
It is better to have bait left over at the end of the day then to run out on the water! You can always freeze it and use it at a later date. Bring a dozen cans of cat food or canned tuna in oil as back up.
8.) Separate your catch.
Count out your limits into separate containers as you bring shrimp on board. 40 Spot Shrimp tails will fill a gallon zip-lock bag nicely. It is best to label individual crew member’s limits.
9.) Don’t fish too many pots.
The regulations state that each person can have only two pots and a maximum of four pots per boat. When you get to the point you only have one last limit, you cannot have four pots soaking in the water.
10.) Take care of your prized catch.
Put your catch on ice immediately after you take it out of the water and portion it out. Shrimp can be refrigerated for a day or two to be eaten fresh. Freeze immediately if you plan on saving it.