During shrimp baiting season, Sept. 14-Nov. 14, a $25 license from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources allows recreational shrimpers to collect a 48-quart cooler full of the tasty crustaceans each night – and boatloads of memories. The healthy fun of throwing a cast net over and over again in search of a legal limit of shrimp can also build some powerful back muscles.
Each shrimper is allowed 10 bait stations during a shrimping trip, which are marked by PVC poles. Shrimping is allowed at any time of day, but experience shows that the shrimp begin to gather, or ‘run’, the best right around dusk. Recreational shrimpers use inshore areas because it offers them both shallow areas to cast their nets, and protection from any breezy conditions.
Graham Able, who works at Haddrell’s Point Tackle Shop in Mount Pleasant, averages 20 shrimping trips during the season. “I like to set up during low tide and shrimp the incoming water,” said Able. “I will set out my 10 poles and then go back and add the bait next to each pole. I use a combination of Bait Binder fish meal and menhaden milk when making the bait balls that sit on the bottom and slowly disintegrate.”
After choosing a buddy or two to ride along for the shrimping trip, the most important tool is the cast net. For shallow water shrimping Able recommends the Bett’s Super Pro eight-foot net with 5/8th-inch mesh, which retails for $139. The net carries 1.5-ounces of lead per foot to get it down once cast over the shrimp. Increasing the amount of weights is possible, but then the net is too heavy for the shrimper to cast 50-plus times each trip.
A good formula for shrimping success includes three buddies: one captain, one light man and one net man. Fill the cooler with beverages and, in the course of a few hours, consume the beverages and fill the cooler with shrimp. A simple lighting system helps the shrimp baiting crew see their catch after each cast. Able attaches a painter’s clamp light to a seven-foot pole and powers it off his boat battery.
“I don’t usually have trouble catching a decent amount of shrimp as long as the current is moving,” he said. “At some point during the night, we usually catch one or two bait balls in our cast net, and that helps us to judge how efficiently the bait is dispersing. Factors like water current and salinity can vary each trip.”
It may only take one or two hours to collect a 48-quart cooler full of shrimp, but with the set up time and the time spent afterwards heading the shrimp, the activities last all evening.
If your only goal is to dine on shrimp, then it is more cost-effective today to buy them at the supermarket. Factor in the expense of boat gas, time spent making bait balls, and hours casting your net on the water, and you have made a tidy investment in time and money. However, bait shrimping allows one to spend quality time on the water, and often provides enough shrimp to share with family and friends, or to stock the freezer.
Able likes to freeze his shrimp in saltwater in order to preserve their taste, and he prefers eating these hallmarks of the Lowcountry with cocktail sauce, either grilled or fried.
Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com