Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for May:
What do you think about reincarnation? If there is some merit to the subject, I would only hope that my next life is not as a herring. Imagine every kind of fish including salmon, marine fish and many species of seabirds that would love to eat you. Throw some shellfish into the equation, such as crab or shrimp and you’re about as popular as a lottery winner.
Follow me here, speaking of shrimp, as I intend to dive into the life of a spot shrimp, also known and considered the Pacific Northwest prawn. When it comes to eating seafood, big prawns is a very popular fishing activity in all of Puget Sound waters. Anybody can do it from any kind of boat and cooked quickly in seawater for just a few minutes (when they float to the top) peeled and slammed down the hatch, chased by a cool glass of grape juice or an ice cold beer… dude! Come on! I’m talking about a Northwest delicacy!
Google the meaning of the month of May. Google will suggest it’s the beginning of Washington’s spot shrimp season. Not really, but it’s certainly my definition of May! And according to WDFW’s Puget Sound shrimp biologist Mark O’Toole in La Conner, more boaters and fishers chased spot shrimp last year than any time in recent memory, thanks to an increase in the sport shrimp allocation granted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Thank you, Mr. and Ms. Commissioner.
Before hooking up the boat trailer and heading for the Puget Sound shrimp grounds, there are a few things you might want to know about shrimp. Considering my paragraph above, entertaining your thoughts about reincarnation, I might want to come back in another life as a Puget Sound spot shrimp.
Shrimp hatch out of their egg casings as larva usually around late February and early March. As larva, they drift with the current, wind and tide for a few weeks before beginning to develop their life form and settle to the bottom, in hopefully, a friendly environment conducive to shrimp survival. Okay, I can live with that.
In the early life history of shrimp, sexually, through their second and third year of life, they are 100% males. Really! I’m walking very lightly here. Then, miraculously, in their fourth and final year of life, poof, they all become females. Reminds me of some of my fishing buddies! As I have no scientific credentials, I queried biologist Mark O’Toole about this phenomena. He confirmed this life cycle event. Therefore, without a sex change operation or any other influential or catastrophic event, all shrimp walk away from being a guy and start wearing high heels. I changed my mind. On second thought, I don’t want to be reincarnated as a shrimp.
Shrimp fishing rules, seasons, requirements, etc., are set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. I highly recommend visiting: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/shrimp/ if you are thinking about joining many of us who get fired up about fishing for spot shrimp. In 2012, WDFW estimated about 31,182 shrimp fishing trips in Puget Sound waters. In 2013, that number jumped to 39,539 and O’Toole predicts it will continue to increase as more shrimp fishing opportunities and the number of shrimp fishers continues to grow. The season opens in most areas on May 3 and believe me when I say the rules, times, fishing days, etc. vary from area to area.
For many areas, particularly the San Juan Islands and the Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, the seasons have expanded, in terms of fishing days allowed, as noted above, thanks to the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Traditionally, for most boaters who enjoy cruising the San Juans in the middle of the summer, shrimp fishing has been closed. Check the rules again. The western portion of the San Juans, from San Juan Channel west, for example, could be open for most of the summer. Again, check the regulations and know before you go.
Most shrimp experts recommend weighted pots, in the 25-30 pound minimum weight class, large tunnels for entry, and weighted line, 5/16 seems to be preferred. As fishing depth varies from area to area, from 150 feet to 300 plus feet, shrimpers should manage to have 50-75 feet of additional line added to their shrimp pots before tossing them overboard to the intended fishing depth.
Most shrimp fishers stay away from big tides but plan their trips around soft tides and definitely avoid fishing around rip tides.
O’Toole recommends a sophisticated shrimp fishing cocktail as bait, which includes Skretting (pellets of prawn superbait) as a base, mixed with canned mackerel, fish flavored cat food, herring, prawn bait oil, and maybe some hard shell clams. Yummy!
Pots should be soaked at the desired depth from 45-60 minutes, hopefully leaving a scent trail which can cause an underwater stampede of spot shrimp, heading for Mecca (your pot). The daily limit is 80 shrimp per fisher and O’Toole suggests over-limits are the common infraction when encountering enforcement from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. They are easily identified with their high-tech fast boats, uniformed personnel aboard, and blue lights flashing when they come along side. When you are pulled over, on the water, assume it will not be a drill.
Depending on where you live, there are some outstanding shrimp fishing outlets in Puget Sound. Zach Miller, Lummi Fisheries Supply in Bellingham knows the sport upside down and backwards. Same for John Martinis at John’s Sporting Goods in Everett. The good people at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle, Sportco in Fife, Cabela’s in Marysville and Lacey, along with Swains in Port Angeles, have all the equipment and tips to help you become successful. I also like Buck Setera at EZ Pull in Shelton, near Verle’s Sporting Goods & Marine as a great source for equipment and pot pullers. His crab and shrimp pot pullers are in high demand from California north to Alaska.
Hey! It’s May in the Pacific Northwest with lots to do on the saltwater scene. Shrimping, lingcod and halibut fishing are on my May outdoors agenda. I’m counting down the days until I can put a few fresh spot shrimp between my teeth and gum! Oh yeah, pass the grape juice please! See you on the water.
(Tony Floor is the Director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and a former 30-year veteran of state Fish and Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.)