The shrimp are nice-size and plentiful in the Charleston estuaries this baiting season. Go get a cooler full.
The techniques are pretty simple, says lifelong Lowcountry fisherman Gene Adams, who holds seminars at Charleston Angler. Learn the rules and customs to do it right.
The basics of shrimp baiting are: Have good gear, pay attention to where the bait goes and watch the tides. On an incoming tide, find a flat about 1 or 1 1/2 feet deep; outgoing tide, 5 feet deep. "If you set up at high tide in 2 or 3 feet of water you're going to spend the night," Adams said wryly.
Place poles 10 yards apart in a line no longer than 100 yards. Mix shrimp meal with enough water to form patties and drop the "bait balls" 7 to 8 feet out from the poles and even with them in relation to tide flow. The usual wait is 10-15 minutes before casting over the bait. But Adams will throw in a test bait ball while he waits and cast at it after a few minutes. If it pulls in shrimp, he starts casting for real.
"A lot of people think it has to be dark to catch shrimp, but it doesn't," he said. "While they're on, get on them because they'll go and disappear."
Here's the short course:
--A shrimp-baiting license is needed for every set of 10 poles, available only at the S.C. Natural Resources licensing office at Fort Johnson. They cost $25 for residents, $500 for nonresidents. The season lasts until noon Nov. 12.
--The limit is 48 quarts heads-on per set of poles per day, one set of poles per boat.
--The net mesh cannot be smaller than 1/2 inch.
--Fines for violations start at $280.
--Boats must have night running lights and safety gear.
Shake the net by waving the hand line before retrieving, to move shrimp farther up in the net. Place the net with shrimp into the shrimp basket. Grab the horn and pull it up the tuck line. Shake and untangle shrimp into the basket.
To catch more shrimp
Shape bait balls like hamburgers, about 8-10 inches in diameter and an inch or 2 thick, so they won't be rolled off along the bottom by the cast net. Drop them carefully straight down, two or three at a pole. Allow a little drift for tide when baiting and net casting.
Done right, a single round of bait balls ought to be enough for the night. Adams will mix an extra ball for each pole, to "juice" the site if shrimping wanes too quickly.
A 6-foot net is all the average-size person needs. Cut the cast net hand line to 15-20 inches; you won't need to throw any farther, and the line will tangle you up if you don't.
Don't fling or heave the cast net. A gentle sling allows it to drop and spread open as it sinks. The smaller 6-foot net opens farther than the larger, heavier nets.
Flats in Charleston Harbor along James Island and Crab Bank and in the Wando River are popular spots. The biggest shrimp are found in Bull's Bay, but be leery of going at night, Adams cautioned. Even experienced boaters get lost.
--Don't shine lights directly at other boaters.
--Set poles at least 25 yards from other shrimp-baiting poles and 50 yards from docks. (These are DNR regulations.)
The "horn" on the shrimp net is named because it used to be made of a hollowed-out bull's horn.