I love fried shrimp. I also really, really like shrimp and grits, shrimp and pasta, shrimp salad, boiled shrimp with butter, shrimp cocktail … well, you get the idea. Ever tried to catch them yourself?
After shameless begging, two friends invited me for a night of shrimp baiting in the Charleston harbor. One of them had a boat, a license and the poles. The other had the net and the bait. I was along to provide cheap entertainment.
This year’s shrimp-baiting season just started and you’ve no doubt already seen the boats and their lights in the harbor. The season will last until mid-November.
It can be done with two people, but it appears to me that three is the perfect number.
There needs to be an experienced boat driver who can control the direction and speed of the skiff as it cozies up to the poles. Then there’s the need for a deft and accurate net caster who knows how to aim that net so that every cast counts. Then there’s the guy like me, a “gofer,” who can “go for this” and “go for that” to help the guys who really know what the heck they’re doing, especially when it gets dark.
Bait balls and poles
The other ingredients that are must-haves are the poles that are placed in the pluff mud and the bait balls that are handmade (primarily by the gofer) to attract the shrimp. The bait balls usually are a mixture of fish meal and clay or mud. Once they’re rounded into something the size of softballs, they’re tossed into the water near the poles.
Probably not a good idea to wear any clothes you don’t later plan to burn. Fish meal, pluff mud and shrimp by themselves create special odors; put them together and animals from three counties will gather to welcome you home.
One other suggestion, pack a light snack. This can be a four- to five-hour experience. Having a couple of sandwiches, crackers, Vienna sausages, drinks, etc., will take the edge off the time between when you’re ready to start and when you do.
By the time you eat, your hands may smell like you work full time cleaning the docks at Shem Creek, so that peanut butter and jelly sandwich might taste a little different than you expected.
Heads on, heads off
When the tide’s right, it’s time to see how many shrimp are interested in coming aboard. The idea is to have the boat pull close to the first pole, but not too close, so the net can be tossed near the bait. A good net tosser is a huge component in this shrimp-gathering equation. If the net is not thrown so that it opens in all its glory over the unsuspecting little buggers — then it might be a long night.
First time I tried to throw the net it landed on top of a pole. My cohorts were supportive (after they quit laughing) and my excuse was that the net obviously was not for left-handers. We didn’t get a huge haul that night, but we got enough. Later, I learned about deheading and deveining and then I got to do what I really know how to do later, and that’s devour!
It was a great time that required a little work and some pre-planning but brought with it a lot of laughter and some fresh, local shrimp.
I’m not sure, but there’s a chance my buddies took me along sort of as a community service. This “gofer” is ready for another run, but there’s just one problem — nobody’s asked.
I’m just sayin’….