Each spring, summer, fall and winter, the causeways, bridges and canals of many Florida counties are populated by a unique bunch of individuals seeking to trap, cast net or dip shrimp. Although this activity takes place all year long, there are different peak times for different areas of the state. These determined fishers show up as early as noon to stake out prime real estate for their shrimping endeavors. First come first served is the law of the land, but the real fun begins when sunlight fades to darkness when these dedicated folks hope to find their bounty.
Shrimpers patiently wait for nightfall.
The general consensus of the shrimpers believe shrimp stay in deeper water during the day and move into the shallows around the causeways at night. That belief is the main reason recreational shrimpers wait until dusk to place their traps and start their shrimping. The whole process could be described as somewhat of a ritual.
All, it seemed, told stories of the night the run was so good everyone would have been thrown in jail if the authorities had shown up.
Staking the Claim
Dave, a shrimper from Orlando was setup on a seawall near a causeway that spans the Banana River in Brevard County. His equipment included shrimp traps, underwater lights, long-handled dip nets, a generator and plenty of snacks and beverages. “It’s a long wait from noon till dark,” he proclaimed, “but if you don’t get here early you don’t get a good spot.”
Finding the right location for shrimpers is like an angler finding a “honey hole” for a day’s fishing. Much of the decision is based upon past experience. Anglers log information on when and where they were successful and shrimpers do the same. Rhonda, a local Brevard County resident, was pulling her last trap just as the sun came up over Canaveral Lock. “We got here early yesterday to set our traps. We came here because this has been a good spot in the past.”
The Wait for Dusk
The wait for darkness may not be as bad as first suspected. Just like Facebook creates a social network of friends and acquaintances, shrimping communities also evolve into a social network of sorts where new friends are made, good food is shared and stories are told. “I’ve known Dave for some time now. He always sets up in that same spot when he comes,” said Rhonda. “He sets up a full kitchen. Last night we had the best shrimp gumbo I ever ate. For desert he made brownies,” she added.
I moseyed by Dave’s setup to see just what he had in his waterfront kitchen. His galley included a stove, coffee pot, coolers, a variety of condiments and a generator for electricity. “My family is coming tonight,” Dave commented. “I want them to have a good time whether the shrimp are running or not,” he stated as he offered me a cup of fresh coffee.
I heard stories ranging from early morning nude photo shoots on a nearby beach to unbelievable fish yarns. And all, it seemed, told stories of the night the run was so good everyone would have been thrown in jail if the authorities had shown up. “You never know what you are gonna’ see around here,” said one shrimper.
Using the Traps
What shrimpers are looking for in that “good spot” is a location with flowing water where shrimp begin to congregate before heading to deeper water to lay eggs. There is a common misconception that shrimp move into estuaries to lay their eggs. The fact is, shrimp move out to sea to lay their eggs and it is that part of their life cycle, when they are gathering together for the pilgrimage to deeper water, when trapping shrimp is at its best.
Several of the shrimpers I talked with named the four days before a full moon as the premier time to be shrimping. During this period it is more important than ever to be on site early to stake your claim. The period’s productivity is well known and others will be looking for those best spots too. Other factors for a good catch are rumored to be a depression along a seawall that lets the trap set a little lower, a sudden rain storm that cools the water and provides additional runoff and increased water flow and finally, higher than normal winds that serve to move water around the seawalls.
Once an area is claimed, shrimpers place their traps about every eight feet along the waters edge. The traps are placed early, sometimes six hours before dark, to keep other prospectors from moving in, but are not put into the water until just before dark. The eight foot placement is not a legal requirement, but rather a common courtesy. Occasionally an unknowledgeable shrimper will encroach on another’s territory, with harsh words usually the result. Proper etiquette is a serious matter among shrimpers.
Legal traps cannot exceed 36″ long by 24″ wide by 12″ high. The traps cannot be equipped with devices that serve to funnel shrimp into the traps. Each individual is allowed to tend four traps, and each of the traps must have a nameplate with the users name and address securely attached. FWC officers have the authority to inspect traps in use and any trap that is not attended by the person whose name is on the tag is subject to confiscation.
Collecting the Bounty
When dusk arrives the traps are placed against the seawall where shrimp are expected to run. Electric lights are placed beyond the traps to illuminate the water between the lights and the seawall. The subtle glow from electric lights placed below the water’s surface creates an almost eerie appearance to the area being fished. “The lights are not intended to attract shrimp,” said one shrimper, “but they make it much easier to dip singles while you wait for the traps to do their job.” When asked how often they pulled their traps the majority of shrimpers used two-hour cycles. “Come on back later,” said Jerry. “I’ll put them in at 8:00 and pull them at 10:00.”
Veteran shrimpers warn not to leave the traps in the water beyond sunrise to reduce the risk that pinfish and other shrimp loving fishes will move in and eat the night’s catch. Their simple advice – don’t oversleep!
In addition to using traps, shrimp are captured with dip nets. With lights submerged and shinning upward the silhouette of a swimming shrimp is easily spotted. The same thing can be accomplished with lanterns hanging over the water but they produce unwanted glared and the visibility is not as good. Most serious shrimpers use submersible lights that operate from portable generators.
The net used to collect singles is connected to a pole that may be as long as 20-feet. Legally the net cannot have an opening larger than 96-inches around the perimeter. The mesh will narrow down to a small, confining, circumference at the opposite end of the opening. Shrimp can be dipped and trapped in the end of the net without having to empty it each time. This way if the shrimp keep coming the shrimper keeps dippin’.
The mystique of catching shrimp keeps veteran anglers coming back year after year. “It’s a great way to spend time on the water with family and friends and earn dinner, too,” said one shrimping regular. It would be easy enough to visit the fish market and buy a few, but that’s a far cry from making new friends, sharing good food, telling tall tales and possibly creating a new one about the night the shrimp ran like crazy!
Know The Law
License requirement: Recreational saltwater fishing license (resident or non-resident).
Bag limit: Five gallons heads‑on per person per day for shore-bound shrimpers.
Size limit: None
Closed season: April and May (Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler & Clay Counties).
Closed areas: Contact nearest FWC Law Enforcement Office for local restrictions.