When it comes to live bait fishing, every angler has his preference. Some prefer the appeal of a juicy threadfin herring. Some prefer the flash and fishability of a pilchard. Others say there’s simply no substitute for the distress signals sent out by a live finger mullet dangling from the end of a light-wire circle hook.
But, if you asked every live bait fisherman you know which bait they consider to be the most versatile, no bait would rate higher than the ubiquitous live shrimp. Put simply, nearly everything that swims in Florida waters eats shrimp. So, if you’re looking for a live bait that will catch fish year ‘round no matter where you fish, a twitching, live shrimp is the choice for you.
Although most Floridians associate shrimp with deep water trawlers that spend weeks at sea dredging sandy bottom areas of the Gulf of Mexico in search of what some might call Florida Gold, the shrimp we as anglers most often end up lacing onto our hooks are actually harvested in the shallow bays and estuarine systems along Florida’s lower east and west coasts.
Much like the trawling systems used to harvest shrimp in offshore waters, nets used to gather shrimp in coastal areas are designed to dredge the bottom and capture the crustaceans as they flee. However, unlike offshore dredges which are actually designed to loosen bottom sediments, inshore shrimp trawls have roller systems which allow the net to drag the bottom without having a significant impact on sensitive sea grass beds.
Within the boundaries of these fragile ecosystems, post-larval and juvenile shrimp spend the formative portions of their life cycles burrowing in soft sand, mud and sea grass attempting to elude a wide variety of persistent predators. Concealing themselves primarily during daylight hours, these tiny crustaceans emerge from their lairs under the cloak of darkness to feed on algae and microfauna found near mangrove shorelines and marshy edges that border these natural nurseries.
Studies have suggested that western and southwestern Florida Bay, the middle Florida Keys, Whitewater Bay, Coot Bay and the 10,000 Islands are nursery grounds that support considerable shrimp populations, while estuarine systems between Indian Key and Pine Island Sound are presumed to support the smaller shrimp fishery found off the coast of Sanibel Island. Further up the coast, sizable shrimp fisheries are supported by expansive grass flats found in Tampa Bay, Homosassa Springs and Apalachicola Bay.
Unfortunately, significant habitat loss and pollution have all but devastated many of coastal Florida’s irreplaceable estuarine resources, which are both directly and indirectly connected with the overall health of the Atlantic and Gulf coast fisheries.
All species of warm-water shrimp, (white, brown and pink) are highly sensitive to salinity and temperature regimes, making their reproductive cycles and survival rates susceptible to even moderate changes in any of the above. For centuries, the natural sheet flow of the Everglades fed cool freshwater through the mangroves into the warm tides of the Gulf and shallow bays along Florida’s lower east and west coasts, critical habitats for the growth and survival of shrimp populations in south Florida. Sadly, diversion and drainage of freshwater to promote urban development have driven up salinity levels and increased average water temperatures in receiving areas, thus destroying sea grass shrimp nurseries which are vital to the survival of treasured inshore game fish like redfish, bonefish, snook and tarpon. Because the wetlands-shrimp production relationship is so strong, it illustrates an important matter in the debate over wetlands preservation and restoration.
Shortly after maturing to what biologists refer to as the sub-adult stage, the majority of shrimp ride tidal currents out of coastal estuaries into offshore waters where they perform spawning rituals over extended periods of time, both during the fall and spring, with the later being the most active season in many areas. This nursery/spawning ground relationship further solidifies the relationship of offshore marine habitats with the health of coastal ecosystems -- a relationship that we as fishermen should be acutely aware of and intensely committed to preserving for future generations.
However, if you’re just looking to do a little fishing and forget about the world’s problems for a while, shrimp would be a great way to do it. This highly versatile bait will catch everything from the dreaded gaff-top sail cat to 200-pound tarpon in the backcountry and every member of the snapper/ grouper complex you can name in deeper coastal waters along both coasts.
Tip bucktail jigs with a piece of tail section and sight cast to tailing redfish, bonefish and permit in the Keys, or use a whole shrimp on a fish finder rig to gather buckets full of mangrove snapper and sheepshead in the 10,000 Islands.
No matter what your favorite target species is, it seems you just can’t go wrong by bringing a few dozen shrimp with you on any fishing trip; and remember, if the fishing is so slow that you can’t even get a bite on the best live bait going, you can always take ‘em home and enjoy a little shrimp cocktail that afternoon.
|< Prev||Next >|