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Fishing Shrimp Offshore

Lessons on little live baits for big fish offshore.

Texas-rigged shrimp behind a sliding egg sinker is terrific snapper bait.

Live shrimp is one of the most familiar baits for inshore fishing. But shrimp have a lot of utility in the offshore waters, too.

Some of the best-eating reef fish are quick to pounce on a live shrimp. Hog snapper come to mind, as do African pompano and permit. All members of the snapper clan are hungry for shrimp, from diminutive lane snappers to 30-pound red snapper. Spanish, cero and king mackerel will take shrimp, too.

Adding live shrimp to a livewell containing finfish can create some headaches. Popular baitfish such as pinfish and runners will definitely harass and possibly even eat the shrimp. And, each time you dip your net in the well, trying to catch one or the other, you're stressing the baits. Better to keep them separated. One trick is to put the shrimp into their own perforated bucket and leave that in the well. To keep the container floating upright at the top of the well, simply add a few floats under the lid. It's easy to reach there and doesn't present an obstacle to the free-swimming finfish.

For bottom fishing, one good rigging technique is to pinch off the tail of the shrimp and rig it like a Texas-rigged bass worm: Thread the hookpoint through the tail, out the belly of the bait, and then turn the hook to bury the point in the “chest.” This hides the hook from wary reef fish, and minimizes twisting in current. This is a good method for fishing shrimp on traditional sliding sinker bottom rigs, as well as multi-hook dropper rigs.

Rigging a shrimp on a jig is a versatile approach, allowing for efficient vertical fishing or casting. Again, pinch off the tail, but this time run the hookpoint up through a rear segment of the body, so that the point emerges securely through the tough carapace. The jig-and-shrimp can be fished in a number of ways. You'll get a lot of bites with the rig right on bottom and the rod sitting in a holder. The scent of the shrimp is irresistible to all kinds of fish. It's also productive to actively fish the jig, feeling bottom with it, then slowly, repetitively, lifting and winding as you bring it up through the water column. The motion, color and vibration of the jig-and-shrimp will attract fish in the area, and the sweet tidbit seals the deal.

In both rigs, the shrimp is oriented so that it appears to swim backwards, which is what they do when alarmed.

Shrimp may also be rigged to swim freely, as on a flatline. Insert the hookpoint sideways through the horn on top of the head. This is a deadly method for catching mackerel and kingfish. It allows the shrimp to swim upright, while retaining enough mobility to react to an incoming predator. Use very light wire leader, No. 3 at the most, or a longshank hook, and freeline the bait, paying out line as the shrimp drifts away from the boat. When it's out there 60 feet or so, engage the drag and put the rod in a rodholder. If seabirds are pestering your baits, put a few splitshot sinkers near the leader to take the bait down a little bit.

You may be surprised at what takes that flatline shrimp. In the winter time off Miami, for instance, a fat, hand-picked shrimp is occasionally gobbled up by a sailfish—the sails often gang up to feed on the pink shrimp that drift on the strong tides falling out of Biscayne and Florida bays. Big king mackerel, too, sometimes fall for a large live shrimp. FS

First published Florida Sportsman February 2015

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