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Shrimp-itation Game: How to Fish One of the Most Versatile Lures Around

Artificial shrimp lures pretty much cover the gamut of coastal fishing needs in Florida.

Shrimp-itation Game: How to Fish One of the Most Versatile Lures Around
Even when the bait tanks are full, many Florida fishermen prefer the ease and effectiveness of using artificial shrimp.

Walk into any bait shop or marina in Florida and you will notice the distinct sound of swirling water coming from inside a bait tank. A look inside the tank will reveal hundreds of gray to pinkish-red crustaceans darting back and forth waiting to be scooped up and dumped into a bait bucket. A sign above the counter reads “Live Shrimp” (for sale). The man at the counter may tell a different story:

“No more shrimp.” Some days the supply doesn’t meet demand. But even when the tanks are full, many Florida fishermen prefer the ease and effectiveness of 
using artificial shrimp. With the right presentation and retrieve, many of the shrimp-like lures on the racks perfectly imitate the appearance and action 
of a live shrimp.

imitation shrimp lure closeup
Shrimp in the estuaries may display some coloration, but translucence (as evidenced in lure above) is a common feature.

Shrimp of a Different Shade

We know that in Florida coastal waters, anything and everything that swims will devour a shrimp. For both inshore and offshore species of saltwater gamefish, shrimp are always on the menu.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advises that there are three popular species of shrimp in Florida, all belonging to the family Penaeidae. The pink shrimp is the most common species and is found in the shallow, clear waters of the southern portions of the state, normally from West Central to Southeast Florida. The closely related brown shrimp is found in the deeper, murkier waters of Northeast and Northwest Florida.

White shrimp are occasionally found in areas with lower salinity and in muddy shallow waters of Northeast and Northwest Florida. There are many other species of shrimp occurring in Florida waters including the eastern grass shrimp, which is found in freshwater.

Benefits of Artificial Shrimp

South Florida fishing guide and Executive Chef Chris Collier feels that there are many benefits of fishing with artificial shrimp. “Pretty much everything in the water eats a shrimp,” advises Collier. “It’s the type of bait found everywhere.” Collier grew up fishing with the D.O.A. Shrimp and joined the D.O.A. pro staff due to his love of the lure. “If you can perfect the art form of working that lure, you can routinely outfish others using live bait,” he states. At the other end of Florida, Capt. Brandon Barton from Emerald Water Kayak Charters in Pensacola specializes in targeting big fish, and he routinely fishes a Savage Gear 3D Manic Shrimp for both inshore and offshore species. “I try to put my clients on trophy fish and the action and lifelike quality of the Savage Gear Shrimp is unmatched,” explains Barton.

shrimp lures
Which is live and which is lure? The action you deliver on the retrieve, depending on water conditions, may be the decisive factor for a curious gamefish.

These two guides have their favorites, their confidence baits, but of course the market is flush with many brands and styles of shrimp lures that may prove just as effective in Florida’s diverse fisheries. Some shrimp lures are infused with scent and taste attractant compounds, adding to the appeal—Berkley Gulp! Shrimp comes to mind. Others are designed for on-water customization—for instance the reversible jighead which supports the Strike King Tidal Shrimp; fish it weight- and line-tie forward or shift it for a middle-weighted, horizontal presentation. Then there’s the Vudu Shrimp, Z-Man EZ ShrimpZ, LIVETARGET Fleeing Shrimp, and countless regional molds that may offer special color patterns.

Collier feels that an artificial shrimp is such a versatile lure that can be fished in any water depth and in many different types of cover. Collier can easily add weight to his artificial shrimp to work the entire water column. “The traditional trademark design of the D.O.A. Shrimp has a very nice presentation and glides in the water just like a live shrimp,” explains Collier. The ease of use is a benefit that attracts many anglers because they never have to run to a bait shop to buy live shrimp. Having an artificial shrimp rigged and ready to go is easy for any situation.

Barton thinks that a live shrimp is a great tool, but it unfortunately attracts the attention of unwanted fish such as pinfish, catfish, or lizardfish, and an artificial shrimp can last much longer. “The Savage Gear 3D Manic Shrimp is very comparable if not better than live shrimp because it will last longer on the hook,” explains Barton. “It’s such a super strong bait that is made from Duratech plastic that holds together so well and lasts.”

Another advantage of using an artificial shrimp is that they can come in many colors to match the water clarity for different types of ecosystems encountered. Using a lure that can be more visible to stand out in dirty conditions or less visible in clearer water to perfectly imitate a natural shrimp can be accomplished by simply changing colors.

popping cork gear
The “sploosh” and rattle of a popping cork draws predatory fish, and a realistic shrimp on a leader seals the deal. The Strike King Tidal Shrimp rigged with eyelet at midpoint is especially effective for this method.

When and Where, Salt or Fresh?

An artificial shrimp can be fished in a variety of weather and water conditions. “It’s a year-round bait that I use for multiple applications,” explains Barton. Captain Collier agrees: “There’s not a time that I don’t have a shrimp tied on.” Colder temperatures or deep-water fishing call for a slower presentation while hotter temperatures can cause fish to be more active often requiring a faster retrieve. Calm conditions allow for using a standard lure right out of a package while windy conditions may require the angler to add weight to the shrimp, use a jighead, or heavier model so that the shrimp can cast better into the wind.

The allure to an artificial shrimp is that it can be used everywhere, often with great results. Hard cover such as docks and overhanging mangroves can be fished affectively for snook, redfish, trout, tarpon, and flounder by skipping the shrimp under the cover. A single-hook shrimp is surprisingly weedless and can often go through cover with ease. A weedless Texas rig can help prevent hang-ups in grass beds or in snaggier situations. Captain Barton likes to sight cast big bull redfish on grassflats with a Texas-rigged Manic Shrimp because the light lure will not easily spook fish and it will have a slow sink rate that is appealing to fish.

Recommended


Anglers targeting seatrout can cast an artificial shrimp along grass beds and along channel edges and spoil islands and even under a popping cork. When big redfish move off the flats into deeper water, Barton likes to attract the attention of fish with a popping cork by making a big splash and commotion. During summer months tarpon can be caught on artificial shrimp in residential canals, creeks, and rivers.

For anglers looking for tripletail, casting an artificial shrimp around buoys and channel markers along the Intracoastal Waterway and around shipping channels can yield big results. Snapper, grouper, and flounder can be enticed by casting a shrimp and hopping it slowly along the bottom.

fishing kayaker holds redfish
Brandon Barton shows off a nice Panhandle redfish taken on a Savage Gear 3D Manic Shrimp.

Captain Barton’s specialty is targeting big red snapper offshore Northwest Florida in his Hobie kayak. He will drop down a big 5-inch Manic Shrimp along wrecks and structure in 70 feet of water. Occasionally, snapper will suspend above the bottom and a big artificial shrimp will attract their attention. Sometimes, chumming with cut bait or minnows will fire fish up and bring them higher in the water column where an artificial shrimp will get picked up on first notice. Collier also likes to have a rod rigged with a shrimp when fishing offshore on the Atlantic coast for casting to mahi along weedlines and floating debris.

Dock lights at nighttime can be excellent places to target snook, trout, and redfish with artificial shrimp. Fish lay waiting in the shadows of the light ready to attack a live shrimp or baitfish drifting by the light. Offering an artificial shrimp creates a subtle presentation that will not spook fish from the light such as with noisier lures. Try using a D.O.A. Shrimp in the Near Clear color or the Savage Gear 3D Manic Shrimp in the New Penny or Gold color when fishing in and around dock lights at night for an extremely natural presentation.

On Florida’s freshwater lakes and rivers, eastern grass shrimp, crayfish, and freshwater prawns are frequently on the menu and an artificial shrimp can fool many species. Largemouth bass, peacock bass, bluegill, speckled perch (black crappie), redear sunfish, and even nonnative fish such as bullseye snakeheads, oscars, and Mayan cichlids can all be caught on artificial shrimp. “I often use a 2-inch shrimp for targeting speckled perch,” advises Collier. “It can be jigged or trolled and can even be used on a flyrod with great success.”

mangrove snapper
Yes, mangrove snapper eat shrimp, and yes, they eat artificials. Brandon Barton is shown with a good one on the Florida Panhandle.

Color Choices & Retrieve Patterns

Depending on the subspecies of shrimp in your area, the coloration of natural shrimp may vary. An angler can easily match the hatch of their local shrimp by choosing a color that best imitates a live shrimp. When fishing in clear water, try a D.O.A. Shrimp in the Near Clear color or the Savage Gear 3D Manic Shrimp in New Penny or Avocado color as they often perfectly imitate a live shrimp.

On sunny days and in darker water when it’s harder to see, try a D.O.A. Shrimp in the Glow/Holo Flake Belly or the Glow/Gold Rush Belly color to provide better visibility. During cloudy days in dark water a shrimp that glows or one that’s bone white are standard fish catchers. For fishing deep water, try a rootbeer/gold glitter color or purple/chartreuse color as these colors often produce great results.

fs-imitationshrimp7
There is a rainbow of color options for imitation shrimp lures.

Generally, a “tap, tap, pause, tap, tap, pause” retrieve is very effective as hopping the shrimp creates a fall and lifelike gliding action that many fish can’t resist. “The fall and glide are where 90 percent of your strikes come from,” advises Collier. The speed of the retrieve is based on water temperature, water depth, or how aggressive the fish are. For flounder and deep-water species, Barton prefers to drag a shrimp along the bottom and occasionally hop it every so often to trigger strikes.

Colder temperatures frequently require longer pauses while warmer temperatures often require speedier retrieves. If fish are inactive, changing your retrieve speed and pause cadence should be experimented until you get a strike or catch a fish, then try to duplicate your retrieve. For fish that are feeding aggressively, a very fast subsurface retrieve can produce explosive strikes similar to fishing a topwater lure.

imitation shrimp fishing lures
Some "catches" from a Southeast Florida tackle shop.

Tackle Recommendations

The first course of action when fishing with an artificial shrimp is to tie a loop knot to help provide a natural side-to-side glide replicating a live shrimp. For most species of fish, both captains recommend using a 10- to 20-pound-test braided line attached to a 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. As a rule, the lighter the leader, the better the action of the shrimp.

Collier prefers to connect his leader to his braided line by tying a double uni knot because it is a strong knot that can be easily tied in all conditions. However, Barton prefers the popular FG knot that can easily slide through the guides on a rod. Collier will upsize his line to 30-pound braid with a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader when targeting big snook around heavy cover such as docks and mangroves. Barton will upsize even greater to a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader when fishing for offshore species around wrecks and up to a 60-pound leader when sight casting to big tarpon along the beach.

angler with large snook
Big snook often take tiny baits, as Capt. Chris Collier proves here. Collier is a longtime fan of the D.O.A. Shrimp, a classic design with a natural glide pattern in the water.

A simple guide for selecting a rod and reel for fishing with an artificial shrimp is to match the size of your tackle with the cover that you are fishing. Open water calls for lighter tackle while heavier cover requires beefier rods, reels, and line. For all-around use, a 2000 to 3000 series spinning reel matched up with a 6'6" to 7'6" medium to medium-heavy action rod will work in most situations. For targeting big snook in heavy cover, a 4000 series spinning reel matched up with a medium-heavy to heavy action rod will help to bring snook out of cover. Skipping a shrimp under docks and mangroves requires a slight parabolic rodtip to help slingshot the bait into hiding places.


  • This article was featured in the April 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Click to subscribe.



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