A Step-by-Step Guide to Shrimp Baiting
It’s September in South Carolina – the season of school bells, tropical storms, and, for some crustacean-crazy folks, shrimp baiting.
The sport of shrimp baiting gained popularity in the Southeast several decades ago, offering enterprising anglers the opportunity to attract and catch shrimp by cast-netting over areas scattered with bait. Poles stuck in the pluff mud are the tell-tale sign of shrimp-baiting season; anglers use them to mark the areas in which they’ve dispersed bait balls.
In its heyday in the late 1990s, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) issued a high of about 18,000 shrimp-baiting permits yearly. As the popularity of the sport has waned, license sales have declined – only 6,200 were sold in South Carolina last year.
Here’s a primer on how to get started in this unusual sport:
2. Gather your materials and containers for mixing and find a place outside to make your bait balls. You will need:
- fish meal
- a few measuring cups
- one bucket for mixing
- another bucket containing water
- gloves (optional)
3. Measure out your materials. Pictured here is a 2:1 (fish meal:clay) ratio, but many different other mix ratios work. Many bait-ballers use all-purpose flour to get the proper mixture, too.
The goal is to make these last long enough to sit on the bottom of the water near your bait poles without breaking apart too easily while they distribute the fishmeal into the water, drawing in the shrimp.
4. Pour your measured dry materials into the mixing bucket. Stir around with your hand a few times to make sure that they are properly mixed. Slowly stir water into dry mixture.
5. Continue to add water until you get a thick-enough consistency to be able grab the mixture and form it into balls with your hands.
Remember, it is much easier to add water a little bit at a time than to have to let it dry out because you added too much water.
6. Once you have a mixture that will hold together, begin patting them together to form patty-like shapes. This helps them stay closer to your bait poles instead of rolling around with the current on the bottom.
7. Let the balls dry out in the sun to get hard. You want to have enough bait balls to put 2-3 around each pole and some in between them.
If you are trying to go out right after making your bait balls, let them dry enough so that they aren't sticky on the outside.
8. You're ready to get your cast net and head out to get some shrimp! Make sure that your net has a minimum mesh size of ½-inch square (about 1-inch stretched).
9. Plan to get out to your fishing spot and have your poles placed and bait balls in the water as the tide is coming back in. Shrimp typically follow a pattern that brings them back into the intertidal areas during low tides.
This pole is made of 1-inch diameter PVC piping, and the bottom half has a smaller metal pole secured to the inside of it. This will allow for the pole to better stand up in the soft mud of the intertidal areas where you will likely find the most shrimp.
Get your poles prepared before you get out on the water. Each of them should be marked with reflective tape, no more than 1 inch in diameter, and numbered with a tag that corresponds with the boat's shrimp-baiting license.
10. All poles of a licensed set must be within 100 linear yards of each other, and different sets of poles (yours and another shrimper's) must be at least 25 yards apart. Poles may not be set within 50 yards of any dock, public landing or boat ramp. Unattended poles will be confiscated.
11. No more than 10 poles can be used per boat. Owners of private docks or persons with written permission may bait from those docks, once properly licensed and with numbered tag displayed.
12. Bring out your bait balls. If they are dried completely, get some ocean water and get them wet to allow them to start dissolving. Toss at least 1-2 at each pole and maybe one in between each pole to disperse the bait into the water.
By the time you are done placing the bait balls at your last pole, the ones you placed in the beginning should already be bringing in the shrimp.
13. Start using your cast net back at the beginning of your line of marked bait poles after you have placed all of your bait balls. Cast a few times around each pole and then drift/steer towards the next one.
14. The bait draws in the shrimp around your poles. Throw your cast net, and as you catch shrimp, place them in an iced cooler (preferably a 48-quart size). Your limit per day (sunrise to sunrise) is 48 quarts whole or 29 quarts ‘headed’ (with the shrimp's head removed) per set of poles.
The season for shrimp baiting is 60 days long, set to start each year at noon on the last Friday on or before September 15.
Good luck and happy shrimping!