Shrimping in Hood Canal

 

 

 

This article was started in May of 2000 after South Sound Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers had the pleasure of having Bob and Rick Caughie, owners of Hood Canal's Discount tackle at 14640 E. Highway 106, Belfair WA. as our speakers.   Their phone is 360-275-2284,  their e-mail is portcahe@hctc.com    You will have to really look for their business as it is in a old large A frame slightly hidden on the south side of the highway.  Bob has passed away, but Rick is still operating the store.

 

The subject covered was shrimping in Hood Canal.  This article was based originally on Bob's information and then after that on personal experiences.

 

It was this writers observance that the Caughie's pots are very well made, well thought out, and obviously made by shrimp fishermen.   It would be very hard to describe them with words, so I suggest you make a drive to Hood Canal, then take a look yourself if you have more than a passing interest in shrimping.

 

Old Bob has kept records of shrimping success/ failure for 20 years, and has made some decisions as to pot configuration, set depth and bait that he passed on to us.   It may be a important factor for new shrimpers to thoroughly read the current fishing regulations as to WDFW requirements.

 

This is what you are after
 

 

Clothing ;  Many times this time of the year you will NOT get bluebird weather, so standard practice is to have your foul weather gear along.  When the weather is windy, rainy or both, this does not deter most determined shrimpers.  Rain pants are usually a must no matter what the weather, with a rain jacket being rather high on the list as being close by.

 

Boat Size ;  You will see boats of many sizes and configurations on the water here.  The weather will deter the smaller ones however.  I have seen a 12' Livingston with a 15hp outboard, 2 people and 2 pots, a rather crowded situation, to 26' cabin boats with lots of room and secure situations.  Probably the most common size would be a boat in the 18' to 20' size, being a normal bay or Puget Sound salmon fishing boat that the owner outfitted to accommodate shrimping by adding a pot puller.  Some owners appear stronger than smart, (or possibly due to a skinny wallet) and go for pulling the pots by hand.

 

Pot ;  A round pot is preferable and seems to be a factor in attracting shrimp.   Bob indicated that the octagonal would be his second choice, with the square one being the last.   He did note that with today's limits, that the square would probably still if in set the right place, limit you out.   Entry cone angles also seem to make a difference.

 

Inside each pot a weight is needed to hold it down.  Old window weights or scrap iron are favorites.  However 4 to 6# lead scuba diver weights can be stacked for more weight and the belt loop makes for good tie tape slots.  The entry funnels need to be placed (elevated) so they can not be readily accessed from the inside of the pot so the shrimp can not sneak back out. 

It is preferable to attach 3 bridle lines on each pot instead of the 2 shown below.  You want the pots setting on the bottom upright.

 

Access to bait containers need to be quickly accessible.  Ones located within screened center compartment having a latched lid are a must as seen in the one in the photo on the right below.  The bait canisters can be the plastic screw or snap on lid type with enough holes to disperse a small amount of the bait.  They also need to be readily accessible for removal, meaning they probably need to have some means of being pulled out of the pot's enclosure, like a cord or tie tape attached to the top.

 

Pots need to have a convenient opening, preferably on one side corner for removing the shrimp and a center bait container hole both, with a secure latchable cover.

 

A square shrimp pot A octagon shrimp pot made by the Caughies
   

 

When pulling a pot from 250' of water using 300' of line, it seems like forever getting it up when pulling by hand, considerably less when using a puller.  One observance is that since most pots are black or dark green, they do not show up well until they get very close to the surface.   To help the pot puller (or helper) it helps if the bridle line on the pot be of a color that shows up quite well.  Yellow being the preferred color.

Some shrimpers using a twisted or braided line will separate the strands, insert a short section of red or orange flagging tape at known intervals.  Or if only one, make it 30' from the pot, which gives you an indication that you are getting close.

 

Float & Line ;  Floats required by WDFW must be constructed of a durable material and must be visible at all times except at extreme tidal conditions.  Personal flags or staffs, if attached to the buoys can be any color.    Shrimp buoys are required to be yellow in color as compared to the red/white for crab.   The buoy lines must be weighted sufficiently to prevent them from floating on the surface.

 

Bob has settled on a float design that consists of the float on a steel shaft thru it's center, protruding about 3' above & 2' below the actual float.   The float should be attached with the square or non-rounded end down for more floatation.   The top section can be used to tie your identifying personal flag.   It also has a small arm about 6" long protruding out and up right at the top of the float for winding the line onto.  The bottom section also has a similar arm protruding out and down for the same purpose.  There is a ring in the bottom for attaching the line.

The line usually is 1/4" yellow nylon, with enough footage to be long enough for your expected deepest water plus 100'.  This line could be from 400' plus, depending where you shrimp and the water conditions.

 

With this float system, you can wind all of your line onto these arms on the float system. Then when you drop your pot, you do not need to throw all the excess line in the water, just don't unwind any more than you need off the float unit, tie it off on the bottom, and your excess line is attached to your float.

 

Other fishermen may prefer  to use two yellow floats, separated by about 12" and then 3' of line to a couple of smaller "tag" floats.  the distance between floats gives you a chance to catch the line between the floats with your boat hook when you are trying to recover your buoy system to pull the pot.  Any combination of floats and an upright that is used to locate, plus identify your pot is beneficial.

 

Also it may be a good idea to number your floats in large letters.  Use this as a sequence in dropping them off so you can pull in the same sequence, as it is legal to only use 4 pots per boat, no matter how many fisherpersons are aboard.

 

You need some method of attaching the line to both the float and the pot.   Snaps are the most convenient, but I suggest you go for stainless steel, as brass ones have a habit of  corroding once being in saltwater and the spring loaded snap latch may not open or return at a crucial time when time is of the essence, like when you are trying to attach a buoy after you have just laid out 300' line out, the wind is blowing, the tide is running & your boat operator has his hearing aids off.   The other alternative is to double check everything the night before departure.

I like to have a snap on the BOTTOM of everything.  This is NEVER removed from the bottom of the pot or line.

 

You will notice a lead weight around the PVC below the float.  This is to stabilize the float so it stands upright in the water, not to be associated with the line weights mentioned below.

Many fishers simply use a 30 gallon garbage can to store their pot line.  They set it right under the puller & coil it into the can as they pull.  This is a lot less prone to tangling than you would think.  The only thing to be sure that when you drop a pot or bring one in is to be sure that you snap or unsnap the line connections with someone having ahold of enough line as to not drop a pot and not have a float attached.

 

Here as described above, a float with it's own spool holding 300' of 1/4" rope

 

 

 

Line Weight ;  A snap on line weight is required by the WDFW to keep the excess line from floating and endangering other boaters props.   It also serves a shock absorber for the pot.   When letting the pot down, do not just throw the whole thing in the water, as the line surely will tangle on it's way down, you will have lost the pot.    Pay it out rapidly until you feel it hit the bottom, then if in a calm day with not to much run-off add another 6 to 7 arm lengths (36'-42') before you attach the line weight of 12 oz.   This 12 oz would be a minimum for a calm day.   For a windier and or higher run-off day add another 4 to 5 arm length pulls before you put on the line weight of up to maybe a preferable 32 oz weight.

 

What this line weight does, again, it acts as a shock absorber between the float and the pot.   If the pot is jerked around by the float, which is moved by the waves, the shrimp may be discouraged from entering the pot.

 

Bait ;  Bait can be almost anything that has a fish smell to it.    However when you search for bait, you try to not find anything that has shrimp in it, as shrimp apparently are not cannibalistic.

 

The most commonly used bait is fish flavored cat food in cans.   One of the favored cat food seems to be Fiskies in either "Sea Captains Choice, or Whitefish".   However any fish off-cast will work, as any oily fish, salmon roe, even fish fertilizer or clam guts or all above mixed together.   Even grind up your old freezer burned herring salmon bait.  One fisherperson insists that Bud Light beer needs to also be added to the mix.   

 

If just using cans of cat food, there should be many large holes punched in the sides of the cans for the scent to escape from.   You can make a punch out of 3/4" steel or if any of you happen to have the old can and bottle opener that pierces a triangle in the can, this would probably work also.

 

One suggestion is to mix up a quantity of bait, freeze it, then take it out of the freezer, place it in a cooler so that it will only be slightly thawed at the time the pot enters the water.   The theory here is that the scent trail should be released on the bottom and not wasted in the water column going down.

 

The bait canisters can be the plastic screw or snap on lid type with enough holes to disperse a small amount of the bait.  Holes from 1/4" up to 3/8", which may vary on the viscosity of your bait concoction, which will allow the bait to leak out nearly 1/2 the amount within about a 1 hour of soak time.    Don't scrimp on bait.   You only have a short window of time to fish and good bait is the main secret to getting your share and doing it as early as possible so you can beat many of the other boats off the water to avoid the zoo at the launch.

 

bait container, note the zip tie hand hold strap
   

 

Depth ;  If in a new area to you, it may be best to set your pots out in different water depths, depending on the number you have, starting at maybe 120' and out to 250' or 300'.    In about an hour pull them and then reset at the depth that you caught the most at on the first pull.   Get to know your area's bottom structure so when you find a good area, mark it by bearings off shore locations or GPS.

 

Dropping the Pot ;  This needs to be thought out ahead of time.   If you are new at the game try to go with someone who has at least some experience.  Talk to as many shrimp fisherpersons to find out their best water depths.  They may not reveal their exact locations, but once the season opens, it will not take long to observe where the activity is about to happen.  However don't get caught up in the excitement that just because there are a lot of boats in an area that it is the only spot to drop a pot.  Try your own location occasionally, who knows, you  may come up with a winner with not a lot of competition and crowding/tangled pots.

 

Crowded pots are probably one of the worst things for a shrimpers nightmare, especially if there is some wind and chop on the water.  As you will probably get tangled with other pots when you pull yours.  This is because if you are dropping over 200' you need to "LEAD" your drop location in relationship to the final location because of the depth and the wind/current pushing to where your pot will finally be resting.  And hopefully not over someone else's line.

 

Remember that in dropping a pot off in 240' of water, that the pot may not be landing on the bottom where you dropped it, even if you pay out line very rapidly, but could be 100 yards closer to a nearby pot than you expected.  It even may become tangled with another pot.  Usually when this happens, with the tide is moving fast, both pots will be drug because of the extra buoyancy.  When this happens, neither will be fishing right and usually no, or minimal shrimp take is the result in either.

 

The word is that you want to be on the edge of a drop off of near or deeper than 200'.  As shrimp apparently spend some of their time deeper, but come up a bit in the mornings, if you can intercept them on the shallower area, the less pot-line you have to let out.  However be careful so you do not drop a pot off in a sharper drop off to where you may not recover it.

If you have a GPS, you might try to enter a waypoint at your initial drop locations, or if you move a considerable distance.  Also you can use your cruising trails on the screen to help locate pots when you want to pull them.

 

Pulling ;   You need to pull at least a few pots manually by hand to realize the benefits of a pot puller.   You can buy commercially made ones either electric or gas driven, or homemade if you are handy and inventive.   When using a puller, it works best to have a pivoting boom mounted to the boat, using a side accessible roller type block on the outer end.  Stationary pullers like the one shown below on the right work well, except you need to manually be able to pull the pot up over the gunwale, (hopefully without scratching the hull).

 

The gas driven pullers are simple using a 3 to 4hp Briggs and Stratton or Honda 4 cycle motor that has a gear reduction capstan spool that the line is wrapped a couple of loops around, where you maintain tension while recovering line.  In pulling the pot, by tightening up slightly on the line over this spool, with the puller under power, the line will be pulled in.    However this puller can become dangerous if the operator becomes distracted even to the point of breaking bones in the hand.  Electric pullers are more forgiving in this manner.

 

There are 3 or 4 factory sports electric pot pullers, ranging from $450 to $900.  The electrics will usually have a large pulley that the line goes partly around and over a smaller pulley that allows you to maintain enough tension to transfer the power to the line.  The motor supplies the power to the large wheel, while you maintain enough tension and pull the recovered line into a neat coiled pile or into a barrel. 

 

The minimal retrieval is about 150' per minute.  It is suggested that you have a good heavy duty battery if you are using a electric type, or possibly a separate battery dedicated to just the pot puller.  If you are using the regular boat battery, be sure it is at a full charge before you leave the garage, as you will be starting and stopping the boat motor, using the depthfinder/GPS plus the pot puller.

 

Some shrimpers coil the line inside a 15 gallon garbage can when the pot is being pulled.  And if you place a large orange traffic cone inside on the bottom, and wrap the line around the cone, this is an easy method of of keeping the line from tangling AND keeps the deck clear.  Some shrimpers just use the garbage can and hand lay the line in, but the traffic cone far surpasses any other method.

 

There is another poor mans pot puller, that is using the Columbia River sliding anchor puller and buoy as mentioned in this sturgeon FISHING ARTICLE.  It may not be as fast as the electric or gas puller, but sometimes you use what you have.  However this style would not be if you were shrimping in close proximity with other boats because of the larger area needed to pull the pot.

 

Doing it the hard way An easier method using a Ace Line Hauler
   

 

The secret of pulling is to pull in a slow steady motion, which seems to use the force of the water to hold the scrimp against the pot's bottom, otherwise if the shrimp happen to be smallish, if given a pull and stop motion as in hand pulling, they can sneak out thru the holes in the mesh. 

 

As soon as the pot clears the water and is free from the puller pulleys it needs to be lifted aboard and into the boat so no shrimp have the chance to escape.  Shown in the photo above on the right, is a protective rubber mat placed on the gunwale.   Depending on the size and layout of the boat, some pot pullers can be swiveled, allowing the free swinging pot to be placed on a special platform.

 

You will see pot pullers positioned on either side of the boat.  This may be the owners choice for numerous reasons, from which side the kicker motor is mounted on if it it used during the pulling process, (opposite side so not prop/line confrontations occur).  It could also be on the starboard side of a larger boat so the skipper can observe the incoming line and be able to navigate better.   Most of the pots will be pulled off the rear quarter and on smaller boats, the weight of the pot will pull the boat in alignment with the pot line.  If the weather is bad, the larger heavier boats will have to be backed into the wind to maintain position to keep the line from tangling under the boat or motor.

 

Counting & De-heading ;  Counting your catch and keeping them in separate personal containers so limits are identified are a good idea.    Deheading consists of gripping the shrimp by the tail in one hand with the thumb and forefinger at the juncture of the head and the body.  The other hand is on the head with thumb and forefinger next to and opposing the other hand.  Sharply twist, separating the head from the body.  While doing this, a second verifying count can be done.

 

It is also suggested that you wear gloves when pulling, removing them from the pot, counting and de-heading them as seen below. 

 

Here comes a pot full over the side Here the Admiral is counting the catch
   

 

On one shrimping trip to Hood Canal, we were pulling out at the Powerhouse launch, the boat shown below, pulls in beside us.  I later found out that this is of a boat owned by Frank Volz, of Grays Harbor  360-537-2303,  e-mail  The puller is homemade using a motorcycle starter motor.  The reel spools are set up to be rewound as you pull the pot.   The rewind can be done single handed if needed.  This method of spooling the line as you pull the pot sure keeps the deck clear and the line free of tangles.

 

Here is a well thought out shrimp boat layout, waiting to pull out
 

 

Timing ;  WDFW usually sets the seasons here about the first to the middle of May and only on Wednesday and Saturday.  But it only opens at 9AM to 1PM.  This places a LOT of boat traffic at the launches in the southern Hood Canal which is especially bad if there happens to be a minus tide at either launch or take out times.  This is very congested on a Saturday.   I have see take out lines at Potlatch Powerhouse launch over 1/2 a mile long along the northbound shoulder of the highway even after 2 1/2 hours after the season closure.   Put ins take less time as once the boat is in the water, it can be moved out of the way, but on recovery, only one boat can be loading at a time.  This is especially bad if the wind is blowing and you have a minus tide.

 

This all makes for a rather hurried condition on the boat.  Everyone needs to know what is expected of them and do it flawlessly.  Otherwise if pots are dropped to close to someone else's, they will become entangled and when this happens usually neither catch shrimp as neither is "fishing right".  Also pot lines can get tangled in the prop, which can be interesting especially if the tide is running or wind blowing you into other floats.

 

Then with all this rush to get in and out of may hundred boats at the few public launches a real zoo.  However if you want to have cheap entertainment take a lawn chair, your favorite beverage and park yourself at the top of a boat launch during these peak times.  You might want to take along your camera also.  Even some large signs with numbers so you can grade these misadventures like the Olympic judges do.    Kind of makes for putting in the night before, then laying at anchor overnight a thought.  Then enjoy your time on the water before and after the shrimp time.  You may even be able to find some oysters or clams.  Or pull up, tie up to the Hoodsport public dock, walk uptown and view the businesses or get something to eat.

 

Lost Pot ;  If you happen to drop off a pot that drifts into deeper water, or, your line is shorter than needed when the tide is really running, your pot may go into hiding for a few hours.  Your only chance to recover it is again by having at least a close GPS location and be there at a low slack tide when it pops back up.   WDFW will probably not say to much if you recover your wayward pot even after the season time ended, (if within a few hours) but you will have to dump any shrimp that happened to be in it at that time.  But if you are back the next day trying to find one, it may be best to contact WDFW before you try to recover one.

 

Observations ;  Again it is suggested you record your shrimping success, areas (GPS) and depths, even days, tides and weather.  In the short time window we are allowed on the water, everything has to be thought out ahead of time and the game plan in order. 

 

Also if your boat has any holes on the deck to scuppers or into the bilge, you may want to fabricate a removable screen as these little critters have the uncanny ability to find a way to hide, which could get smelly in a week or two.

 

Preparing Your Catch ;  It will be obvious that you are not out here just for the fun of it, but for some of these tasty morsels.  Once the catch is de-headed and to your intended place of enjoying them, they need to be prepared.  Some simply dump the tail and shell unit into boiling water for just enough time to have the shell turn orange (usually not over a minute or so). 

 

Another way it to remove the shell by cutting the bottom lengthways with a knife or scissors and run your thumb down under the meat, removing it from the shell.   There is a blood vein in the meat, and if you do it right, when you separate the tail and shell from the meat, this darker vein will also be pulled out.  Otherwise it is recommended to find it and pull it out of the meaty tail section. 

 

At this point you can either boil them or sauté them in butter and garlic salts either on a stove or in a Bar B Que on a large pan or aluminum foil.  Don't overcook them as this toughens the meat.

 

To boil shrimp, in a deep pan, add some salt or other seasoning to your liking to the water, bring to a boil, add the shrimp.  Cover the pan and reduce the heat, allowing the shrimp to simmer for between three and six minutes.   Turn off the heat when the shrimp are floating in the water and the flesh is completely opaque.

 

  1. Run cold water over the shrimp, and they will be ready to eat

     

    To cook on a stovetop or Bar-B-Que, heat a large skillet over medium heat.   Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.   Add the butter to the skillet.  When the foaming subsides, raise the heat to high, and invert the plate of shrimp over the pan so the shrimp fall into the pan all at once.   Cook the shrimp, without moving them, for 1 minute.   Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Turn the shrimp over and cook for 2 minutes more.  Transfer the shrimp to a bowl.

     

     

 

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Originated 06-09-2000    Last Updated  05-21-2016                                            
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