Puget Sound Spot Shrimp

Limits of yummy puget sound spot shrimp

Spot shrimp may be the best tasting critter you can catch or harvest in all of Puget Sound. Spot shrimp are also tremendously fun to catch. The boat launches and water on a shrimp opener are as packed as you will see on any body of water.

I will never forget one of my first shrimping trips on Hood Canal where I was arriving over an hour before the official open time and the launch was empty. Why was it empty? Because the parking lot was full, everyone was already in the water circling their preferred shrimping spots. Unreal. Shrimping has a little bit of Deadliest Catch to it, because of the race against time to fill shrimp pots during the 4-6 hour openers in some areas. To be successful you really need have everything ready to go the night before, pots rigged up, lines in order, bait mixed and some idea of a strategy. In this guide to Puget Sound Spot Shrimp we will cover what kinds of shrimp pots you can buy and how to rig those pots. We will share thoughts on pot pullers, approach to bait, and a strategy for a 4-6 hour opener. Shrimping Seasons, tides and currents and of course shrimping locations will also be covered.

Current Puget Sound Spot Shrimp Opportunities

We are in middle of the 2022 spot shrimp season opening, head here for more details. This guide will hep you prepare for the upcoming spot shrimp season!

Checkout one of our best videos from 2021 as well. The above video is a great refresher in prep for the season.

2020 Puget Sound Spot Shrimp trip reports

Camping at Scenic Beach State Park and Shrimping Hood Canal in 2020

Incredible time shrimping and crabbing on Hood Canal in 2020.

Strait of Juan de Fuca Shrimping, June 2020

I got out and shrimped near protection island (outside the disco bay shrimp district) in Marine Area 6 on June 1st. There was a nice 5 hour window of slack current, though the wind was blowing pretty good as we were between small craft advisories. Still we did ok getting 5 of our 6 limits. Definitely scratching it out most of the time.

2019 Puget Sound Spot Shrimp trip reports

Shrimp pot types

Square shrimp pots fish fast
Faster fishing square shrimp pot type with many tunnels on each side of the pot, allows for maximum entry and exit capability of shrimp.

There are basically two pot types you can purchase. I like to think of them as fast and slow pots. Fast pots have many tunnels on all sides of the pot. They are really designed for these 4-6 hour openers in the Puget Sound. You don’t want them to soak for more than 45-60 minutes before pulling them.

Slower fishing shrimp pot type

The slower fishing pots need a 1-1.5 hour soak as they have fewer tunnels. They will both fill with shrimp slower, and it will also take the shrimp longer to leave the pot (this is also a function of the bait used, but more on that later). I’ve fished both pot types side by side and there’s definitely an advantage to fishing the slower pots in shrimp abundant areas with all day openers like the Strait and the San Juan Islands. At the same time, with a 4 hour opener, you may only get 4 pot sets per pot and having a pot that can fish effectively in less than an hour is also a real advantage.

Another pot type that’s catching on and putting a lot of shrimp on boats is the SMI Octagon pot. I recently purchased a Mckay Super sized octagon pot that fishes just awesome.

Bigger fast fishing wire pots hold more bait and more shrimp, and can fish just as fast as the smaller ones.

How to rig pots for Puget Sound Spot Shrimp

I’ve pulled up my most shrimp per pot with this SMI fast fishing pot loaded with lots of bait.

Video on how to rig up shrimp pots, along with real drops of the shimp pots during the season

There are many successful ways to rig shrimp pots and both fast and slow pot types have some pot specific variables to pay attention to, but all pots need to have the appropriate amount of weight, floatation and rope setup.

How much weight is required for a pot? Each pot should be at least 30 pounds. Some pots are built in such a way as to not require any weight be added, others need you to add weight. The topic of pot weight ties to shrimping tides and currents, discussed later, but don’t be that guy who’s convinced his pots got stolen when they really just drifted off with the tidal current or wind.

You can buy pot weights designed by SMI or KUFA and tie them into your lighter pots by tying them to the corners away from the tunnels. If you use fishing line to tie them in, make sure it’s at least 50 (80?) lb test and that there isn’t slack / give in the line. I’ve also used parachute cord. I had 30 lb test one year and the weight broke free when I tipped the pot one direction.

gym weights tied to a pot
Getting use out of old home gym weights.

You can also make use of those gym weights you never use, collecting spider webs in the corner of your garage. I’ve had some corrosion show up on them, but that’s nothing you can’t solve with some plasti-dip.

Your pots need sufficient floatation, but you should also consider breaking your floatation into two parts.  Too much floatation in a single buoy will lead to your pot being bounced around on the bottom as the wind, waves, boat traffic moves your floatation around on the surface. The pot moving around on the bottom will cause shrimp to abandon your pots quite readily.

shrimp pot buoy system
Extra buoy to clip on to buoy stick

We recommend braking your flotation into a buoy or buoy stick setup that is directly on your main shrimping line with an additional buoy attached to that buoy setup. Think of the additional buoy as purely just insurance. If your pot does decide to drift off, you have enough flotation to have a chance at finding it, while not playing havoc with your pot being still on the sea floor.

Saved by the insurance buoy!

This exact scenario happened to us on the 2019 Shrimp opener while shrimping near Vashon Island. Something happened to our pot, likely the pot anchor tangled with another pot placed too close to ours and dragged the entire buoy stick underwater. Only the insurance buoy was showing!

folding anchor for shrimp pot
1.5 lb folding anchor

One thing you can do to aide in pot stillness is add a small folding anchor to your mainline 10-15 feet up from your shrimp pot.

I usually use about 6-8 ft of lead core line and a crab style clip to attach it to my mainline shortly after my pot goes overboard. This will have the effect of absorbing the movement of the float on the surface and preventing that movement from translating to pot movement on the sea floor.

For round pots, you want to put the folding anchor line off the pot itself as these round pots have a tendency to roll if they don’t land perfectly on the seafloor. You can also ensure a flush landing by controlling your boat to be right above your pot as it drops and then pulling on the line to ensure it is truly stuck. This also helps if the pot harness is rigged to the opposite side as where you place the pot anchor line.

In almost every case, the primary challenge to shrimping is line management. Each boat can have a maximum of 4 shrimp pots onboard. With a minimum of 400’ of lead core line per pot, that’s 1600’ feet of rope onboard that needs to be safely and effectively managed as part of dropping pots and pot retrieval.

There are a number of ways to make line management easier, but breaking your line attachments into detachable components really helps the process be smooth, safe and efficient. Also, checkout the above video for our system.

Additionally, SMI has released a line coiler that functions similar to the above home grown variety.

Selecting a pot puller for spot shrimping

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Scoty Pot puller

In terms of a pot puller there are a few considerations like budget, number of people in your “shrimping crew” and health / fitness level.

We use the Scotty pot puller as a great budget pot pulling device and while it greatly helps reduce the stress of the many pot pulls associated with a day of shrimping, it still requires that you do some slight pulling to get it started and keep line feeding through the puller. You can spend more money on a device that will perform a greater share of the heavy lifting and allow you to focus on line management, which could be invaluable if you are shrimping by yourself, or maybe you’re the only one on the boat capable of these various tasks.

Shrimping by yourself would certainly be a challenge, though not impossible. Shrimping with a crew is a great way to go after it, especially if everyone is working together and on the same page.

The above depicted Brutus Ace Line Hauler is a great way to go if you have to do most of the work yourself for a bit more cost. Want to take the kids out shrimping by yourself for their extra licenses = more shrimp? The Brutus can be handled solo as it does all the pulling and allows you to focus on line management vs the scotty requires constant tension on the line and is more like a “helper” than doing it all for you.

Line management as mentioned earlier is the most intimidating aspect of shrimping. If you are out there waiting for 7 am and just starting to unpack your shrimp lines…You are in for a long and not very enjoyable day. Make sure your lines are in good shape and coiled up properly long before you ever go shrimping to save yourself significant headache.

Puget Sound Spot Shrimp habitat

There are a variety of depths and habitat that hold spot shrimp throughout Puget Sound, but you are primarily looking depths from 250-300 ft deep, and typically on a slope just above a flatter much deeper area. They can be found in much shallower depths as well, but this can be heavily dependent on weather and other factors as they are light sensitive.

For example in 2022, the best shrimping depths in Hood Canal were from 150 – 220 ft vs a more typical 250+.

shrimp on the sonar
Shrimp on the sonar

When there are enough spot shrimp in the area, and currents are slack enough for them to move around they should show up on good electronics as a cloud hovering just above the sea floor. They may also show up more faintly or even not at all if they are hunkered down holding on the bottom. I’ve seen massive amounts of shrimp come over the rails in areas with no shrimp on the sonar.

Puget Sound Spot Shrimp Locations

One of the most obvious strategies to finding good spot shrimp locations, is to just follow other boats and fish at a respectful distance from them in the areas they end up at. You cannot miss where people are shrimping, given the clusters of boats and bright yellow buoys you will see dotting the area. There are a few problems with this strategy though:

  1. You don’t really know if the folks you are following know what they are doing or themselves have a good shrimping location figured out. Even the evidence of many boats it not necessarily a tell due to the human herd nature. In that, we assume that if there are lots of boats in an area, it must be good.
  2. More boats = more competition = less shrimp per pot. Now, there are some truly great shrimp spots that will draw in many boats and it’s where you want to be. But don’t assume that’s always the case. We had a tough go of it shrimping in close proximity with 15 other boats in an area of Hood Canal that didn’t have a ton of shrimp. It’s tough to move though once you’ve got 4 pots down and you’re in the middle of attempting to grind it out.

The more shrimping I’m doing, the better I’m getting at identifying new potential locations on a Bathymetric chart like what you will find on the Navionics App. You start to notice a few patterns in the geography that shrimp clearly prefer. Sure, you could just fish close to home and go back to the same spots each year, but unless you live near the San Juan’s or the Strait, you aren’t getting many cracks at it. So you want to make sure you are picking good locations to invest your shrimping time.

The key is to realize that shrimp are extremely current sensitive. If you could only eat food in soft enough current situations, you wouldn’t spend a lot of time in areas where a soft current is rare. The mindset is very similar to reading water on river and only targeting that preferred holding water. Ignore 90% of the other water.

For Spot shrimp you are looking for anything that breaks up the current of the main channel. Deeper water off of Bay’s or in-cuts of the bathymetric lines and deeper areas which denote places where the current may slow down a bit are all good bets. If you find an area with a deep flat from 200-250 ft leading to a deeper drop off down to 300-400 ft, targeting the top of that slope below the deep flat can be a great option as well.

South Sound – Marine Area 11 and 13

In the 2019 season, Marine Area 13 was closed due to a poor test fishery result. There were however good numbers of shrimp in Marine Area 11. Most of the successful shrimping in MA11 is done on the south or east side of Vashon Island.

We started our shrimping on the opener in Colvos passage and did not do well. When we shrimped around Dolphin point on the northern tip of Vashon Island we immediately averaged 40-50 shrimp per pot and there was a huge cloud of shrimp on the sonar. The full blog post on our opening day of shrimping off of Vashon Island can be found here.

Shrimping was good up and down the south and east sides of Vashon Island. We also heard a great report from Quartermaster harbor on the south end.

Checkout our more detailed page on Shrimping in Marine Area 11 for more information.

Hood Canal – Marine Area 12

Checkout my latest report on Hood Canal Shrimping for some specifics on locations on Hood Canal.

San Juan Islands – Marine Area 7

The San Juan Islands shrimping areas are broken up into West, East and South.

In the West you have areas near Waldron Island, John’s Island and Stuart Island along with San Juan and Spieden Channels. I’ve only shrimped the Waldron / John’s island location personally.

In the South you have Iceberg point, which may be the best known shrimping area in the Islands and can be fantastic, but is also super exposed to a south wind and the bigger water of the strait. There are also several other locations along southern Rosario

In the north you have areas along northern Rosario, Bellingham Bay and Sucia Islands.

The Strait – Marine Area 5 and 6

There are quite a few potential locations here, more so in the eastern straits aka Area 6. Eastern bank can be fantastic, but is very exposed big water. I’ve generally tried to find a bit more protection and targeted areas around Dallas Bank.

You can read a bit more about shrimping in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and our recent trip in June 2019. We cover a few locations in more protected water worth trying.

Best tides and currents for shrimping

Understanding tides and currents might be the most important factor in targeting Puget Sound Spot Shrimp. Get this wrong and you are wasting your time, or worse, you may lose all your shrimp gear. Shrimp are only active at very low tidal current. If you think you can drop your shrimp pots in a good location, with good bait and rigged up properly, but during the wrong tide or part of the tide, you will quickly learn how this is not the case. Even a marginal tidal current of say .3 knt current won’t perform nearly as well as a .1 or .15 knt current. Regarding the risk of losing your pots, remember that you are often dropping them on a slope just above even deeper water, so even properly weighted and anchored, all that current acting on your 400 ft of line can still move your pots into deeper water and force you to go looking for your pots. And if you don’t have proper floatation, you may just be flat out of luck.

How do you know which tides are the best for shrimping? Look for tides with low tidal exchange. Tidal exchange is the absolute difference from low tide to high tide for a flood tide, or from high tide to low tide in the case of an ebb. So, a high tide of 7 ft and a low tide of 5 ft would be a tidal exchange of 2 ft. The times and dates of the 6-hour openers in Hood Canal or the May 11th opener throughout Puget Sound in 2019 were selected based on these ideal tidal scenarios. These ideal conditions will show up approximately every 2 weeks during the season as well.

One of the best tools for selecting the right shrimping tides is the Navionics App. It’s also helpful for finding ideal shrimping locations. Navionics will show you the expected tidal current days, weeks, or months in advance for a given part of Puget Sound.

Puget Sound Spot Shrimp strategy

Outside of all the preparation that can be done the weeks, days or the night before, you should have a game plan worked out for what you will do once you are out there. If you get out there and just expect to find your shrimping spot before the opening bell hits, you might be hard pressed to have success that day. You and hundreds of other boats will be going through the same exercise. So why not get a jump on things and pre-scout the area prior to the morning of? Expect heavy competition in the “well known” areas as well as good areas closest to boat ramps and launches.

Best bait for Puget Sound Spot Shrimp

Like all aspects of shrimping, there are many ways to be successful with bait. There can be very simple approaches such as grinding up shrimp pellets with shrimp oil, to having 2-3 different bait strategies in the same pot and everything in-between. I’ve started to use the similar bait strategies for both shrimp and crab in many ways as what they key in on are quite similar.

Yummy shrimp bait
Super yummy shrimp bait!

I like to take shrimp pellets, grind them up a bit, mix them with canned mackerel and canned catfish of the Ocean Whitefish and Tuna variety. Add in some amount of Pautzke’s Crab and Shrimp fuel and mix it all really well. I scoop my meaty mixture into bait canisters until packed about 3/4 full and then after retrieving the pots, I will add whatever is left in the canisters back to my bait mixture. I can then re-hydrate and re-use the bait by adding in more Pautzke’s fuel, canned mackerel or cat food. This mixture, and process of mixing and re-using allows me to effectively and efficiently use my bait throughout the shrimp season and then roll it right over to the crab season. If you shrimp often enough though your pellets will break down, requiring that you add more fresh pellets at some point.

I may also include a hanging bait at times that can keep shrimp in the pot feeding even if the milking of bait mixture and oil has slowed down.

I’ve also learned to keep extra amounts of all bait ingredients on my boat in case I need to adjust the mixture while shrimping.

Summary on Puget Sound Spot Shrimp

  1. Preparation is key to shrimping success – Everything should be ready to go by the night before. Don’t discover the day of, that you are missing a key piece of equipment.
  2. Select shrimping equipment that works best for you, your crew (type of pot puller / line hauler) and your location (fast vs slow pot type)
  3. Pick a shrimping strategy based on time allotted for the opener and competition from other boats.
  4. Always always always pick the right tides and currents for shrimping, especially in the Strait and San Juans
  5. Get out there and participate in every shrimp opportunity you can, to enjoy one of the funnest harvesting activities and tastiest critters in the Puget Sound.

6 Replies to “Puget Sound Spot Shrimp”

  1. thank you for all your information I have lived on the straits but have never gone shrimping me and my son want to try so all information is needed we will get a three day trip we are from walla walla so thank you again. tim parks

    1. Thanks man, appreciate that! Shrimping is one of our favorite PNW activities. We cannot wait for the opener this year, hopefully in a couple of weeks.

  2. how long does your shrimp bait last? Like, would you make a bunch one day and use that over 4 days? How perishable is it?

    1. Yes. I make a bunch of it in a cooler that I can put in my freezer for storage longer than a few days, or I leave in a cooler in the garage with some frozen water bottles that I rotate around. I basically treat it like low quality refrigerator requirement type. But I don’t worry about it getting a little bit warm or being frozen or re-frozen multiple times. I’m on day 4 of shrimping over the past 2.5 weeks with the same basic stuff. You will notice your shrimp pellets get pretty soft after a bit, so I will refresh it with more shrimp pellets, oil and other ingredients.

    1. Jerry,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m excited that you’re already thinking about this upcoming shrimp season! Most of the time, your local sporting goods store will carry them. I’ve bought them at Sportco in Fife and also Sportsmans Warehouse in Puyallup…

      You may not find them until closer to the shrimping season however as they are definitely a seasonal item.

      Thanks,
      Kyle

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