Written by Charles Levi Jr. for YakAngler.com
Now that the not-so-wintery winter is behind us here in central Florida, it’s time to pack away the waders and the sweatshirts and look ahead to lighter clothing and warmer water. The spring fishing season is here rather early on the Space Coast. This time of year kicks off with the spring bait run that includes shrimp, finger mullet, pigfish, pilchards and pogies.
Every year, fish and fishermen wait for these tasty little “bugs” to make their way down the Lagoon system from their marsh-like nursery. While most of them move at night, during the day they can be found moving from open water into the muddy and grassy banks of the Lagoons. They will dig themselves down into the mud or sand to hide, because let’s face it, everything likes to eat shrimp. It’s no wonder they are one of the top selling live bait and soft plastic patterns in the Southeast. Everything from sheephead to tarpon love to eat shrimp. As the water warms up, the shrimp you will find at your local bait and tackle shop will get smaller. This doesn’t have to stop you from buying the few dozen you would pick up on your way to the water – just don’t expect to have a big choice of sizes when you get there.
Rigging these smaller shrimp poses a whole new set of issues. For example, when trying to “free line” your bait or rig your shrimp with no weight – just a hook – to cast at tailing fish, or fish in a natural way (like in a light current or around rock piles or mangroves), the smaller shrimp don’t have enough body weight to allow for the long casts that are sometimes needed to get a bait to a spooky fish. Sometimes a split shot or small egg sinker (1/8 oz. or lighter) can be added to the rig to make up for the lack of shrimp weight. Another way to rig a small shrimp is to use a popping cork. If used correctly, popping corks work great for locating fish, so rather than just casting out a popping cork and watching it do nothing, cast it out and give it a good pull every few seconds. Repeat until you are able to locate a school or an area holding a single fish.
The species you target will determine the way you rig your shrimp. If I know I am targeting flounder, I want the shrimp to stay as close to the bottom as possible. I may use a jig head or an egg sinker to keep the shrimp down. For redfish or trout, the rig depends on where I am fishing. For example, if I am looking for tailing fish or fish in shallow water (less than a few feet deep), a split shot may be added to the line to allow me to cast the shrimp a bit further than I could freelining it. I would use a popping cork if I am in water deeper than that and sight fishing isn’t an option.
Hook size is up to you – I like to use thin wire hooks like those from Owner in a size #2 up to a 3/0 depending on the size of the shrimp. This doesn’t weigh the shrimp down any more than I have to, allowing the shrimp to move along the bottom or swim under your cork in a natural way.
Here on the Space Coast, we have a great mangrove snapper fishery – and they taste great in fish tacos!
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