A chunk of fresh dead shrimp skewered to a J hook was the first bait I ever used to catch a saltwater fish. Casting off a seawall with my dad near the Miami Seaquarium, we caught blue runners, jacks, pinfish, grunts, ladyfish, stingrays and snappers. Not the most glamorous species, but the number of different fish that attacked our shrimp made a lasting impression.
While a real shrimp — dead or alive — might be the preferred morsel for most oceanic creatures, today’s shrimp imitators raise the bar so high that I’m compelled to go artificial. Sure, some tough bites require a lively crustacean flowing with the current in crystal-clear waters, but for the majority of target species, anglers can easily learn to work a well-designed artificial shrimp fishing lure to draw strikes.
Shrimp-lure companies remain tight-lipped about the details of their baits, although they will reveal general details of ingredients, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or thermoplastic elastomers (TPE). They will also tell you how the soft baits work and why they catch fish, but I have my own essential techniques after fishing artificials for years. Shrimp basically move in three different ways: fleeing quickly backward, slowly swimming with the current or falling gently to rest on the bottom. Make sure whichever artificial shrimp you utilize successfully mimics one of these three natural movements. Too many anglers are lazy with their lure action or reel too quickly.
Today’s Shrimp Menu
I want to impress upon anglers the need to manipulate today’s shrimp lures expertly to draw strikes from species more effectively than anything I caught on my first trip in South Florida. Catching, buying and keeping a dozen shrimp alive is inconvenient and limiting; instead, you can use the latest shrimp plastics to successfully chase species such as bonefish, striped bass, drum and speckled trout.
Almost Alive Rigged Shrimp
“We wanted our shrimp to imitate the real thing so the bait not only appeals to fishermen, but also puts fish in the boat,” says J.W. Pender, operations manager of Almost Alive Lures in North Carolina.
The Almost Alive Shrimp comes with a molded-in hook and lead, allowing the angler to cast the lure right out of the box. Features include a lifelike body, swimmerets, walking legs, antenna, rostrum and protruding eyes.
“We were one of the original makers of the first shrimp imitators on the market,” says Pender. “Top target species for most North Carolina anglers are trout, redfish and flounder, but snook, tarpon and even bonefish will bite them.” Lure configurations, both rigged and unrigged, are available, along with different weight options from 1/4 to 1 ounce.
Berkley Gulp! Hollow Shrimp
Expect reconfigured formulas, updated active ingredients and new processing in Berkley Gulp! baits this month, says John Prochnow, director of research and design. “Traditional soft-plastic lures use polyvinyl chloride, a synthetic plastic polymer material,” says Prochnow. “Berkley Gulp! is different in that it’s water-based and soluble; we’re able to add compounds and chemicals that attract fish. Gulp! is like a sponge, able to diffuse water and fish-attracting compounds in and out.”
The new Gulp! changes for baits such as the Hollow Shrimp will lead to less variability among baits from package to package for a more consistent product, he says. Berkley’s Gulp! Hollow Shrimp will always be tougher than a freshwater Gulp! worm, but now baits within a package should be more uniform.
“Berkley can now change the solidity or softness of a bait based on new processes and combinations of active ingredients,” he says. “Some are derived from natural ingredients, while others are completely synthetic.” Berkley makes a variety of Gulp! shrimp imitators, including the Hollow Shrimp (pictured), Mantis Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp and original Shrimp.
Mark Nichols, owner and inventor of D.O.A. Lures, was inspired to create the D.O.A. Shrimp at an early age. “Mark’s dad had a shrimp boat down in Galveston, Texas,” says Capt. Ed Zyak, of D.O.A Lures. “Mark spent hours on the boat handling shrimp. He would watch the shrimp in the big holding tanks, study how they moved, and mimic what he observed in his lures.”
In the water, the D.O.A. Shrimp falls slowly and level, imitating a real shrimp heading for the bottom. “The D.O.A. Shrimp is different than a lot of the shrimp-imitation lures on the market today,” says Zyak. “Many of the new lures look more realistic than the real thing but can’t compare to the action of the original D.O.A. Shrimp.”
The D.O.A. Shrimp is made of soft plastic, with various pigments, glitter, glow powder and scent, depending on the desired color of the shrimp.
Egret Baits Vudu Shrimp
“We wanted to build a shrimp for Gulf Coast anglers that was different than all the other brands,” says Ken Chaumont, president of Egret Baits. “Something realistic and more durable than all the others.”
The Egret Vudu Shrimp is built from TPE, an extremely durable and stretchy material used in the soles of tennis shoes. “It’s very tough and can be hardened with other polymers, allowing for plenty of variation,” he says.
“In shallow water, we use a popping cork with 14 to 24 inches of 35-pound fluorocarbon leader below the cork, tied directly to the shrimp,” says Capt. Brian Sherman, of Venice, Louisiana. “In the winter, when fishing in 5 to 10 feet of water, I get rid of the cork and jig the shrimp with an irregular pattern.”
LiveTarget Hybrid Shrimp
Two LiveTarget offerings effectively mimic shrimp. The Rigged Shrimp is all soft plastic; the aptly named Hybrid Shrimp has a hard lure body with soft lure elements for the legs. The Rigged Shrimp comes factory rigged with a hook and weighting system to create a horizontal fall, while the Hybrid Shrimp (pictured) performs more like a cast-and-retrieve lure.
“Anatomy and coloration become the core visual for making a premier shrimp impostor, and LiveTarget does this part better than any manufacturer,” says Gary Abernethy, who handles marketing for LiveTarget. “The factory rigging that creates the pristine profile really allows the game fish to see only shrimp; the fish is not seeing weight, hook rigging or any apparatus attached to the lure.”
By using factory-rigged hooks, LiveTarget is able to ensure the hook placement is perfectly aligned for natural lure action. Color patterns represent common brown-and-white shrimp.
“The thing about creating a shrimp lure is that virtually everything inshore loves a shrimp,” says Abernethy. “So if it swims, you have a great chance to catch it.”
Savage Gear TPE Shrimp
“The principle behind the Savage Gear TPE Shrimp was to create the most realistic, lifelike shrimp bait possible, with action and movement that entice finicky fish to bite,” says Dave Brown, senior marketing specialist for Savage Gear Lures.
The lure’s action features very subtle movements in an up-and-down jigging motion, with secondary micromovement from each of the individual legs and antennae. A full 3D scan of an actual shrimp was used to create the TPE bait, which features a mesh-infused body for durability against toothy creatures.
Top species targets include snook, redfish, tarpon and sheepshead. Savage Gear also produces a 3D Hybrid Shrimp, pre-rigged with a single treble held in a magnetic slot and designed to swim backward.
Storm 360GT Coastal Shrimp
Brand-new from this summer’s fishing-tackle trade show, ICAST, the Coastal Shrimp is part of Storm’s 360GT Coastal series. To create the series, Storm focused on making lures anglers can purchase with all the hooks and rigging in one package. Anglers don’t have to figure out which shrimp, hook or jig head to incorporate.
“The Shrimp soft bait was designed with a solid head, belly slot and back slot strategically placed for easy rigging,” says Dan Quinn, field promotions manager at Storm. “Premium phthalate-free plastic provides a balance of action and durability, plus we offer a wide range of natural and attractive colors.” (Phthalates chemically soften plastics and can be dangerous to humans.)
Features include a segmented body with realistic legs and tail; the baits come in 12 different colors. Each package contains one rigged body and three additional bodies.
“The jig head [rig], with a 60-degree line tie, is designed to fish with a lift-drop technique or by slowly swimming it,” says Quinn. “The weighted swimbait hook is the choice for a weedless presentation or when a slower retrieve speed is required.”
Z-Man EZ ShrimpZ
Z-Man seems to have thought of everything when designing the EZ ShrimpZ.
“The EZ ShrimpZ was created to sink slowly and in a horizontal position, just like a real shrimp settling to the bottom,” says Daniel Nussbaum, president of Z-Man Fishing Products. “We put a lot of effort into balance, posture and sink rate by coupling a properly positioned keel weight with our naturally buoyant ElaZtech material.”
Z-Man added several notches in the tail for additional movement in the water. Thin antennae provide less wind resistance when casting, but also quiver and vibrate with minimal water movement.
“Because the keel weight is positioned under the shrimp’s belly, the bait itself wants to float upright. The EZ ShrimpZ won’t roll over on its side like most shrimp made from traditional soft plastics,” says Nussbaum.
The EZ ShrimpZ is available stand-alone or pre-rigged. The basic version rigs forward or backward on a jig head, or weedless on a weighted swimbait hook. With a pre-rigged bait, the weight on the hook is notched so it can be trimmed for a slower sink rate in shallow areas. Common game-fish targets include seatrout, redfish, flounder and snook.