BY JOE MACALUSO
Advocate Outdoors writer
September 09, 2012
There’s always been the question about live versus fresh bait, and any “natural” bait versus the ever-increasing number of hard- and soft-plastic lures on today’s fishing market.
Here’s the problem: They all work at some time and in some place.
And if its action you want, then the easiest to get, afford and keep is fresh bait. In south Louisiana, that means fresh shrimp, the fresher the better, and fresher means that they have to pass the smell test first.
Detect an odor of ammonia or any strong, annoying smell, and, odds are, the shrimp have been long away from the water.
Of course, netting your own shrimp is one way to make sure your bait is fresh, and Frabill has a pinfish trap that, when baited with fish scraps, has become a sure-fire bait-shrimp catcher along the Central Coast.
After that, catching fish on fresh shrimp is easy. Keep the bait in ice to maintain freshness, then find a good rod and reel (spooled with fresh line), grab a hook, a couple of different sinkers, maybe a couple of corks, and No. 1 or 1/0 Kahle hooks and you’re in business.
There are times when fresh shrimp will attract strikes from a wide variety of species — redfish, black drum, sheepshead, flounder, speckled and white trout, Spanish mackerel, channel mullet, then the less desirables like catfishes, hardhead and gafftopsail; sharks and ladyfish; and even some hefty jack crevalle.
Even better is that you can use fresh shrimp to catch any and all of them from a pier, standing in the surf, from a boat or along the banks of a canal or from roadside pits.
And there are some species that you’ll need a fish identification book to identify them. French grunts, oysterfish and juvenile mangrove snapper, lemonfish and tarpon have been caught using fresh shrimp. The drawbacks to using live shrimp lay in all those species, too.
Catfish are difficult to handle. The spines and hard, harpoon-like fins can inflict serious puncture wounds which, if untreated, can land the victim in a hospital for days.
That’s why gloves and dehooking devices are a must when you’re using fresh bait, and you should always have a first-rate First Aid kit along to treat any and all fishing wounds these days.
Remember the teeth and sharp gill plates, too. The toothy critters are Spanish mackerel, the small snappers and sharks, so needle-nose pliers are a handy tool to have when it comes to removing hooks.
But that’s the downside.
Most times the best fresh-shrimp presentation is under a cork. Depending on the “where,” a No. 1 Kahle hook 8 inches to as deep as four feet under a poppin’ cork is the best rig. It can be fished along roadside marshes, worked into the shallows along the beaches, over oyster and shell beds, and around piers and pilings.
Short, quick pulls on the cork will provide the “pop” in the poppin’s cork and draw a fish’s attention to what’s under the cork.
If you’re working near a runout or fishing from a pier on an outgoing tide, then a Carolina rig works.
You’ll need an egg sinker weighing a quarter ounce to as heavy as three-fourths of an ounce to keep the bait on the bottom on the out-moving tide.
Thread the sinker onto the line, then maybe a small glass bead to keep the sinker from tearing into the knot that you’re going to tie on the next piece of tackle, a small barrel swivel.
To complete the rig, take a 2-4 foot length of leader material, usually monofilament or flourocarbon line that’s twice the strength of the line on the reel, and attach one end to the barrel swivel and the hook to the other end.
Now you’re ready to thread the shrimp on the hook, make casts and get ready to enjoy the action. If you find mostly small fish, then going even smaller than a No. 1 hook will be the best way to take on species like small white trout, channel mullet, even flounder.
Remember, too, that some of these species have size and creel limits: Speckled trout have a 12-inch minimum size with a daily limit of 25. It’s 16 inches minimum and a five-per-day take for redfish and black drum.
The best advice is to pick up a copy of the Louisiana Recreational Fishing Regulations pamphlet for these details.