Ghost Shrimp Collecting for Bait
Collecting California Ghost Shrimp
Mud shrimp are like candy to almost every in-shore saltwater fish. In Southern California the shrimp of choice is the California Ghost Shrimp (Callianassa affinis). These are eagerly gobbled up by various local bass, perch, croakers, halibut, mackerel, etc. This makes them very desirable live bait.
Collecting your own ghost shrimp is simple. All you need is a tide chart, a hand pump, a bucket and a little know-how. Prepare to get muddy!
-Location. Look for beaches in bays with exposed mud flats during low tides.
-Tide. It has to be low. A good negative low is best, but it's not absolutely critical.
-Pump. The pumps can be custom made for ghost shrimp collecting, or you can use a small-craft hand bilge pump. I've used the same bilge pump for two years with no problems.
-Burrows. You'll know a good location by the number of burrows. Take a look at the photos to see what these burrows look like. The best burrows for collecting are in the "wet zone" of the flat. By that I mean the mud should still be saturated with water. This makes pumping easier.
1. Place the pump over the center of the burrow and pull the handle. This will cause the pump to dig into the mud while pulling the burrow's contents into the chamber.
2. In one swift motion pull the pump out, aim it at the ground, and push the handle. This will expel the mud and water and hopefully a ghost shrimp.
3. Repeat a few more times in the same hole if needed. Most burrows have multiple entrances/exits. If you haven't got the shrimp out in three or four pumps, move on.
4. Throw your shrimp in a bucket with some mud and saltwater.
5. Check the holes you pumped a few minutes afterwards. Sometimes a shrimp is missed in the mud, and sometimes they come to the surface if their burrow has collapsed.
Ghost shrimp are notoriously delicate on the hook, resulting in a lot of missed strikes and lost bait. This can be somewhat alleviated by attaching thin copper wire or orange/red thread to the hook eye. After baiting the hook wrap the wire around the shrimp's body.
In California the legal limit for ghost shrimp is 50. Make sure you research the regulations. Also, these little guys are vital parts of the ecosystem. Don't wipe out every burrow in a small area. Try to space out your collecting over a large area. On a personal note, I put any egg laden female back in the hole I got it from.
Two kinds of little fish (among other creatures) like to bunk with ghost shrimp. These are the arrow goby (Clevelandia ios) and the blind goby (Typhlogobius californiensis). Don't be surprised to see one or the other.
Kids love collecting ghost shrimp. However, some shrimp have large claws and can pinch hard (for their size). Best to handle those yourself.