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Ghost Shrimp Collecting for Bait

Updated on June 28, 2008

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.

A good sized female ghost shrimp.
A good sized female ghost shrimp.
Basic hand pump
Basic hand pump
Low tide with exposed mud and eel grass.
Low tide with exposed mud and eel grass.
Burrows in the mud
Burrows in the mud
Contents of one burrow. Ghost shrimp are almost always found in pairs.
Contents of one burrow. Ghost shrimp are almost always found in pairs.
A mother to be. I release all of these.
A mother to be. I release all of these.


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    • profile image

      lucy 3 years ago

      love the info... thanks a lot .....i love going fishing and pumping shrimp with my kids ...very helpful article.....

    • King Bee profile image

      King Bee 6 years ago

      Tim, without being too obvious: San Diego South Bay, west side.

    • profile image

      Tim 6 years ago

      Would really like too know where this is?

    • profile image

      aj 6 years ago

      appreciate the article on how to catch my own .

    • profile image

      Bev 7 years ago

      Very informative article. Especially love the pics of the holes and the info about limits.

    • Highvoltagewriter profile image

      William Benner 8 years ago from Savannah GA.

      This is cool, I use to live in CA and I am doing a hub on catching free bait and I talk about Ghost shrimp, but I have never used or even thought about a pump! Great Idea!

    • profile image

      socalangler 9 years ago

      Very nice how-to!