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Catching Ghost Shrimp for Bait
The use of live fish as bait is prohibited in most Oregon waterways, except for live nongame fish in coastal waterways. Ghost shrimp, also called sand shrimp, are another matter. Ghost shrimp can be found in the sand of bays and beaches. They are relatively small, inedible shrimp which are so pale as to be nearly translucent, hence the moniker “ghost shrimp”. While useless for the purpose of making shrimp scampi, they do make good bait for salmon, steelhead and perch fishing.
To catch sand shrimp one should have a bucket and a sand pump, and a license to catch shellfish. For Oregon fishing regulations and licensing, see http://www.dfw.state.or.us. A shrimp pump is pretty much the same thing as a clam pump, but it doesn't need to be as large in diameter. The fisherman I observed and interviewed was using a 2 ¾” diameter pump.
The method for catching ghost shrimp is simple. Take your bucket and pump and go the nearest Oregon coastal bay or beach, preferably at low tide. You will observe many very small holes in the wet sand. Fill your bucket partially with seawater, so the shrimp you catch stay wet. Place your sand pump over one of the holes in the sand, and pump. If there is a shrimp floating in the resulting hole, put it in your bucket. If not, try again with a different hole. Low tide is best for this because you can get out further, where the larger shrimp are likely to be. 3” or 4” long shrimp are about the right size for salmon bait. 2” shrimp are fine for steelhead or perch.
The phase of the moon also affects the timing of your shrimping expedition. Close to a full moon, the females are soft because they are about to drop their eggs. Firmer shrimp are better, because they can be used for more casts of the fishing rod. Female shrimp are usually preferable as bait because the males tend to have softer bodies most of the time, so they fall apart after an average of three casts versus eight or nine casts with a female sand shrimp. In case you were wondering how to tell the difference, the males of the species have larger, softer claws than the females. Incidentally, the larger claw of the male is less capable of pinching hard than the smaller, harder claws of the females.
Another type of shrimp that can be found in the same manner as ghost shrimp is mud shrimp. Mud shrimp are a dark greenish-brown in color, with harder, more leathery exoskeletons than sand shrimp. Mud shrimp can be used as sturgeon bait, but you do not want mud shrimp amongst your sand shrimp because they will kill the sand shrimp. Freshwater also kills sand shrimp instantly. Sand shrimp can stay alive in a bait fridge (regular refrigerator turned to a less cold setting) for five days or so. The local fisherman who provided an interview for this article recommended keeping the ghost shrimp in a Tupperware container. He puts dry paper towels in the bottom of the container with a damp paper towel over the shrimp. The dry paper towels soak up the shrimps’ waste, protecting them from the toxins. The shrimp can be transported to the river in the same plastic storage container. Use the shrimp as the sole bait, or cast with a “cocktail’ of shrimp and roe.
As a side note, mid-May is the time for catching spring salmon. They are not quite as large as they will be in the fall, but they are better eaters.