Killer combination: Live shrimp, kayaks and speckled trout

Summer is fast approaching and speckled trout fishing continues to be hot. With the remaining spawning cycles associated with the full moons of June, July, and August, kayak anglers have the opportunity to catch their personal best sow trout. While there are thousands of artificial lures to trick a trout, live shrimp makes it easier than anything. However, carrying shrimp in a kayak takes a little planning to keep them alive and kicking throughout the day’s fishing.

While they can be caught in a cast net, most anglers buy their shrimp at the local marina or bait shop. Like everything these days, the cost of live shrimp is high and may be going up, primarily due to the price of gasoline and diesel the bait boats use to trawl for shrimp. Therefore, at prices of 35 to 50 cents a piece, kayak anglers need to enact best practices to keep them alive until they can be threaded onto a hook. 

The most basic container is a floating bait bucket. These do an okay job at keeping shrimp alive, but have some drawbacks. To keep water flowing through the container, they must be kept outside the yak. This causes a lot of drag when paddling or pedaling from one spot to the next. It is best to bring the bucket inside the kayak when moving to different spots. While these buckets promote an exchange of water, they float on the surface which holds the warmest water. On a hot summer day, this can easily stress the shrimp and cause them to die.

Trout cannot resist live shrimp. This one inhaled a big shrimp that was freelined on a light wire live bait hook.

Make your own option

Powerboat live wells are usually large and aerated with powerful pumps to keep shrimp alive for a day’s fishing. These wells often use a combination of water exchange pumps as well as aeration bubblers. However, kayaks generally have limited space and can only hold a much smaller container. A quick YouTube search reveals plenty of options to build homemade livewells that use small battery operated aerators or bilge pumps to keep the water fresh and aerated.

Some kayak companies also make livewells that intake/discharge water through the scupper holes and have built-in rechargeable batteries. These work well, but are generally expensive and take up a dedicated space in the kayak’s tank well.

The most convenient and effective live well containers are the small cooler types made by companies such as Frabill and Engel. These come in a variety of sizes.

These rectangle containers are insulated and have small battery operated pumps that send air through bubbler stones to keep the water aerated. Another feature that is great for live shrimp is their removable soft mesh basket that gives the shrimp something to cling to so that they are not sloshed around or having to expend energy constantly swimming. These containers are portable and can be moved about your kayak to where they fit best and are easily accessible. 

One of the worst things for keeping live shrimp healthy is overcrowding. You are much better off with fewer active shrimp than many lifeless ones. One trick to stretching your shrimp on the way to a limit of trout is by alternating artificial lures into the mix. Keep a rod handy with a good plastic shrimp rigged and ready. As you catch a few trout on the live ones, quickly switch to the artificial lure. Catch one or two more and then switch back. This literal bait and switch keeps the bite going and helps ensure you’ll have enough live shrimp to make it through your trip.

This stringer of trout was caught fishing live shrimp under a popping cork. This is one of the most popular and effective methods of catching trout in south Louisiana.

Versatile approaches

Live shrimp are versatile and are fished in a variety of ways in the water column. One of the easiest and most popular is under a popping cork. While many simply hook them on a jighead under the cork, the weight of the jighead limits the shrimp’s movement and somewhat defeats the purpose of using live shrimp. Try using a small treble or live bait hook with a small split-shot placed about a foot up the leader. The shrimp can swim freely while dangling under the cork and are much more enticing. Fished in this method, oftentimes the shrimp will be seen frantically jumping out of the water all around the cork. Get ready, as it is about to go down.

Freelining a shrimp with only a small bait hook is also another great way to attract trout. This takes a little patience and practice for detecting strikes. It is hard to keep a tight line as the shrimp may be swimming towards you. Watch your line at all times for sudden twitches or changes of angle that can indicate a fish has taken the shrimp. The low angle of sitting in the kayak makes line watching easier. Polarized sunglasses also help cut the glare and keep a good watch on the line.

Of course, Carolina rigs or standard bottom rigs also work great when the fish are feeding deeper in the water column. Again, keep your weights and hooks to a minimum in order to allow the shrimp as much movement as possible. 

Just because you are fishing from a kayak doesn’t mean you have to forego one of the most popular baits for catching speckled trout. Buy or build a quality live well that best suits you and your kayak and you can take along a healthy supply of live shrimp for some great trout fishing action.

P.S. If you happen to have a few good shrimp left over. Place them in your cooler and cook them up with your fish.

Tips for keeping shrimp alive in the kayak

  1. Don’t overcrowd the live well.
  2. Use a small dip net to retrieve the shrimp.
  3. Keep the water cool. On extremely hot days, place a small frozen bottle of water in your live well.
  4. Change or add water regularly. Dip the water down as deep as possible to avoid adding hot surface water.
  5. Keep fresh batteries in your pump/bubbler to ensure maximum aeration.

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About Chris Holmes 230 Articles
Chris Holmes has kayak fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and many places in between.

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