You want to catch fish? Get some dead shrimp

Using dead shrimp is a highly effective way to catch redfish. A popping cork with a jighead and plastic tail tipped with a piece of shrimp tricked this multi-spotted redfish.

At a large kayak-fishing tournament in Louisiana a few years ago, the winning contestants proceeded to the podium in ascending order to tell the stories of their prized catches.

Various popular lures made the list, and each angler was rightfully proud of having tricked the fish into falling for their fake offering. Some wouldn’t even divulge their secret weapon. Then it came time for the overall winner to give his details.

The tournament format was Cajun Slam, where top prizes went to the anglers who amassed the heaviest weight when a speckled trout, a flounder and a slot-sized redfish were put on the scales. Anglers could use live or natural bait and artificial lures. No doubt, thousands of dollars of artificial creations of all shapes, sizes and actions were dragged through the water that day, some with great success, others not so much. Fishing almost all artificial lures takes some skill and finesse. The goal is to mimic a living, prey creature and entice a fish that makes its daily living hunting for its food. It is not always easy.

It seems every day there is a newest and greatest lure introduced. Do they catch fish? Absolutely. However, as lure types, materials and patterns continue to change, fish do not. Many lures are as realistic as can be. New 3D printing and computer design has them as close to the real thing as they can get. Be it fish, shrimp, crab or even mice and spider imitations, these things look real. However, throw one out and let it sit, and it almost never attracts a fish. It must be retrieved, popped, wiggled, or jiggled in just the right presentation in order to fool a wise fish.

No lures better than real thing

I have as many artificial lures as anyone, and likely more than most ­— an absurd amount, actually, and I keep buying more. I like the feeling I get when I successfully hoodwink a trout or red into falling for my fake offering. But there is one fact that can never be overlooked. Artificial lures are all designed to act like something real, but none are ever better than the real thing.

Many beginning kayak anglers are also beginning fishermen. Frustration often sets in as they come home with few or no fish in their cooler bag as they learn new waters and techniques for rigging and fishing artificial lures.

You want to catch fish? Get some dead shrimp.

In my early days of saltwater fishing, I didn’t know what it was to make a trip without dead bait (shrimp) or “market bait” as all the old-timers still refer to it. Simply put, there is not a fish in Louisiana that will not eat a real shrimp, and that goes for freshwater species, too. Live shrimp are certainly effective but are not always available, and keeping them alive can sometimes be a chore, especially in a kayak.

Dead shrimp works fine

However, a couple pounds of dead shrimp are inexpensive and readily available at any marina, seafood market or local grocery store. In the rare instance that fresh is not available, frozen works almost as well. A chunk of shrimp dangling from a hook under a popping cork requires little skill. Cast it out to a likely spot and wait. A few pops of the cork here and there won’t hurt, but the shrimp will be doing all the work. It is actually quite amazing how fast that scent spreads. It is almost a guarantee that something will find it.

Dead shrimp or “market bait” is readily available at most marinas or seafood markets. Fished in a variety of ways, you’re almost guaranteed to catch something.

That something is not always something desirable. When fishing dead shrimp, you have the added annoyance of dealing with your share of hardhead catfish and crabs, but that is usually overcome by the reds, trout, sheepshead, drum and flounder it attracts. Some type of action is almost certain to happen.

Rigged and ready

Shrimp are also effective fished on the bottom using a simple rig with the hook tied on about 6 to 12 inches above a sinker. Held with a tight line after casting, the smelly, tasty morsel dangles just above the bottom, and bites are readily detectable.

Ways to effectively rig and fish dead shrimp are endless. A small piece used to tip the hook of a jighead/plastic tail combo can be the spice that makes all the difference. Tied under a cork and tossed close to the bank or on a point is a most-effective way to catch a fish, especially redfish.

Fishing with dead bait is not something to be frowned upon or only for kids or inexperienced anglers. It makes good fishing sense. If your goal is to catch fish, using what fish eat almost daily is a wise move.

Back to the winner

Back to that tournament-winning angler. His three-fish slam set him up to win thousands of dollars in cash and prizes. What secret weapon lure did he use?

“Well, I caught my trout fishing a dead shrimp under a cork,” he said.

The crowd laughed and cheered. Okay, what did you use to catch your redfish?

“Well, it was a dead shrimp under a cork.”

Again laughs and cheers. Let us guess, you also used a dead shrimp under a cork to catch your flounder?


Aha, so now we’ll get the magic lure. So, what did you use?

“Dead shrimp on the bottom.”

He laughed all the way to the bank.

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About Chris Holmes 218 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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