Hood Canal jumbo spot shrimp season opens May 1

A biologist measures the length of a jumbo spot shrimp, the largest species of shrimp found in Puget Sound. The 2010 spot shrimp season opens in Hood Canal at 9 a.m. Saturday. - Photo courtesy of Point No Point Treaty Council
A biologist measures the length of a jumbo spot shrimp, the largest species of shrimp found in Puget Sound. The 2010 spot shrimp season opens in Hood Canal at 9 a.m. Saturday.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Point No Point Treaty Council

It’s a Friday night, and Bill Siebert is scooping fish scraps and decomposing scallops into a pair of his wife’s pantyhose.

The pasty concoction, mixed in a blender and coated with fish oil for extra odor, goes into the freezer until morning.

Then it will be eaten.

“It’s not as messy if you freeze it,” Siebert said of the mix, a personal favorite.

The rotten-seafood paste won’t be eaten by Siebert, but hopefully by the delectable crustaceans that for four days will attract thousands of anglers to Puget Sound in pursuit of the fresh catch.

The 2010 jumbo spot shrimp season in Hood Canal begins Saturday and continues May 5, 8 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the season possibly being extended if a quota set by the state isn’t reached by the end of day four.

Thousands of boats are expected to crease the water for what biologists predict will be a fruitful season, especially in central Hood Canal along the Kitsap Peninsula.

“Hood Canal is the best catch per pot on the peninsula,” said Mark O’Toole, a shrimp biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This year it looks strong, maybe even a little better than last year.”

There are cheaper ways to taste the best of Puget Sound, but fishermen like Siebert say there is nothing more satisfying than fresh-caught spot shrimp.

Anglers must purchase gear — traps, line, bait — and pay for a license and fuel. The sport can be a workout, too, because spot shrimp are generally found 300-feet deep and sometimes as far down as 600 feet. Pots must be weighed down with lead to keep them on the bottom.

And unless there’s an automatic winch aboard, anglers must haul the pots with their own hands.

“If you’re looking for cheap and easy shrimp, it’s not the way to go,” Siebert said. “But if you’re looking for fresh shrimp and a kick in the pants, there’s no better way.”

Siebert, an employee of West Marine in Bremerton, has shrimped the waters of Hood Canal five or six times and plans to go again this season. Like most anglers, he has learned first-hand how to catch spot shrimp most efficiently — what works, what doesn’t.

Preparation is the key to success for Siebert, who fishes with a medley of cheap, recycled seafood.

Although many anglers prefer to use cat food or pellets — popular and effective, many say — Siebert creates what he calls an “all-fish” paste, which he sprays with fish oil.

He dumps the paste into pantyhose, freezes it and then puts the final product into the bait container of his shrimp traps alongside whole herring. The paste melts when it hits the water, leaking through the nylon material of the pantyhose and releasing a scent that attracts shrimp.

Some anglers, on the other hand, prefer using a mixture of pellets and cat food. For many years the cat food “Puss’n Boots” was a popular — and effective — choice because it was soaked in fish oil. The company recently went out of business.

“My cat wouldn’t even eat that stuff,” said Marion Crook, an employee of Wholesale Sports in Silverdale.

Regardless of what anglers choose for bait this season, prospects are high.

Discovery Bay near Port Townsend, closed since 2005 due to low numbers, has seen an increase in spot shrimp population the past two years and will be open this season.

The Hood Canal preseason test fishery may have yielded the highest catch per pot in a decade, O’Toole said, and the fishing could be best in the central region of the canal.

“Last year was good and it’s been good for several years,” he said. “We expect similar catch rates this year.”

What are these critters?

The largest species of shrimp in Puget Sound, spot shrimp, can reach more than nine inches in length excluding the antennae. They are most common in Hood Canal, north and central Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Spot shrimp are reddish-brown and deep-pink in color with white lines running along the carapace, a protective shell, and are easily recognized by the white spots on their body. They are most commonly found 300 feet deep and below on rocky ocean floors, though juveniles — sometimes green or brown in color — live in shallower waters.

What to know before you go

Purchase a license: A shellfish license is required for shrimp fishing, and they can be purchased at most sporting good stores or online through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Have the right equipment: Although there are many accessories, the most important gear to have aboard are shrimp pots — each with a corresponding yellow buoy that is clearly marked with a first and last name and contact information — and at least 250 feet of rope and preferably more. Weigh down your line to keep it submerged, preventing it from getting run over or stuck in the prop of your boat’s propellor or someone else’s. Make sure you have bait, a bait container and some mesh in which to put the bait. Gloves are good for hauling the pots, unless there is a winch aboard.

Don’t exceed your limit

The maximum catch amount per licensed angler is 80 shrimp. There are penalties, such as a fine or loss of license, for those caught exceeding that limit.

Be prepared to get boarded by law enforcement. Have your license visible and be sure to have your boat’s safety kit correctly stocked.

Keep ’em fresh

Take the heads off the shrimp you catch as soon as possible, even if you’re still on the boat. It will keep them fresh.

The best of the bait

Cat food: A favorite bait of many anglers, the strong scent of canned cat food also is a favorite of spot shrimp. Put the soft food in mesh, or something similar, inside the bait trap to allow the food to waft into the water.

Fish scraps: Spot shrimp are omnivores and will feed on most things fishy. Try grinding up fish guts and meat and spraying it with fish oil for additional scent.

Pellets: More and more anglers are using scented pellets to lure shrimp. Pellets work, though they may be most effective when sprayed with fish oil and mixed with something else, like fish scraps or cat food.

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