Shrimping the South Carolina Waters
A big part of the Mt. Pleasant economy comes from those delicious crustaceans from the sea ─ shrimp, the Bubba Gump kind. There are two primary ways shrimp are taken locally. First, by commercial trawlers, those big boats that drag the bottom of the ocean with large nets, scooping hundreds of pounds of shrimp at a time. And second, by bait shrimping, something anyone with a boat can do.
So there will be no confusion, "bait shrimping" is not the same thing as catching shrimp for bait. Take a look at the second picture down to your right. What you see is a smaller variety of shrimp netted from my dock. We use this shrimp as bait for sea trout, red drum, and flounder. Bait shrimping is completely different. We use a bait mixture to attract the shrimp, thus the name "bait shrimping" (also referred to as "recreational shrimping.")
Bait shrimping takes place in shallow bays where cast nets are thrown on baited areas marked by long poles (usually 14 feet or more and made from one inch PVC or fiberglass piping.) South Carolina is the only state that has a bait shrimping season. A residence permit costs twenty-five dollars. Non-residence will pay five-hundred dollars to secure the same permit. The most important regulation is the quantity of your catch. Currently it stands at 48 quarts per outing. Imagine a 48 quart cooler filled with the type of shrimp pictured above. That is the reward of your efforts if you know how to do it.
Fishmeal patties are made by combing fishmeal, clay and water. We work it to a texture that allows us to shape the meal into extra large patties. From our boat we drop the patties in front of our poles. Passing shrimp are attracted to the fishmeal and begin to congregate. Here is how it all works.
First, we take our ten fiber glass poles and set them out in a straight line, approximately every ten to fifteen yards in four to six feet of water. We then place our bait patties in front of the poles. (I usually scatter four at each pole.) The pole serves no other purpose than to mark the placement of your bait. We start on one pole and cast our net on the baited area. After the net settles over the food, we begin to close the net, trapping the shrimp. We then haul them to the boat and move to the next pole and repeat the process. By the time we cast on the tenth pole, we’re ready to return to the first and start over. This process is repeated until we fill a forty-eight quart cooler or the clock says it is time to call it a day. Last year, my neighbor Harold and I coolered-out in the Charleston harbor in twenty minutes (13 pole casts). Most of the time however, it takes us two or three hours to fill a 48 quart cooler and sometimes longer.
I believe true success at this sport is a combination of one-third experience, one-third skill, and one-third luck. Bait shrimping season usually runs 60 days and commences in early September and concludes in November. During that time, I will be reporting on my activities and catch for those interested in the sport. Just click on Gary's bait-shrimping updates. http://www.yemassee.net/festival.htm