Some anglers cure their own coon shrimp. For the rest of us, commercially packaged coon shrimp is the go-to product.
Jars of Washington coon shrimp almost ready for market.
Cured coon stripe shrimp have not been popularly used as a fishing bait until somewhat recently, but they have changed the game for salmon and steelhead anglers alike. For the bait world, there are pros and cons to the options out there. Eggs are deadly, but dialing in a cure can sometimes be an unending task, not to mention the mess and their tendency to fall off the hook. Sand shrimp is a universal killer with salmon, steelhead and sturgeon, but keeping them alive or getting them fresh at can be a hard task. Baitfish can be effective, but are not as popular for steelhead.
Bait is the ultimate technique for salmon and steelhead, when all else fails. There is something about a natural food source, the look and smell of it just does it when artificials can’t.
Columbia River sockeye caught using a small coon shrimp. They are a highly effective bait for both salmon and steelhead. Kelly Wilson photo
Cured coon shrimp offer some serious advantages with few downsides. The advantages include:
- More durable than sand shrimp
- Keep their color after repeated casts
- Can be refrigerated and re-fished
- Flat-out deadly on a number of species
Few things outfish sand shrimp, but there are a number of cases where coon shrimp do just that.
Coonstripe shrimp are a pandalid shrimp with a long, spiny rostrum that protrudes forward from their eyes and carapace. They are the second largest shrimp in Alaskan waters, typically ranging between 3 and 6 inches in length. They can be distinguished from other similar shrimp (like spot shrimp) with their darker striped markings on their abdomens. They have a heavier, more robust appearance that is arched more than other Alaskan shrimp.
Organizing and Selecting Coon Shrimp
Some anglers cure their own coon shrimp. Pro Cure has a number of cures that work well for making your own special blend. For the rest of us, commercially packaged coon shrimp is the go-to product. My own particular brand of choice is “Washington Coon Shrimp” by RiverCity Fishing Products. These shrimp are selected from the boat to the jar using gloves, never having touched human hands. Special care is taken to keep the tails and antennae intact. Subpar shrimp are thrown out so that every shrimp in the jar is fishable.
When you are preparing for a fishing trip, anticipate how many shrimp you will be using for the trip and plan accordingly. If you do plan on using an entire jars worth of shrimp you can bring the jar with you. Bring it in a small ice cooler and keep the jar inside the cooler the entire time.
Using gloves, take a number of shrimp out of the jar (5 - 10) and place them inside a Zip-loc bag. These shrimp will be ready to fish if you move away from you cooler’s location.
Be careful not to shake the jar or turn it upside down. After you’ve removed those shrimp from the jar, place it back in the ice cooler. Never put your bare fingers into the jar to avoid getting human scent in the brine.
With your Zip-loc bag, you can add scent inside it, or pull a few out, place them on a rock and put scent on them. Make sure your jar is cold and secure, and only bring out as many shrimp as you need for the current fishing situation.
Commercial cures like Washington Coon Shrimp don’t require scent, in fact they’re pretty dialed in as is, but if other anglers are using the same or similar bait downriver from you, it’s a good idea to add scent.
For both summer steelhead and Chinook salmon, Anise Bloody Tuna from Pro Cure is an excellent additive (oil) especially in the spring. As the water temperature warms, steelhead really tend to gravitate towards garlic. Krill powder can also be an excellent choice especially if Sockeye are available. Oils, gels and powders will all work on coon shrimp, just take care not to bend antennae or crush tails when applying scent.
Straight or Curly
Coon shrimp tails are naturally curly inside the jar. There are many anglers who debate whether to use straight or curly, with some swearing by one or the other. In the author’s personal experience, I have more confidence in straightening the tail while rigging the bait.
Five springers were caught within the last week of the time of writing by a friend who ran every single bait with a curly tail. Countless others have been caught with a straight tail. Use your own discretion and see what looks the most “fishy” underwater. Keep in mind that a straight tail will impart less drag in the water by a small factor.
Size of Bait
Coon shrimp tend to vary in size. As a general rule the largest ones are most effective when targeting salmon behind a Spin-N-Glo setup. The medium-size shrimp are ideal for steelhead. The smallest coon shrimp are perfect for fishing sockeye with small Spin-N-Glo setups. With that in mind, both steelhead and Chinook salmon can be pretty forgiving when it comes to variation in size. Only sockeye seem to require the smallest shrimp.
Coon shrimp are most popularly ran behind a Spin-N-Glo or bare on a hook, but there are a few other uses that can be deadly. Drop-shotting coon shrimp on a slack tide can account for migrating fish. Ground-up coon shrimp placed in Spinfish or Super-Baits can give off an excellent scent trail, and a single coon shrimp tail placed on the back hook of a plug can give an extra incentive to hammer that plug.
Two different ways to rig coon shrimp behind rotating lures. Coon shrimp are most popularly ran behind a Spin-N-Glo or bare on a hook, but there are a few other uses that can be deadly. Drop-shotting coon shrimp on a slack tide can account for migrating fish. Ground-up coon shrimp placed in Spinfish or SuperBaits can give off an excellent scent trail, and a single coon shrimp tail placed on the back hook of a plug can give fish an extra incentive to hammer that plug.
Bobber Fishing Steelhead
Float fishing with coon shrimp is an excellent way to present the bait slowly to steelhead and salmon that are holding in a hole. For steelhead, sizes 2 and 4 are the most popular hook sizes, although you could use a size 6 for the smallest shrimp. Too thick of a hook will reduce the durability of the shrimp, and too thin of a hook may risk straightening out. Run a standard 1-ounce float with an inline sinker. Then run a 6-foot leader with a single split shot in the exact middle. Using an egg loop knot, run a size 2 hook (preferably in red). Run the hook through the back of the shrimp entering between the space in the carapice. Thread the hook out through the head and slide the shrimp so that it is parallel with the hook shank. Then take the egg loop and gently pull it snugly over the tail.
This technique works especially well in slow areas that summer steelhead have holed up in, where a spinner or jig won’t do the trick. It can even be used on slack tide in tidal areas where summer steelhead are migrating.
Coon Shrimp Success
If you’re unsure of the coon shrimp you have available, try to bring two different cures and a few scents to play with. Some days the fish will respond to a certain scent and others they won’t. Try a few commercial cures if you can’t find Washington Coon Shrimp and then get a few Zip-loc bags. Fill one with shrimp scent, one with anise bloody tuna, and one with garlic scent. Then alternate until you find out what they’re biting on. Once you develop a pattern its go time!