Up and down the Atlantic coast, shrimp make a summer migration into the inlets and rivers to perform their spawning activities. Searching for brackish water indicative of an estuary, they migrate with the moon phases sometimes fifty miles upstream in the larger rivers.
The St Johns River in Northeast Florida is one river that has a very substantial shrimp run every summer. Shrimp are caught as far upstream as the town of Welaka and into Lake George, some sixty miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
- Shrimping methods vary from location to location. In South Florida, shrimp are taken at night from causeway catwalks. Bright lanterns held over the water light up the surface and reveal the shrimp swimming in on the tide. Long dip nets pick them off, and on some summer nights the causeways take on a phantom appearance from the dangling lights.
- Further north in the state, the preferred method is to take the shrimp from a boat anchored in the Intracoastal Waterway or river mouth. The lantern and dip net are still required, but the relative comfort of a boat is more appealing than the wet, cold, bridge catwalk.
- In north Florida, shrimp are taken by two methods, both involving a cast net. At night, they are taken from a baited spot ear the shore in the St Johns River. Dry dog food is used as a chum or attractant in shallow water. Several spots are chummed and marked with a stake so they can be found again later. After an hour or so, the first spot is approached by boat very quietly. A cast net tossed over the chummed area often brings a load of shrimp. If the cast is accurate and the net is opened full, it only takes one throw before moving to the next baited spot.
- In the daylight hours, shrimp can be taken with a large cast net - sometimes as large as a twelve foot radius. Shrimp run deep during the day, and they run the channel edges in the river. A number of known good spots can be found simply by looking for the boats lined up on the channel edge and throwing nets.
That twelve foot radius net with a 3/8 inch mesh can spread to a twenty-four circle if it is thrown right, and as it drops to the bottom, it can catch a large number of shrimp. I've seen days when only three or four casts brought in enough shrimp to call it a day and head home.
On the other hand, I've seen days when only three or four shrimp were coming in on a cast. Take my word for it, those are tough days. That twelve foot net weighs in at about fifty wet pounds. How many times can you throw a fifty pound weight before your back calls it quits?!
The same shrimping scenario holds true up the Atlantic coast, and methods will vary depending on locale. If you plan a late summer trip to Florida with your boat, bring your cast net along. A shrimp dinner can make your day!