Howdy, everyone! We’ve had a weird and wonderful phenomenon lately where the ocean is rough on weekdays but gets calm and fishable for the weekends. Those of you that are boat owners know that this is usually the exact opposite. Every day at work you hear me on the radio telling you how nice and fishable the ocean is but then on Friday between 3 and 5 in the afternoon the ocean gets all torn up. Of course, by Monday morning it’s nice again.
With this wonderful shift from the norm, we are seeing a lot of nearshore rockfish and ling, longleader 40 fathom midwater species, and deepwater ling being scored in abundance. The only thing I would classify as slow right now would be crabbing and that’s pretty much par for this time of year so it’s not a big deal.
Our good friend Jody of Jody Smith Guide Services has been gearing up for his summer season of salmon, bass, sturgeon and so much more, but he has also been taking some time to surf-perch fish. I’d even go so far as to say he’s got the surf-perch bug. Those of you that chase the tasty and abundant red-tailed perch know what it’s like when you finally figure out the where, when and how of catching these species.
This week Jody picked up one of our mole crab rakes and set out to catch his own bait on the beach for one of his surf-perch forays. I can tell you personally that it’s almost as fun catching critters with one of these things as it is actually catching fish. Every scoop is like Christmas: You know you are getting something, but you never know what it will be! Besides the obvious mole crabs that you can catch with one of these devices, my personal favorite critter to stick on a hook is the smooth bay shrimp.
The smooth bay shrimp is the least studied of all the bay shrimp species due in part to its minimal economic value, but it’s the one we have on our beaches and it makes great bait. They are a small, two-inch crustacean, with a habitat ranging from Alaska to central California and can be found in sandy areas and beaches from the waterline down to a depth of 260 feet. They have been described as “short and stocky” and they are exactly that, a short and stocky little shrimp.
Many species of shrimp defend against predators by way of their sharp body spines and spikes but the smooth bay shrimp rely solely on their camouflage, and what an amazing camouflage pattern it is. If the shrimp is on top of the sand they are near impossible to see, their beige color perfectly mimics the sand in which they reside and small flecks of black and white look just like off-colored grains. Just in case their camouflage isn’t enough to stay out of trouble the smooth bay shrimp can burrow straight down in no time to either avoid predators or the surging tide. Using its little legs and pleopods (the little paddle-like appendages under its tail) to agitate the sand underneath it, the shrimp can disappear in seconds, leaving only its eyes and antennae protruding.
These masters of camouflage even use their antennae to sweep the sand above themselves and smooth it out once they are buried, leaving no trace behind. As they lay buried in the sand they will feed by ambush hunting — waiting for small (very small) fish and larval crustaceans to swim or float by. It is while they are in this state that the mole crab rake is deployed and simply scrapes a couple inches of sand away and sifts it clean as the surging tide returns to the sea.
You won’t catch a lot of them but with some effort, you’ll get enough for a fishing trip or two. And if you’re a little kid at heart like me, you’ll have just as much fun catching the bait as you do fishing. I hope to see you out there.