Grass Shrimp: Secret Bait for Panfish, Trout, and Smallmouth Bass

Bait up with saltwater grass shrimp to catch a trio of freshwater trophies

Photo by Keith Sutton

Common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, grass shrimp are go-to baits for catching a variety of inshore saltwater species. What many anglers don’t realize, however, is how potent these inch-long crustaceans are in freshwater. Whether you seine your own shrimp, buy them live or frozen from a bait shop, or order dried ones online, they’ll help you score more jumbo panfish, smallmouths, and trout.

Panfish
Sunnies, perch, and crappies make a living by plucking tiny aquatic insects from and just below the surface film. To them, a grass shrimp looks like the mother of all nymphs, and it will get devoured in a flash. Many savvy panfishermen swear that live grass shrimp are deadlier on huge bluegills than the freshest pet-shop crickets. Add shrimp to microjigs, or pin three or four on a size 8 Aberdeen hook 8 inches below a float.

Smallmouth Bass
Aquatic invertebrates make up a large percentage of a smallmouth's
diet, too, so it's no surprise that a big bronzeback will climb all over a shrimp. In New England—where grass shrimp have been a secret ­smallie bait for generations—impressive numbers of 4- and 5-pounders fall to these sleeper baits every season. Crimp a split shot or two 18 inches above a size 4 baitholder hook. Then slide as many grass shrimp onto the shank as will fit, hooking each just once through the abdomen.

Trout
Still-water trout—especially big browns—rarely pass up a grass shrimp. Whether they confuse the saltwater bait for a supersized scud or an aquatic insect doesn't really matter. For the best presentation, use a casting bubble. When filled with water, it lets you cast a light shrimp far, where it will sink slowly through the water column like a natural aquatic insect. Rig the bubble 24 inches above one or two grass shrimp threaded on a size 8 gold baitholder hook. If your line twitches as the rig falls, set fast, because trout can easily yank delicate shrimp off the hook.

Photo by Jimmy Fee

Brown-Bag Feast
Chumming with grass shrimp can create an instant feeding frenzy. To get the chow line started, put a rock in a brown paper lunch bag, add grass shrimp, then tie the top off with a length of cord. Drop the bag to the bottom, wait a few seconds, and give the cord a sharp tug before slowly pulling the bag back up to the surface. The rock will break through the bottom of the bag, and the shrimp will be distributed through the water column, creating a vertical chum line. Just be sure to check local regulations first.