Shrimp are No. 1 fall bait, lure for specks

(Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Little crustaceans are big baits when fall arrives and trout get particularly hungry. Here’s how to fish them, real or fake.

Late autumn arrives in the Carolinas with college football, duck and deer seasons going full bore. It’s a wonderful time, with cool temperatures and gorgeous scenery, and anglers who target speckled trout are about as fired up as they can get.

November is the prime time to catch specks; a limit can be just a few casts away. While anglers use a wide variety of lures and baits, America’s favorite crustacean is and will always be the top choice. 

The coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina feature enormous nursery areas for fish, shrimp and crabs. Shrimp ­— pink, white and brown — will spend most of the summer in the estuaries, feeding and growing to maturity. And the estuaries will fill up with these tasty creatures until falling water temperatures, poor salinity or some other environmental factor sends these tasty decapods out to sea. Few fish will ever turn down a shrimp dinner. 

According to guide Ricky Kellum of Speckled Specialist Fishing Charters in Sneads Ferry, N.C., speckled trout rank shrimp atop their menu, and few shrimp will evade an ambushing trout.  

“Shrimp is No. 1 for forage choice,” said Kellum (910-330-2745). “They are No. 1, especially in the New River area, but they will eat anything when they are in a feeding frenzy.”

If there is ever a time when trout will be in the mood to eat, November is it. Water temperatures aren’t too low, but they are falling every week, and trout feel the itch to feed up on anything that’s available. 

“I find glass minnows, pinfish, mullet and menhaden in their bellies when I am cleaning them, but shrimp is their No. 1 choice every month,” Kellum said. 

Speckled trout will eat shrimp even when they are already topped out on shrimp or fish.

“Trout will eat shrimp even when their bellies are full. They are obviously not starving when they eat with a full belly, but they just can’t resist it,” he said. 

A soft-plastic imitation shrimp is especially effective when most live shrimp have left coastal estuaries for the ocean. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

No better bait, lure

So what better bait or lure is there other than a live or imitation shrimp?  

As far as Kellum is concerned, live shrimp and shrimp imitations are the top options to entice a speck into striking and committing to a tasty meal. Kellum will use live or artificial shrimp under an adjustable slip cork. A live shrimp under a slip float is hard to beat when the bait is presented within sight of a hungry trout. Kellum will use live shrimp under a float as long as he can get them for guide trips and trout will eat them any time, but so will everything else. Fortunately, November water is cool, and cooler conditions on the horizon eliminates much of the competition for these tasty morsels. 

Typically, Kellum floats live shrimp in places with current and along ledges, bridges, near inlets or places where deeper water is present. A kicking, live shrimp under a float is a deadly combination for trout in the fall, and really, just about any time of year when speckled trout are around.  

Guide Ricky Kellum’s favorite colors for soft-plastic shrimp are chartreuse and pink. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Where to find them

Fall is great for a trout angler, because specks can be stacked up at jetties or along every grass and shell bank in the entire inshore realm. 

“Trout can be about anywhere this time of year. Trout will be at the inlets and up the river in the creeks,” Kellum said. 

Trout invade the estuaries in fall and set up in places where conditions are ideal. Since food is especially important in November, good ambush positions in areas abundant with bait are choice locations. Shorelines with oysters, grass or some type of submerged structures with current are places to target.  

The author rarely passes up an opportunity to put a bait in front of a speckled trout come November. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Trout will still be concentrated in areas where feeding is the easiest, but as conditions change in the late fall, they will move around, following shrimp and other schools of bait. Covering water is a solid technique, and anglers tying on an artificial shrimp can’t go wrong in trout-infested waters. Artificial shrimp is undoubtedly one of the best options for specks and one of Kellum’s favorites.  

“The Betts Perfect Sinker is my go-to lure this time of year, or really, any time of year. I use a bunch of different shrimp imposters, but the Perfect Sinker falls perfect, and I just know this bait. I also really like the D.O.A. Shrimp, but I like to rig it on a jighead,” he said. 

Kellum will thread a D.O.A. Shrimp on a 1/16-, 3/16- or 1/8-ounce jighead and cast it in places with more current or deeper water. 

Shrimp are like candy to speckled trout, and even when the inshore shrimp population has evacuated an area, shrimp lures continue to fire up trout into taking the bait. 

“Trout crave shrimp and will eat them anytime they are offered to them,” he said. “Even if the native shrimp are gone, they will still eat an artificial shrimp.”

Kellum’s colors of choice are chartreuse and pink. He loves bright-colored versions, but he won’t buy a chartreuse or pink shrimp. 

“I prefer to get clear shrimp, and I dip them in Spike-It chartreuse or pink (dye). It doesn’t look like a natural shrimp at all to us, but the fish have no reservations about swallowing it either,” he said. 

Artificial shrimp come in a wide variety of sizes, depending on the manufacturer. D.O.A. and Vudu both come in five sizes; Betts’ Perfect Sinker comes in one size, and its Halo Shrimp comes in two. Size doesn’t seem to matter to Kellum. 

“I will use different sizes some, but the size of the Perfect Sinker and the 3-inch D.O.A. is about as big as I go,” he said. “The fish will not overlook a smaller shrimp. They will pounce on it and go look for the next one.” 

The fall fishing season ramps up this month, when falling water temperatures and an abundant fish population makes inshore fishing well worth the price of admission. For anglers targeting speckled trout, live shrimp and shrimp imposters are truly the best choices available to quickly connect with a limit of specks.

The author rarely passes up an opportunity to put a bait in front of a speckled trout come November. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Lure action critical for success

Anglers started using artificial shrimp when D.O.A.’s Mark Nichols began selling his plastic shrimp imitations in Florida bait shops more than three decades ago. His and dozens of other shrimp imitations made by different companies surely resemble a natural occurring shrimp, and LiveTarget’s version exactly replicates a live shrimp. But the most-important part of any fake shrimp is its action or how the angler works it through the water. 

Guide Ricky Kellum knows how to catch speckled trout, and artificial shrimp are his favorite lure choices, bar none, but he will tell anybody that baits work the best when fished correctly. 

“Artificial shrimp get the attention of trout, but you have to get the bait in front of the fish to make them eat it,” he said. “You have to fish it right, and that is slowly.”

Most anglers fish artificial shrimp too quickly and lose contact with the bait when making a retrieve. 

“You have to fish it slow,” Kellum said. “Too many people fish shrimp too fast and want to constantly reel the shrimp in. The bait will never get down to where the fish are if you just reel in the lure, but you also have to retain contact with the lure so you can feel the bites too.” 

Most artificial shrimp are designed to fall naturally, exactly like a live shrimp will. That’s when the fish will generally strike these lures. 

Kellum will cast upcurrent, giving the lure a natural twitch, then allow them to swing in the current or naturally fall in places with little to no current. The natural fall shortly after a twitch will trigger a strike. 

“The action of the lure is everything,” he said.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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