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How to Hook a Live Shrimp With a Jig Head

My family and I are avid anglers, with a special affinity for saltwater fishing.

Nice Redfish!

Nice Redfish!

Saltwater Fishing Tips

If you’re just beginning with saltwater fishing, I have a few saltwater fishing tips for you. Some of these, hubby and I discovered on our own, some we got from other anglers, and some we read about. Of course, after reading about a few of these, some sounded interesting, so we had to try them out for ourselves. Oftentimes, this has proven to be a mixed bag of successes and flops. Some worked like a charm, while others were a total waste of time and effort.

One of the best saltwater fishing tips we’ve used involves live shrimp and jig heads. This combination is a great flounder, trout, and redfish bait. The process might sound a little daunting to a beginner angler, but it’s really not. With just a little practice and some luck, you’ll be landing desirable species like the ones I’ve mentioned before you know it.

You’ll need to learn to hook a live shrimp correctly first, and I’ve included some personal drawings to serve as how-to diagrams to show you how to hook shrimp to ensure that they stay alive and stay on the fishing hooks. You’ll need to make sure both of these goals are met!

Fishing Bait—the grandkids often catch ours.

Fishing Bait—the grandkids often catch ours.

Fishing Bait

For saltwater fish, there are lots of different types of fishing bait that will be effective. Basically, there are two major categories of fish bait—natural and artificial.

Natural Fishing Bait

Natural fishing bait includes live bait, cut bait, and dead bait—critters that were once alive. For saltwater fishing, the most popular natural baits include shrimp, squid, mullet minnows, mud minnows, menhaden, mantis shrimp, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas, which are actually mole crabs. Practically any type of saltwater fish can serve as fishing bait, whether it’s cut up into chunks, slashed, or left whole. If I didn’t mention your favorite fish bait, sorry—I’m familiar only with fishing in the Southeast.

Artificial Fishing Bait

Artificial fish bait includes a huge selection of spoons, spinners, tube baits, plugs, and other types of lures. Soft plastics are also very popular and might be made to resemble shrimp, crabs, or finned fishes. Some are injected with natural scents, and some have the “feel” of natural baits. In other words, when a fish clamps its jaws on a soft plastic, it’s met with a substance that yields somewhat, instead of meeting something hard like metal, hard plastic, or wood.

Live Bait

Live Bait

Live Bait

Using live bait is often deadly. From my experience, it’s pretty hard for even the best artificial fishing bait to perfectly mimic the action, appearance, and scent of a live creature that your target fish are accustomed to dining on. That being said, you have to understand that fish can be pretty fickle when it comes to attacking the bait. There have been a few times when my scaly adversaries seemed to prefer artificial to natural baits. That’s why we usually give our potential targets a veritable buffet from which to choose.

Most of my experience with live bait—at least while saltwater fishing—has included blue crabs, fiddler crabs, finger mullet, mud minnows, pinfish, and shrimp. Several members of my family and I can all throw a cast net, and we often catch bait in the surf. We’ll often use just about any type of small fish we catch in the net. If we’re fishing for really big fish, we’ll use larger live bait like whiting, croaker, large mullet, or whatever else we can catch.

Okay, I’ve briefly discussed natural fishing bait, live bait, and lures. Admittedly, each type has its advantages and disadvantages. But…what if you could combine the best traits of natural, live, and artificial baits? Wouldn’t that be extremely effective? Well, it just so happens that you can do that by attaching a live shrimp to a jig head.

Fishing Shrimp Bait

Fishing Shrimp Bait

Fishing Shrimp Bait

Fishing shrimp bait is perhaps the most productive of all the saltwater fishing tips beginners will ever receive. This is especially true for inshore, backcountry, and nearshore angling. As a food source for saltwater fish, shrimp reigns supreme. Many finned species feed on shrimp regularly. Since fish are used to gobbling up shrimp, it only stands to reason that they’d make great fish bait. When using shrimp for bait, there’s a good chance you’ll catch something.

Fishing shrimp bait can be done in several ways. First of all, you’ll need to decide which type of shrimp you want to use—live shrimp, whole dead shrimp, or small pieces of dead shrimp. There are also several artificial baits made to look just like shrimp, so add those choices, as well. What you choose will have an impact on what you catch. Some species eat live shrimp, almost exclusively. Others will take live or dead shrimp. There are also some species that will bite a dead shrimp much quicker than they’ll hit a live shrimp. If you’re after smaller fish with small mouths and you’re using shrimp for bait, you might want to use very small bits of the flesh.

If you choose to fish with dead shrimp, make sure they’re very fresh. If they’re beginning to smell bad, or if they’ve turned pink, you probably won’t be happy with what you catch. “Trash fish” are notoriously attracted to dead shrimp that have passed their freshness, so you’re likely to catch fish you wish had stayed in the sea. Frozen shrimp are okay if they’re fresh-frozen, but they’re not as effective as fresh shrimp.

Saltwater Jig Heads

What is a jig head? A jig head is a weighted hook, with a heavy “head” and an attached hook. The weighted part of jig heads are often shaped like a head, more or less. They might be round, oval, bullet shaped, or sort of a football shape. They also come in many different colors and sizes. Many jig heads include “eyes,” which are often painted onto the surface. The fishing hooks attached are naked, allowing the angler to choose their own “coverings,” which are often soft plastics. These might be in the shape of shrimp, grubs, worms, skirts, or finned fishes.

Some of the most popular saltwater jig heads are lead head jigs. These are usually used in conjunction with soft plastic tails. Some of these soft plastics are shaped like shrimp tails, and others are shaped more like grubs. The tail of the soft plastic lure might be flat or curly, and in both cases, this provides a sort of swimming action to the jig heads.

Lead jig heads come in different weights, usually including 1/16 ounce, 1/8 ounce, ¼ ounce, ½ ounce, and ¾ ounce. Sometimes you can find other weights, too. Generally speaking, larger, heavier heads come with larger fishing hooks attached to them. For example, a 1/16-ounce jig head might come with a #1 hook, while a ¾-ounce head usually comes with a 3/0 hook. Some jig head also come with an attached “keeper.” This is a small piece of wire that helps hold plastic fishing bait securely to the head.

How to Hook a Live Shrimp With a Jig Head

Would you like to learn how to hook a live shrimp with a jig head? Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, which can also apply to hooking a live shrimp to the hook of a jig head. First, though, you’ll need to select the right head for the type of fishing you plan to do. In other words, what do you want to catch? Of course, just because you want to catch a certain species of fish doesn’t mean that you will. You might catch other species, or you might not land anything at all.

If you’re after big fish, you’ll need larger live shrimp, and they can handle the bigger hooks of heftier jig heads without dying quickly. For small shrimp, you’ll need smaller hooks. In either case, make sure the point of the hook is super sharp. Also, handle the shrimp bait as little as possible. Obviously, they can’t remain alive very long out of the water. Shrimp are pretty delicate critters.

Before you can learn how to hook a live shrimp with a jig head properly, you need to understand a tad of shrimp anatomy. Some people have never even seen a live shrimp or even an entire dead shrimp. Most only see the part we eat—the tail. All the “yucky” parts are gone before the shrimp make it to the table—except maybe for the vein. The vein is the black thing that runs down the back. It’s not actually a vein at all—it’s the intestine. So, where are all the internal organs of a shrimp? They’re in the part usually called the “head.” The proper name for this part is the “carapace.” Inside the carapace are the brain, the heart, the stomach, and other vital organs. Most of the rest of the body is made up of what most people call the tail, with attached legs and swimmers.

Now it seems perfectly logical to avoid the vital organs by hooking the shrimp bait in the tail, right? Many anglers do just that. Others, however, prefer hooking the shrimp in the head. Using a tailhook is pretty simple, but using a head hook is a little tougher. You have to place the fishing hooks far enough away from the vital organs, yet not so far away from the edge of the carapace that the shrimp will fall off. I tried to take close-up photos of a shrimp head, but the little critters were just too tiny for me to get a detailed shot. Instead, I drew a picture! Please pardon my artwork.

Head Hook

Head Hook

See the pointy thing on top of the head? Most anglers call that the “horn,” although that’s not the proper term. The black blob behind the eye is the group of internal organs. Now, see the hook I drew? That’s how you want to insert the hook.

If you choose a tail hook, instead, that’s easy. Just insert the hook in the section just before the fan flappers.

Tail Hook

Tail Hook

Which of these two methods is best? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

Shrimp have the ability to move backward and forward. When they’re in a hurry, they swim backward. If they’re just crawling around searching for bits of food, they inch forward. Obviously, a tailhook will allow the shrimp to move more naturally forward, but a head hook will allow for a lot of tail movement, which might very well entice fish. Below, I’ll show you three other ways how to hook a live shrimp with a jig head. I didn’t bother to draw the jig heads, by the way.

Fishing Jig Heads

Fishing jig heads is often one of the best saltwater fishing techniques—for certain saltwater fish and for certain conditions. The weight of jig heads allows you to maneuver the bait as you wish, seeking out the fish you’re targeting. You can move the shrimp bait slowly along the bottom, or you can bob it gently up and down through the water column. You might even want to try a popping cork when you’re using live shrimp for bait.

I’ve already mentioned the two basic ways to rig a shrimp on a jig head, but there are other ways, too. Once you get the hang of rigging and fishing a live shrimp, you might want to begin “specializing.” You might also want to try removing the last section of the tail, allowing a more natural scent to escape from the shrimp. As this aroma travels with the water current, fish will know that dinner is nearby.

The first two objectives you’ll need to master with fishing jig heads baited with live shrimp are to keep the bait alive and to keep it securely on your hook. Once you have those two basics figured out, you can practice becoming proficient with different saltwater fishing techniques. Remember—the old adage is true—practice makes perfect!

Saltwater Fish

Saltwater Fish

Saltwater Fish

What types of saltwater fish are you likely to entice while fishing shrimp bait on a jig head? Of course, there are a lot of variables involved here, like where you fish, when you fish, and which saltwater fishing techniques you use. What I call the "Big Three” of inshore angling will readily attack a live shrimp on a jig head. This triple header is made up of the redfish, the flounder, and the trout. What’s really fun about this scaly trio is that here in the Southeast, it’s not uncommon to catch members of all three species in a single fishing trip. Seafood dinner, anyone?

Even if you don’t have any live shrimp for bait, I suggest you try jig heads for these species, anyway. Attach a soft grub and tip the hook with a small piece of dead shrimp. Peel the shrimp first. Work the jig around pier pilings, over grass beds, near oyster bars, and over submerged rocks. Deep holes and troughs are often productive, too. If you’re fishing a bay or estuary, try your luck near the mouths of feeder creeks.

Redfish Bait

Jigs make great redfish bait! Reds might be found in any section of the water column. I’ve caught them right on the bottom, near the water’s surface, and everywhere in between. In skinny water, you can sometimes see them feeding directly on the bottom, with their tails sticking out of the water. These “tailing” redfish are often caught by sight casting. In other words, you toss your bait near the fish, hoping to attract their attention.

Sight casting might involve some pretty long casts, which presents a special problem for fishing a live shrimp on a jig head. If you don’t have a secure bait hookup, your shrimp is going to fly off. If you get it too secure, however, your shrimp might die quickly. A method you might want to use it to insert the hook through two or three tail sections of your shrimp. First, remove the tail fan flappers. Push the hook through the very end of the last section, further into the tail. Push until the shank of the hook is embedded in the shrimp’s tail. Depending on the length of the hook and on the size of the shrimp, this might include three or four tail segments. The point of the hook should wind up underneath the shrimp. Once you’ve made your cast into a likely area, use your rod to lift and drop your bait. This will cover more area in the water column and help you find out where the redfish are hanging out.

Redfish like structure, and we’ve caught many around piers, rocks, oyster bars, and boat docks. If you’re going to be dropping and bobbing, or making only short casts, you can use a regular tail hook or carapace hook-up for your shrimp. I prefer using larger shrimp for redfish bait, especially when bull reds are on the prowl. These rascals can get big, and I’ve seen them completely ignore small shrimp.

Fishing for Flounder

Fishing for flounder is our favorite pastime. Of all the saltwater fish in the ocean, the flounder is the one we enjoy catching the most. We also enjoy eating it. Flounder feed differently than most predatory fish do. They’re not usually active hunters—they’re more into ambushing. They like to lie still on sandy bottoms, where their natural coloring provides them with camouflage. Flounder have largemouths, and when a meal swims close by, the flounder engulfs it, although it might not do so quickly. They sometimes “mouth” a bait before attempting to swallow it. When fishing for flounder, you’ll need to put your shrimp bait on or very near the bottom, where the fish are.

I’ve always heard that flounder bite a live bait head first. I don’t know if this is true or not, as I’ve never actually seen a flounder eat. It seems to hold true, though, so we usually rig a live shrimp through the head when fishing for flounder. This works really well if you’re not having to make long casts. We just drop the jig and shrimp combo down the side of a pier or jetty and use a slow bob-and-drag method. When you feel a tug or some resistance on your line, it might be a flounder, so don’t set the hook quickly. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll pull the hook right out of the fish’s mouth.

Flounder are flat, so the mouth is sideways. Because of this natural phenomenon, some anglers like for the fishing hooks to be sideways, too. If you’d like to try this using a jig rig and a live shrimp for bait, insert the hook on one side of the tail, near the rear, and bring it out the other side of the tail. Don’t put the hook in the last tail section. Choose a meatier, thicker section to help hold the hook in place. Your hook, like the flounder’s mouth, will be sideways.

Trout Fishing Tips

These trout fishing tips are for catching spotted sea trout, also known as “speckled trout” or “specs.” If you were looking for freshwater trout fishing tips, sorry to disappoint! Specs are fun to catch, and they’re beautiful fish. They’re also delicious on the table. I can offer you a couple of trout fishing tips here that have served us well.

One has to do with location. We usually catch trout in deep troughs that run near the shore or beach, and in and over grass beds. Fishing grass beds can be extremely productive, but it can also be difficult. Exposed hooks will get caught in the blades of grass, and when you try to free the hook, it’s easy for your shrimp to be pulled off.

To help avoid this problem, you can rig a live shrimp on a jig head in a weedless fashion. To do so, gently pull off the fan flippers at the end of the shrimp’s tail. Insert the point of the hook into the middle of the tail end of the shrimp and gently push the tail onto the shaft of the hook, hiding it inside the shrimp’s tail. The point of the hook should be totally embedded in the flesh instead of being exposed to snagging weeds.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on October 05, 2012:

I agree with all the other readers - let's go fishing! Great info and the tips are amazing. I think your drawings are awesome.

Well done.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:

I love this! The drawings you included are so helpful - I'm with jorja kick; you're making me want to reach for a fishing rod!

Voted up!

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 22, 2012:

My dream vacation involves a dock, water, fish, and a pole. Exact location optional.

Great Hub!

jorja kick from southeast georgia on September 20, 2012:

I enjoyed this hub immensley!!!Makes me want to get back to fla fishing..

thank you..