Fish on a hook

3 Ways To Bait A Hook With Shrimp (Surf Fishing Guide)

You may have heard that shrimp are great bait for many surf fishing species. If you bait the hook with shrimp the wrong way, however, you’re destroying your chances of catching a fish and risk losing your bait. With all the money you’ll waste on bait, it would be cheaper to buy the fish!

But that's not going to happen because learning how to bait a hook with shrimp is simple. I’ve caught more fish with shrimp than with just about any other bait, and I'm going to show you the best methods for rigging up shrimp for surf fishing. Once you understand how to hook up a shrimp and when to use each technique, you’re guaranteed to catch more fish.

Why Use Shrimp As Surf Fishing Bait 

I use shrimp for surf fishing bait because they catch a wide variety of game fish. Fluke, striped bass, pompano, snapper, and most surf fishing target species will go for shrimp, even if it's not a primary part of their diet. 

Shrimp release a distinct scent that attracts fish strikes, which is great for days when the bite is slow and artificial lures aren’t doing the job. The universal appeal of shrimp makes them a great natural bait when I want to catch more fish and don’t mind what kinds I catch.

Additionally, bait shop shrimp are easy to find live or at least frozen. They’re also available year-round and are cheap compared to other bait types and artificial lures.

3 Ways To Bait A Hook With Live Shrimp (Without Killing It!)

The goal with any effective bait, especially live bait, is to create a natural presentation. 

Fish have an instinctual understanding of a shrimp's natural movements. So, if they see a shrimp ‘swimming’ backward, upside down, or in spastic movements, it’ll spook them. We want to hook shrimp to stay alive and move the way a normal shrimp would.

We’ll cover the three fundamental ways you can bait a hook using a live shrimp without killing it. The first two techniques hook through the head. The third method hooks through the tail.

I’ll show you which method will give you the most natural presentation based on the water conditions and your method of fishing. You can also use these same principles and techniques for artificial shrimp fishing. 


Word of warning: You might hear some people explaining a method that hooks up through the middle of the shrimp’s body. Don't do it!

Hooking a shrimp in the middle will cause it to helicopter and move in other unnatural ways that are sure to scare striking fish away.

1. Through The Head (From The Side Or Underneath)

Use this method when you’re casting into the drift. Hooking through the head will give the impression that the shrimp is swimming head first with the direction of the drift. It’ll also allow the shrimp to kick its tail naturally.

You can hook the head from the side or from underneath. Both techniques provide a natural presentation and effective angles to set the hook when casting into the drift. Choose whichever method you think will be easier to accomplish without killing the shrimp.

Steps 1-3 are the same for both techniques.

  1. Hold the shrimp’s body with the index finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand.
  2. Hold the hook’s shank with your dominant hand's index finger and thumb.
  3. Locate the two dark spots on top of the bait head. The forward dark spot is the brain, and the other is the stomach. You’ll need to avoid piercing these two organs to keep the shrimp alive.

From The Side

  1. Pierce the hook’s point through the side of the head, between the two dark spots, until it comes out the opposite side.
  2. Make sure the hook’s shank is in line with the side of the shrimp’s head.

From Underneath

  1. Pierce the hook’s point under the head (into the chin) so the point comes out to the top of the head in the clear area between the two dark spots.
  2. Make sure the hook’s shank is in line with the bottom of the shrimp's head.

2. Through The Tail

Hooking the shrimp through the tail is most effective when there isn’t any drift or you’re in a slack tide. It’s the most aerodynamic shrimp baiting method and is ideal for extra casting distance into deeper water. It's also the best technique for accurate sight casting, thanks to the heavier head creating better aerodynamics.

  1. Hold the shrimp’s body with the index finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand.
  2. Hold the hook’s shank with your dominant hand's index finger and thumb.
  3. Piece the point through the back or underneath the shrimp and come through the opposite side
  4. Make sure the point is facing back towards the tail and is in line with the shrimp’s back/stomach.

3. Break Off The Tail

This technique releases the shrimp’s blood (hemolymph) which helps attract fish. The shrimp will not live as long as with other techniques, but the enhanced scent may prove more effective in that shorter time. 

You should use this rig with no drift and for long-distance/accurate casting, just like the previous tail hook method.

  1. Hold the shrimp’s body with the index finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand.
  2. Squeeze around the sides of the tail fan and break it off by pulling and lifting up.
  3. Insert the hook point into the meat of the tail from behind
  4. Slide the shrimp as far onto the hook as possible, with the point facing down.
  5. Pierce the hook point down and through the underneath of the shrimp.
  6. Make sure the point is facing backward and is in line with the shrimp’s stomach.

Note: You can also use any other head or tail hooking methods combined with breaking off the tail (steps 1 and 2). For example, if you wanted to cast into the drift and add an attractive scent, you could break off the tail and hook through the head.

How To Bait A Jighead With Shrimp

Baiting real shrimp onto a jighead adds weight for extra distance casting. It also helps get the shrimp to the bottom in deeper water.

The jig’s “eye” can help attract hungry fish and helps prevent the hook from getting stuck between rocks. I love using jigheads when the drift is strong, and want  to keep the shrimp close to the bottom.

You can hook a shrimp using any head/tail hook technique. That said, my favorite method is breaking off the tail fan and inserting the point through the back end of the tail meat (see method #3). 

This method provides a secure hold on the shrimp, hides the hook well, and adds a scent to the water. If you’re casting into the drift, you may want to use a head hook (see method #1). 

How To Rig A Live Shrimp To Drift In The Current

Casting into the drift with live shrimp is a very effective surf casting technique. Predator species will often hunt from the sea floor facing upstream. This puts them in a prime position to attack smaller schooling fish (or your shrimp) that’ll be moving along with the current.

Rig up your shrimp using one of the head hook methods. This will create a natural presentation that allows the shrimp to move headfirst with the current and kick with its tail. Hooking through the tail will cause the shrimp to spin and give it the appearance of swimming backward, which is likely to spook the fish.

To cast into the drift, first, establish which direction the drift is moving. Then, cast your shrimp bait in the opposite direction of the drift. For example, if the drift is moving from south to north, cast towards the south, leave your line out until it’s drifted north of your position, then reel back in.

How To Keep Shrimp Alive

The best way to keep fresh shrimp bait alive is using a bait bucket or livewell. With a properly set up livewell, you can keep shrimp alive for 12-24 hours.

With A Bait Bucket / Livewell

Don’t overcrowd

Overcrowding shrimp in the bucket won’t leave enough oxygen for them to survive. It’ll also increase the buildup of bacteria with more dead shrimp in less space. I stick to the dozen per gallon rule, meaning for every twelve shrimp, you need at least a gallon of water. So for a 5-gallon bucket, you can conservatively keep around fifty shrimp.

Keep aerated

Shrimp need oxygen to breathe. If they’re left in a bucket of still water, it won’t be long before they use up the oxygen and you'll have a bunch of dead shrimp. That’s why it's necessary to use an aeration system or bubble box to keep a steady flow of oxygen pumping into your bait bucket. 

Refresh the water

Ammonia and bacteria levels rise to lethal levels, putting shrimp in danger when the water in the bait bucket isn’t refreshed. So be sure to dump the old water and refresh it with new water every few hours or as often as possible.

Keep the water cool

Shrimp are more likely to die as the water temperature rises. Keep your shrimp bait bucket in a shady area out of the sun. If a shady spot isn’t possible, refresh the water more often to bring the temperature back down.

Without A Bait Bucket / Livewell

If you don’t have a bait bucket or livewell, the best way to keep your bait shrimp alive is by keeping them chilled.

For this setup, you’ll need ice, a cooler, water, and some newspaper.

  1. Pack ice at the bottom of the cooler
  2. Soak a few layers of newspaper in water and place them on top of the ice
  3. Spread the shrimp out evenly over the newspaper
  4. Place another few layers of water-soaked newspaper on top of the shrimp

This should keep the shrimp cool and alive for up to a few hours. They’ll appear lifeless at first, but the shrimp liven up once you get them on the hook and back in the water. 

How To Hook Frozen Shrimp for Bait

Frozen shrimp is a convenient bait option. It’s easier to store/transport and often cheaper than live shrimp.

Frozen shrimp is also easier to find at bait shops, grocery stores, and random corner shops than live shrimp. That said, it's not as effective. There's no live action and not as much scent to attract predatory fish interest. Also, the frozen shrimp body softens after thawing and comes off the hook easier. 

You have to work with what you have. So if you’re planning to use frozen shrimp, the best way is to use any of the tail hook rigging methods we’ve covered. I wouldn't use a head hook technique because you’re more likely to lose the shrimp once it’s thawed.

What Fish Can You Catch With Shrimp?

One of the reasons for the popularity of shrimp is that pretty much all bottom, surf dwelling fish love shrimp. So on a good day of fishing in the northeast Atlantic, I’ll be reeling up some fluke, seabass, and porgy. On an unlucky day, I’ll be clearing the line of skates, dogfish, sea robins, and other bait thieves.

When I lived in Florida, I always had luck fishing mangroves with shrimp for pompano, red snapper, and snook.

In reality, almost every species of fish will go for properly presented shrimp. If you’re targeting a specific species, you might deal with more unwanted species compared to using other baits. Fresh shrimp meat is a safe bet if you’re not too particular about the species and just want to catch more fish.

What Hooks To Use With Shrimp

I either use a baitholder hook or a jighead when fishing with shrimp as bait for fishing. If I want to cast extra distance into deeper water and make sure the shrimp holds closer to the bottom, I’ll use a jig head. However, I’ll go for a standard baitholder hook when I'm using a float and a pole stake from the beach.

The best shrimp hook size depends on a few factors. You’ll want to consider the game fish species you’re going after and its ideal hook size. A big advantage for anglers is that shrimp come in a variety of sizes, so try to find one that fits that size hook. 

That said, one of the reasons I choose real shrimp as bait is because a wide variety of species eat it, and I’m looking to increase my hookup ratio. So if that’s what you’re after, go for a #2 size hook with an appropriately sized shrimp. That setup will amplify the “catch-all” effect.


Shrimp is one of the most versatile baits around. I use them to catch just about any sports fish species and improve my hookup ratio in all conditions. They’re also cheaper and easier to find, both live and frozen, than other baits, making them an important part of any surf angler’s tool belt. Now that you know the best ways to rig up a shrimp for surf fishing, try out the methods and see which works best for you.

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*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.