Of Alaska's shellfishing opportunities, nothing is growing like the quest for shrimp. With liberal seasons and limits, recreational users are now buying boats for shrimping, not fishing.
"I've never seen anything like it," shares Ross Donalson, second-generation owner of the Donalson Company, Alaska's largest dealer of shrimp pots and pellet bait. With their pricing deals, it's easy to see why. "Shrimping is huge and getting bigger every season, and Anchorage is the perfect hub."
With Prince William Sound serving as the top shrimping destination for Anchorage-area residents, there are other places around the Kenai Peninsula to explore, but none are as accessible as the waters out of Whittier. No matter where you go, there are basic pieces of gear you'll need.
"What you need is determined by where you'll go and what boat you'll be working from, but generally here's what we suggest for starters and most recreational shrimpers," begins Donalson.
Donalson sells Ladner Traps, which, with their personalized touch, are designed for Alaska waters and are being touted as the best round shrimp pots available to recreational shrimpers. It's crafted from American-made aircraft stainless steel and twisted nylon, meaning it's tough, even by Prince William Sound standards.
"If you take care of these round shrimp pots and rinse them after each use, it's nothing to get 10, even 15, years out of them," Donalson points out. "You can't hurt them by stepping on them, and even if they get hung on the bottom, more times than not they come out in one piece, still working."
These shrimp pots are specifically designed to save space, making hauling around your five-pot maximum, easy. They stack on one another, and five pots barely take up more room than one.
Donalson's big piece of advice on the round pots is to make sure they meet Alaska standards. "Be sure the pots you have are of legal size for Alaska waters," Donalson offers. "What works in Washington might not work in Alaska."
My advice on pots is to buy local, from a guy who builds them extra tough and with an eye towards meeting Alaska's demands. It's an investment that will yield returns for years to come.
Every pot has to be attached to a line. The standard line length is usually 600 feet. If wanting longer, simply splice into it and you're set. Donalson points out that some people will go to 900-foot ropes, and some even up to 1,200 feet in deeper water, but that 600 feet will suffice most of the time.
Donalson adds, "You want about 15% slack on whatever line you use, to account for tidal fluctuations. So, for a 600-foot line, this will be about 90 feet of slack."
Donalson also points out that there are two line options. "Most people go with a sinking line, but I like the floating line because there are fewer chances of getting hung up. Some folks run 400 feet of floating line attached to their pot, and then splice the upper 200 feet with sinking line. That works well, too."
Some people spread out their pots when setting them, but this takes a lot of time, both in setting and pulling them. "A good idea is to run two to three pots per line," Donalson shares. "I wouldn't run any more than three pots on a line as it can get heavy. Then again, some folks join all five pots on a single line."
While some people pull lines by hand, 600 feet of rope is a lot to manage. This is where a pot puller comes in handy. "The more shrimping people do, the more value they find in a pot puller," chuckles Donalson. "Some use a buoy ring, but in the end, lots of people come back into the shop looking for an electric Safe-T-Puller and davit system. Don't skimp on a pot puller, you want something that'll pull the load." These come in 200- and 300-pound-class ratings.
Ace Line Hauler is another popular choice for trap pullers. Called the Brutus Plus 40 with a 100-pound capacity, it easily attaches to a Scotty downrigger mount.
In my shrimping experience, not only is bait messy to deal with, but it gets consumed in a matter of a couple hours, meaning it stops working. Enter the pellet bait, which Donalson also carries under the Super Prawn Bait brand.
"These pellets have a two- to three-day lifespan in water," notes Donalson. "Some people use cat food, and that works, but it quickly breaks down in the water due to sea lice, which is a problem. You want a bait that will last for hours, something that'll work all day so when you drop the pots in the morning and pick them up in the evening, after a day of fishing, shrimp are still coming in."
The bait pellets come in 6- and 22-pound buckets, and it takes less than a handful per bait jar. This, combined with the fact they're clean and easy to work with, and slowly breakdown in water, make them appealing. Plus they cost about the same as other bait. Be sure and get the bait jars with small holes, specially designed to keep out sea lice.
Last but not least, you'll need a buoy to secure to your line. "I've seen a lot of people try to cut corners here, but don't do it," offers Donalson. "You want the best buoy out there when dealing with the extreme tidal changes and rough waters of Alaska. It's not worth saving a few bucks when you have a string of pots and 600 feet of line at stake."
Donalson suggests Polyform Buoys in either the A-1 or A-2 series, in any color but red. "Everyone has red buoys; you want something different, something that stands out and is easy to see," he smiles.
Be sure to label your buoys with the personal information as outlined in the current ADF&G regulations. Know that a fishing license is required, as is a shrimp permit. Seasons usually run April 15 to September 15, with no bag limits, and there is a five pot per person/vessel limit. Check current regulations before hitting the water.
To learn more about the shrimping craze sweeping through Alaska, and to pick up the gear you'll need, visit Ross Donalson at 5740 B Street, in Anchorage. You can also give him a call at 888-279-3025 or 907-279-3025. Be sure and check out his website for more details at www.donalsoncompany.net.
There's a reason this family-owned business is entering its 60th year of serving Alaska. Stop in and see for yourself all they have to offer.
Signed copies of Scott Haugen's best-selling book, Recreational Dungeness Crabbing, can be ordered at www.scotthaugen.com.