Puget Sound’s recreational spot shrimp season opened earlier this month. If you’ve read Fat of the Land, you know how I approached this hotly anticipated fishery in my younger, stupider days. I’ve taken some grief for the canoe thing, and I’ll admit it’s not the safest way to get a limit of sea insects—in fact, it’s downright dangerous. This year caution got the better part of valor. I joined a friend on his new boat.
It was a beautiful day to be on the Sound. We took the Current Obsession on its maiden fishing trip and loaded up on shrimp with the aid of a very civilized Brutus Plus 40 pot-puller—a technological advancement on my previous experiences pulling in 400 feet of line hand over hand.
Pandemonium reins on the opening day of spot shrimp season. A quarter-mile-long conga line of trucks and trailers waited to launch boats at the public ramp; vessels of varying seaworthiness hustled back and forth through the chop scouting likely shrimping grounds and secret spots; channel 16 was an ongoing chatter of near-misses and at least one pan-pan distress call.
As in all fishing, a certain amount of patience is required. The goopy bait of ground fish heads, cat food, and other smelly products needs to do its work, oozing from the pot in an intoxicating cloud that the shrimp just can’t resist. We couldn’t exactly keep our grubby paws off the pot either. After barely 45 minutes of soaking we pulled the first one to see if this maiden voyage would be properly christened: a couple dozen spot shrimp scrambled around in the cage, several of which became ebi within minutes.
The fact of the matter is that most recreational shrimpers will spend—after factoring in bait, fuel, and an amortization of pots, buoys, and rope (never mind the cost of the boat!)—about what a landlubber at the fish market will shell out for the privilege. But trust me on this: few tastes equal a fresh spottie pulled from the sea. It is one of the great delicacies of the Pacific Northwest.
Spot shrimp are the largest shrimp on the West Coast, and many restaurants, fish markets, and anglers refuse to call them shrimp at all, using prawn instead. One key point to keep in mind when harvesting spot shrimp is that the head contains an enzyme that can turn the meat to mush. Prevent such a catastrophe by immediately decapitating and rinsing. And don’t toss those heads! They make a phenomenal stock or bisque.
I ate up all my shrimp fresh, not bothering to freeze any. My go-to preparations are designed to be simple and highlight the sublime sweet flavor of spots. The smaller ones get transformed into ebi sushi, with a very light steaming of the shrimp so that they remain raw inside yet cooked enough on the outside to be easily removed from the shell, while the larger specimens get butterflied and very lightly sautéed in a little butter.
Seemingly sane individuals are known to lose all common sense in the presence of fresh spot shrimp. One bite and you might be commandeering the nearest canoe too!