Catching Prawns - How To Guide
Reviewed: May 2009
Author: David Rae
Personally, I’ve rarely used prawns as live bait; I think the Loved One would have my guts for garters if I did. Fresh white bread, cold butter and chilled ale... it’s a feast fit for a king. My only prawning regret is that somewhere along the line I let all four of my kids develop a love for prawns that rivals my own—so these days, it’s always a scramble!
Prawns are tricky little buggers to catch. You can’t just go anywhere at any time and expect to haul them in. However, once you know the basics all that’s needed is a bit of effort and you will crack the code.
It’s true that you can rock up and score big catches first up, but it’s a different kettle of fish (or should I say prawns) to be able to regularly bring a feed on board. So here we go: the when, where and how of estuary prawning.
When to catch prawns
Prawns suffer the unfortunate quality of being a favourite item on the menus of many a marine species. I’m sure they feel the pressure and that’s why they’re primarily nocturnal creatures. They avoid nights with lots of moon, moving most freely during the dark period of the lunar cycle. Each month for about seven nights, there isn’t any moon visible in the sky; it’s pitch black. This is when the prawns come out to play, so that’s when you should be out and about as well. Start at sunset and stay as long as the prawns are running.
The traditional adage—at least along the temperate coastal regions—is to prawn during months that contain an ‘r’ in their name.
That means a start in late September, going through until April.
Where to catch prawns
No matter where you are in Australia, you’ll find a species of prawn. More important when considering location is whether it’s safe to prawn or not. Crocs, sharks and stingers should keep you inside the boat.
Prawns hatch and grow in warm, shallowwaters. Juveniles spend their early years in estuaries and coastal lakes before running to the sea as they approach maturity; these are the ones you want. Therefore look for big, shallow lakes and estuaries that have shallow bays and/or mangroves higher up. If a system supports a healthy prawn population, then it will be common knowledge; and if it’s near a substantial population centre, you’ll see hundreds of lights out on the water during a summer dark.
Often the best tide to prawn is during a run-out tide. This is when the prawns run the gauntlet through the channels and across the flats in their efforts to reach the ocean. Also, consider the wind. Prevailing summer breezes concentrate prawns onto windward banks, so head for the windiest part of the estuary.
How to catch prawns
This is the easy part: just copy the locals! In a nutshell, you either work very hard dragging a large (up to 6m in NSW) net around, or you take on the more light-hearted approach of scooping prawns that you spot with a light. Running prawns move with the current and are the easiest to scoop because they are up off the bottom. In still water, they stay on the bottom and flick backwards when disturbed. Use this to your advantage by gently placing a scoop net behind the prawn and then scaring them into the net from the front with your foot. It’s true that gaslights and torches work fine, but there’s nothing better than an underwater prawn light. The downside is you need to carry (or float) a 12V battery. Motorbike batteries make life easiest.
Cooking your catch
The danger is overcooking your prawns.
Here’s what I do:
1. Bring freshwater to the boil (add a handful of coarse salt and half as much brown sugar).
2. Add prawns and boil for about 3–4 minutes. You’ll know they’re ready when the meat in the rear tail segment just pulls away from the shell or when they float.
3. Chill in cold water as soon as they come out of the boiling water, otherwise they continue cooking themselves; add salt or store in saltwater slurry to taste. Refrigerate for a day.
4. Who am I kidding? They taste great warm!
5. Store the shells for berley.
Prawning and the long arm of the law
Recreational prawning is highly regulated, so you must be sure of the limits in both equipment and size of catch. Regulations often vary between adjacent waterways, so you should contact the local statuary body and check the details before you go.
Review supplied by Modern Boating