How to

Nippers – The Ultimate Bait?

Fishing School

There are plenty of effective estuary baits you can buy but live nippers will generally outfish them all. Plus wandering around sandflats and pumping nippers is pretty good fun!

THERE aren’t many southern estuary species that won’t eat a well-presented, fresh nipper, (also known as saltwater yabbies or bass yabbies). These little critters can really only be used when completely fresh and alive. As there’s no option for freezing or refrigerating them, if you want to use them, you need to catch them yourself.

To effectively collect your own nippers, you need to understand a bit about them and their environment. Nippers are saltwater crustaceans. They live beneath the sand in the intertidal estuary zones. An “intertidal zone” is one where during a normal tidal fluctuation water covers it during periods of rising tide but exposes it during falling tides. Nippers live in sand rather than mud and commute around via tunnels, hence the need to be in the intertidal zone. While they have legs, they actually swim through their water-filled tunnels. This is still the case even when the sand flats are dry and exposed. There is still a water table that exists beneath the exposed sand, which keeps the tunnels filled with water.

Understanding the information above will help you identify the most likely areas to find nippers. Then you need to narrow down where to start actually catching them. Healthy nipper flats will be covered in holes. The holes I like to concentrate on are two small holes side by side. I only do this because that’s what I was told when I first learnt about catching nippers. If you’re collecting while there is water covering the holes, if you see slight puffs of sand coming out of a hole, this is almost a guarantee that there is a nipper at home in that hole.

So now you know where, you need to know how. I’m sure that somewhere, someone has invented a different method for extracting nippers, but the only way I know is to use a specialised nipper pump. There are several brands but they are pretty unique to Australia. The pump is just a tube with a vacuum-sealed plunger. Rather than using it for plunging, the vacuum seal allows you to suck sand and water – and hopefully nippers – into the pump. Once the pump is full, it’s withdrawn from the sand and squirted out, exposing any nippers you’ve sucked up. The key to successful pumping is that the tunnels you are pumping must have water in them. If they don’t, they probably won’t have any nippers in them. More importantly, the pump can’t create a vacuum in sand alone so you won’t be able to draw anything into the pump.

The shape of the pump suggests that you need to stick it deep into the sand for it to work. This is not quite accurate. An effective technique is to place the pump over a hole and only insert it a few inches at first. When you begin to draw the handle up, it is actually drawing all the water (and soft sand and nippers) in a hemisphere shape from beneath you. By only putting the first half of the pump in you are continually drawing the same water in from the hemisphere around you. If you shove the pump directly into the sand you are still sucking from all around you but starting at a point as deep as the pump is in the sand. This is often too deep. And … it can be hell on your back!

There are also many schools of thought on the best time to pump nipper. Basically, you can collect nippers any time provided the tunnels are filled with water. The only time pumping becomes difficult is at the bottom or lower end of the tide, especially big tides, when the flats are drained. This is because the water table is too low and you can’t reach it.

Once you have collected a pump full of watery sand, you need to consider where to pump it out. If the tide is out you can just pump it onto the sand next to you, picking up any nippers you see squirming in the sand slurry. If the sand you are pumping is covered in a bit of water, you can pump it into the water and then keep an eye peeled for nippers trying to swim away, picking them up as you see them. However, this action creates mud, which can make it hard to see them, especially when the water is deeper than a few centimetres. To combat this, some collectors use elaborate floating strainers that they pump their contents into thus trapping anything extracted. If the water is too deep to use a floating strainer, try a butterfly net. With one of these, you can collect nippers in water that is up to a metre deep.

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