How to

The Raw Prawn

David Green

Just about all estuary fish you can think of will happily scoff a fresh or live prawn. So why don’t we use more prawn-style lures?

PRAWNS, according to my mate who’s a marine biologist, are the cockroaches of the marine environment. They are a barometer of the health of an estuary or offshore ground, and are an essential part of nearly all marine ecosystems. After last summer’s heavy rains, east coast estuaries and offshore grounds are very nutrient rich environments and the prawn population has exploded.

Catching banana prawns in cast nets is a very popular pastime in Southern Queensland, and this season just past has been exceptional. The bag limit is a 10-litre bucket per person per trip, and on a lot of days it only took half an hour to reach your limit. The whole estuary was hopping with prawns. It was like the equivalent of a cockroach or mouse plague going on underwater, but a lot more welcome!

What was interesting, apart from having banana prawns on the menu on a regular basis, was the effect all this top tucker had on the local fish population. I fish the estuaries a fair bit, and all the bream, flathead, jewies and whiting I caught after the floods were fat as mud and chock-a-block full of prawns. This will lead to a large population of fish in excellent condition at the time they spawn, and in this time of abundance it looks like this winter season will be the best in years. A drought on land is a drought in the sea, but a flood is a major boost that provides a rich base of nutrients that fertilise the salt water of both estuaries and ocean, and invertebrates such as prawns are thriving.

So when prawns are on the menu, you have to match the hatch when it comes to lure fishing. In the shallows and on the flats at the time of writing in autumn there were plenty of small banana prawns, greasy prawns and smaller shrimp. Whiting and bream become very prawn focused at this time, and popper fishing on the shallow flats produced some outstanding fishing. Estuary poppering now provides very reliable sportfishing, and my mate Ross McCubbin, who runs estuary charters in the Gold Coast area, had added this type of fishing to his usual repertoire of flathead, crabs and bait fishing. Lots has been written about whiting on poppers, but the aggression is something quite unexpected from a bottom feeding fish with a rather small mouth. Wind fast and don’t stop winding is the way to catch whiting. Bream are a little more circumspect and a retrieve with a few pauses thrown in works well, but it is all about chasing a fleeing prawn, and fish are quite happy to expend a lot of energy catching prawns. Clear or
neutral coloured poppers work best, and no water is too shallow to try this method. Flathead are also susceptible to eating prawn imitations on the flats.

When it comes to soft plastics, the fish can become quite prawn focused, and the Gulp Shrimps are a great lure for flathead and bream when the prawns are thick. In fact, they sometimes outfish other soft plastic shads and curly tail lures by three to one. Sometimes, when the fishing is slow, I wonder if all the fish have gutsed out on too many prawns and just can’t fit another one in! We’ve caught some ridiculously fat flathead lately that look like they are in full roe but actually just have a stomach full of prawns.

When it comes to many types of lure fishing, I think we tend to greatly under-use prawn imitations, and probably over rely on lures that imitate small baitfish. Great but underused lures include the Australian designed “Prawn Star”, the old Rio’s Prawn, DOAs, Berkley Power Bait Shrimps and Gulp Shrimps. The apparent lack of action of some of these lures tends to put people off them a bit, but an erratic retrieve, a bit of rod work and a long pause is all that is required. When the fish are on the prawns, get something on the end of your line that looks like one!

Barramundi are another species that can become very prawn focused, and again, cherabin or other types of shrimp can be a major part of a barra’s diet for much of the year. Years ago I fished with well-known NT angler Roger Sinclair. At the time Roger had found that white three-inch DOA prawns were the deadliest lure in the tackle box, and locally at the time these lures were hard to come by, but Roger had sourced a box full. The barras ate those lures with gusto, and all you had to do was throw the lure into a drain, let it drift along and it would be sucked in in seconds without even winding the lure an inch. If it looks like a prawn, drifts like a prawn, it gets eaten like one! The other advantage of prawn style lures is that they tend to get quite aggressive bites. Fish know prawns aren’t the easiest thing to catch, and they chase them hard and hit them fast, because they expect the prawn to get away more times than not. That’s why a normally sedately behaved whiting turns into a crazed driven predator
when he thinks he’s got a prawn in his gun sights. The fish knows he has to go fast and hit hard. It isn’t a “suck it and see” response.

Live prawns are one of the best estuary baits ever, especially for jew, barra, bream and flathead. It is all in the click! Prawns move fast and their exoskeleton, the shell, is powered by a lot of muscle in the prawn’s body. The noise of a clicking prawn travels far under water, and this is how barra and jewies find a live prawn in water that is filthy and brown. And like humans, I reckon most fish just love the taste of a good feed of prawns!

The message is clear: always carry a selection of prawn imitations in your tackle box. They are underused and extremely effective.

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