I have on my desk an article that I wrote in Outdoor Life March 1996.
Back then we often stayed on farms in the New England area, hunting rabbits and foxes, and fishing their streams for either bass (down at the foothills) or trout (up in the highlands). We ate plenty of fresh fish and, of course, yabbies.
Catching yabbies was one of my favourite sidelines as a kid camping. Those were the days – I’d not a worry in the world. When I woke up in the morning I could pick up my air rifle and go plink tin cans or hunt foxes; or take the fly rod for a walk in search of bass; or paddle my inflatable. But mostly I went in search of those tasty morsels, yabbies.
My gear when I started yabbying (or craybobbing as it is called on the NSW tablelands) was not very high-tech. I used a pair of old stockings in which I put a skinned fox leg. The stocking was tied to some fishing line and the whole lot was cast out under a shadowy tree. The stockings offered the advantage that the spiny claws of the crustaceans would sometimes ‘catch’ in the nylon and make it hard for the crays to escape.
Alternatively, we just tied the fox leg to the fishing line and cast it out. This is likely to fit the definition of a set-line these days. We’d wait for a while (I wasn’t very good at that part) then we’d have to slowly pull the line in and hope that any crustacean that had latched onto the bait with its claw would not let go. Any sudden jerks on the line will cause the cray to ditch the bait and flick away.
To scoop them up we’d use either a landing/scoop net or a colander borrowed from the farmhouse kitchen. The net would be carefully placed under the yabby on the bait and lifted up from below to catch dinner (or at least one of 30 yabbies that would be dinner on a damper sandwich). This was the hardest way to catch yabbies – more of a see-if-you-can-do-it challenge than a super productive technique.
These days the best way to catch big numbers of yabbies is to put the fox leg in a trap, such as the opera house (funnel) type that fold flat for storage and unfold to a dome shape when ready to use. Put the bait in a pocket in the trap. Tie the trap to a cord-line and tie the cord-line to a tree or shrub.
I like to place the trap close to shade and water weeds. However, I’ve still caught them with my traps out in the middle of nowhere. Ideal waters to catch these tasty yabbies are either farm ponds or tiny creeks with lots of overhanging vegetation for shade.
Often it only takes five minutes or so to get your first yabby in the trap. I’ve caught 10 or so yabbies in as many minutes.
After checking the traps we empty the yabbies into a bucket of water and rebait if necessary. It pays to check traps regularly as the smaller species (even smaller redclaw) can escape fairly easily. Redclaw can be caught in rivers and barra/northern impoundments.
You don’t have to use fox legs, rabbit legs work just as good – except I’d rather eat the rabbit legs myself. Pieces of dead carp worked well too; but these days it would be illegal to use carp for bait as it would be deemed to be returning it to the water. You could also use meat borrowed from mum’s esky but really a bit of resourcefulness can usually find fresh bait.
I’ve caught crayfish (western crayfish, yabbies, craybobs, lobbies, marron, redclaw) using these methods from Queensland through NSW and in Victoria. In Queensland we normally catch yabbies in the farm ponds out west and catch redclaw mainly in the large man-made impoundments.
As you head further north the big lakes often hold good stocks of redclaw. I’ve had some good feeds – craytail mornay being a favourite. Redclaw are a regulated species in Queensland. Many impoundments have had unofficial stockings of redclaw but their density fluctuates. Some times there are plenty to catch, other times we struggle. The local tackle shop will be your best guide.
From the regulations:
Anyone who uses a trap or set line for freshwater fishing must have a tag on the trap or set line showing the owner’s surname and address. If the trap is not fixed to something stationary above the water level while being used, it must have a light coloured float attached. The float must feature the owner’s first name and surname and be at least 15cm in each of its dimensions. A two or three-litre milk container may be used as a float. A set line must be attached to a stationary object such as a branch, wooden stake or boat.
A person must not set a fishing line as a cross-line or use more than six fishing lines or set lines alone or in combination. Only one hook or an artificial fly or lure can be attached to a fishing line. Anyone using a set line must be no more than 200m from the line.
A scoop or dip net must not exceed 1m in any dimension, with a handle no longer than 2.5m and a mesh size of no more than 25mm.
A funnel trap (opera house trap) must be no longer than 70cm or no more than 50cm in width or height. It must have no more than four entrances, with each hole measuring no more than 10cm in any direction.
The trap entrance must be made of rigid material. If the trap does not have a mesh made of rigid material, the size of the mesh must be no more than 25mm.
Crays make good bait for yellowbelly and other species and it’s the smaller specimens that make the best live baits. In Queensland the regulations say:
The use of fish and crustaceans such as redclaw crayfish, shrimp and yabbies as bait (dead or alive) is prohibited outside their natural environment or range. This is to prevent species from becoming established in foreign habitats and causing environmental damage. Currently three species can be used as live bait. They are:
Redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) – native to the Gulf of Carpentaria Drainage Division and some river basins in the far northern portion of the East Coast Drainage. Redclaw can only be used as bait in these areas.
Shrimp (Macrobrachium australiensis) – found throughout Queensland and can be used as bait in all areas of the state.
Yabby (blueclaw crayfish) (Cherax destructor) – found naturally in the Murray-Darling, Lake Eyre and Bulloo-Bancannia Drainage Divisions, and some river basins in the East Coast Drainage Division. Yabbies can only be used as bait in these areas.
For more information on freshwater fishing regulations go to www.dpi.qld.gov.au.
• The current Queensland regulations for redclaw are:
Gulf of Carpentaria drainage division and from the Jacky Jacky River basin south to the Normanby River basin on the east coast of Queensland. There is no size limit and there is a bag limit of 40 (females carrying eggs or young must be returned to the water within their natural range)
If you are fishing for redclaw in the impoundments with only a trap(s) then a SIP is not required.
• The current Queensland regulations for spiny freshwater crayfish are:
Spiny crayfish are a no-take species.
• The current Queensland regulations for yabbies are:
No size limit with a bag limit of 100 (females carrying eggs or young must be returned to the water within their natural range).Reads: 9735