I love prawns, particularly Lake Illawarra prawns. They taste great, are fun to catch and are about the best bait you can use in any situation. Few fish in an estuary system or the beach can swim past a live kicking prawn.
But first you have to catch them. With this month marking the start of the local prawning season, it's time to get out there during the dark and scoop a few – or a lot if they are running.
To get started you need a scoop net and an underwater light (both are easily purchased from the local tackle shop), and to power your light you need a battery of one type or another. Most people choose to use a 12V motorbike battery. You place it in a floating container tied to your belt and it floats around behind you wherever you go. The container is usually big enough to carry a bucket to put your prawns in (it needs a lid because the little buggers can jump) and maybe a beverage or two.
This activity is fun for all the family as the kids love walking each side of the light and scooping any prawns in their path.
Timing is everything for a good catch of prawns, and when we talk about the ‘dark’ we’re not referring to the fact that it’s night time, but rather that certain nights are best. The dark is usually about a week after the full moon, with the best time being when the tide is running out, as this is when the prawns run. The dark lasts until about a week after the new moon, so 10 days to two weeks.
The run is what everyone wants as this when the entire population of the waterway lifts off the bottom at once and heads to the sea, and they head to the sea in their thousands. They can form thick columns or just be a moving mass over the entire width of the waterway. This is good and may last for an hour or all the tide, and it doesn't happen all the time – you just have to be in the right spot at the right time for these occurrences. But for the most part there will be a small run on most nights of the dark.
Runs are good but for the most part prawns sit or crawl around on the bottom or among the weed beds so you have to scoop them from this position. Alternatively, you can do a thing called ‘kicking’ where you place your net behind the prawn and stomp your foot down close to it and it shoots back into the net. Some people are experts at kicking, and with a little practice you get the hang of it, and any that you miss can be netted by the kids get as the prawns shoot sideways.
There are regulations on prawn catch so check out the NSW fisheries brochures for bag limits.
Like all bait, prawns are best used live, and there are several ways to keep them alive. Many anglers use a bait pump aerator in a bucket of water, but you have to keep checking on the prawns, remove any that expire and hope the batteries don't fail. It's just too hard.
The simple method used by the old timers is before you leave the lake, grab half a bucket of fresh (not smelly or dry) ribbon weed. There’s tons of it at the water’s edge. Select your live prawns for bait, take half of the weed out, place your prawns and then cover them with the remaining half of weed. You don’t have to add any water because the moist weed is all that’s needed. Place them in a cool dark place and they will last for several days.
Alternatively you can also place the weed on a wet hessian bag, then the prawns and then more weed, and cover with another bag or double over the single bag. This works just as well. Keep them this way when you go fishing, and if you don’t use all your prawns you can just change the weed and they will last again.
An unweighted live prawn cast into the snags in the creeks or floated into the bridge pylons is deadly on bream, and with a little weight cast into the deeper spots will score any flathead and bream over a large area. This month sees the start of the flathead season in the lake as the water starts to warm in the shallows and kick-start another summer season.
Soft plastics will be the weapon of choice for most anglers, but live prawns and poddy mullet are still a big favourite with many locals.
With the prawns running it means it is time to start using those little poppers for some added fun on the whiting, bream and flathead down around the entrance and in the main channel.
There have been a few mulloway taken around the bridge and along the break walls during the evenings, with a few salmon and quite a lot of tailor feeding on small baitfish from the entrance up to the bridge on the top of the tide and the first of the run-out.
Minnamurra has the flatties, bream and the odd whiting from the entrance up to and around the bridges so the estuaries are worth a look from this month on.
On the beaches we have the usual culprits of salmon and tailor on most beaches with a descent gutter during dawn and dusk. A few bream are making it interesting and the odd flathead is starting to appear as well. There are no reports of any whiting as yet but they won't be far off and could be worth a look on Windang and Warilla beaches.
A few school mulloway have been about but any captures are being kept quiet at the moment by those chasing them so they can't be too thick.
On the rocks it’s time for the land-based guys to dust off the gear and get rid of a few cobwebs on a few decent kings that are getting about the deeper ledges. Salmon will steal most of the live baits, particularly once the sun gets up a bit, and you should never underestimate the power of the pike. If you get one put him straight out – even better if it’s before daylight. Right at your feet in the wash is the best spot.
If the currents are friendly we might even see an odd yellowfin down around Kiama blowhole point or some striped tuna to throw lures at on lighter tackle.
The washes are still producing some excellent drummer all along the coast. The southern ledges around Bombo and Kiama and the northern ledges up around Coalcliff are the best.
Bream and a few trevally will round out the catch quite nicely if you are using royal red prawns for bait.
Offshore things are starting to take shape with small baitfish starting to arrive. This not only stimulates the pelagics but gets the good old sand flathead active too. Some good catches have started to come in from up north around Stanwell Park, so they will be about over most of the sand patches along the coast. Try the double paternoster rig with bait on the bottom and a plastic on the top and you will be surprised at the results. You will score a few reds on the plastic into the bargain.
As for snapper, they are not in the numbers as they were a month or so ago and they have moved into deeper water at 30m+. However, by using your sounder to find schools of bait and working your plastics at around the same level as the bait you can pick up some nice fish.
A few mowies are showing over the reefs and there are plenty of nuisance leatherjackets about with the flatties. Some people like them though, so they’re not such a nuisance for everybody.
With the baitfish come the pelagics and with a little current the kings should start to get into action. Last season was quiet with fish north and south but few in the Illawarra, but every year is different so hopefully it will be our turn this year.
Further offshore there were heaps of smaller ‘fin about in late August and early September, and with them were albacore, short-billed spearfish and can you believe mahi mahi so this month anything could happen. October has always been pretty good for yellowfin so it will be worth a look. The thing is they are a long way out, often closer to 1000 fathoms than 100, and that is getting to the limits of small boats. One big wind that is not predicted and we will have a major episode as more and smaller boats head east.
Gemfish and trevalla are available on the Kiama canyons if the going on the ‘fin gets slow, and there are always plenty of makos and blue sharks showing up in the berley to keep you amused.
Closer in and the bait is being rounded up by schools of salmon all over the coast with trevally underneath, and a few schools of striped tuna zipping around as well, so its all starting to look good as the weather warms up and we take advantage of daylight saving.Reads: 6774