Inland baitfishing techniques
  |  First Published: July 2004

Yabbies and shrimp are the most commonly used bait for our inland native fish. Here’s a few tips to make fishing with them a little easier and more productive.


Nearly all inland anglers, when they were kids, started out with a hook, sinker and yabby or worm attached to a handline or Alvey reel. The species didn’t matter so long as those familiar pecks were felt on the handline or seen on the rod tip. Almost any fish of any size was recklessly wound in and ogled over and prodded with a stick or a stray finger. Simply, it was good fun being a kid and just starting to fish.

As we get older we develop our fishing skills, try lures and flies, find a few favourite species and learn all we can about them. Murray cod and golden perch are two such fish for me. They are the largest inland fish you can target, and the myth and legend surrounding them has created a cult following.

And while a lot of the media hype is centred on casting lures for these fish, I’m betting more anglers out there target both yellas and cod with bait. Why? Because it’s so very effective in the often turbid waters these fish call home.

Crusty Bait

Yabbies, crayfish and shrimp are all crustaceans. They are naturally found in the rivers Murray cod and golden perch inhabit, and these fish prey upon them heavily.

With a tough outer shell and a set of strong claws, crustaceans are well able to defend themselves when backed into a rocky crevice, jammed under a log or burrowed into the mud, silt and clay bottom. When they are trapped in the open, however, they’d better watch out.

Anglers are well aware of how much the native fish love to eat crustaceans. We collect the crustaceans, keep them alive and then present them to Murray cod and golden perch, hoping the fish will find the bait to their liking. Most times they do, and there are few better baits for inland fishing.

Stationary fishing

The most common way to present yabbies, shrimp and crayfish is to anchor them to the bottom with a heavy sinker. This approach has a number of advantages – you know where your bait is, there’s a low risk of snagging and you can fish a tight line to detect bites. Most anglers fishing from the bank use a bait anchored to the bottom because it’s the easiest way to fish. You can cast your bait in, sit back, take in the scenery and wait for a fish to come to you. At times this can be a great method to catch fish, especially when the cod or yellowbelly are moving about when water temperatures and water level rise.

There are two rigs that are preferred, for their simplicity and their effectiveness. The first is a running sinker rig with a ball sinker running right down to the hook and the other is a running sinker rig with the hook separated from the sinker by a trace. Anglers fishing the sinker to the hook rig often get bites and taps and miss the fish, and this is the time to separate the hook and sinker by using a swivel, or using the old bushies’ trick of tying in a stick to act as a sinker stop. By separating the hook and sinker the bait can waft around in the current and appear a little more natural. This movement often turns the taps into solid takes and fish in the bag.

Moving on

Many anglers have taken the moving bait theory one step further and now actively move their baits. With a running sinker rig you can bob the bait by gently lifting and dropping the rig off the bottom. This will increase the number of snags, but the return is more fish on the line. Bobbing the yabbies or shrimp on the bottom creates little puffs of silt and mud, which attract the attention of the native fish. The little puffs of mud look like a shrimp or yabby quickly flicking off the bottom to escape a predator, while the sinker and bait hitting the bottom makes a little noise. The bait’s smell is introduced into the equation, too.

All in all, bobbing baits adds several ingredients to a successful fishing recipe, but there’s an even better way to move bait. It comes with a higher snagging risk but yellas and cod find the presentation almost irresistible.

Bait spinning

We call this method of baitfishing ‘bait spinning’ because you cast and retrieve the bait much like fishing a spinner or lure.

There are two rigs we use to bait spin. The first and most snag-resistant is the running sinker rig with the sinker resting on top of the hook and bait. This is an easy-casting, fast-sinking and simple to use rig which resists snagging reasonably well. We use this rig to explore a snag and ‘feel’ where all the underwater sticks and stumps are.

When bait spinning you should downsize your sinker weight because you want to the current to push your offering around a bit. The current helps you to get your offering in and under snags where the fish live. Very few golden perch or Murray cod will refuse a taste of a yabby or shrimp wafting around in their face or rudely intruding into their territory.

Once the bait is cast out and allowed to work through the snag, you can retrieve the rig just like fishing a soft plastic. Use short little hops, slow rolling or jerky retrieves that make the bait behave erratically. At any stage of the retrieve you can drop the bait back to the bottom and begin the retrieve again.

If you get a tap, just like a soft plastic you can continue to wind steadily or drop the bait back to the fish. It’s amazing how well this works. It’s what I believe would happen in a natural situation – the bait would continue to swim away if the fish missed it or it would drop to the bottom after being fatally injured. Either technique works, but try both methods on any given day to see whether the fish are really switched on a little more apprehensive. If they’re on, continue to wind. If they’re a little shy, drop the bait back and jiggle it on the bottom.

If you’ve fished the area a lot and have a good mental image of what the underwater terrain is like, you can use a Paternostic rig with one or two droppers and use the same retrieves. Because the sinker provides no protection for the hooks, this rig snags more often. Having said that, the rig also catches more fish because the bait(s) have more movement and aren’t restricted by the sinker sitting on top.

Bait is great

So next time you’re whiling away the hours on an inland river, consider moving your baits to get more action and better results. You’ll lose a few more rigs at first, but when you get a handle on fishing yabbies and shrimp on the move I guarantee you’ll enjoy some of the best baitfishing you’ve ever had.

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