Bait Basics – Saltwater Baits (Part 2)
  |  First Published: December 2002

LAST month I gave you some tips on catching, caring for and using livies. This month, in time for the Summer holidays, I’ll elaborate on the other bait options for saltwater fishing.


Yabbies are the preferred bait of many estuary fishers. You can find these crustaceans on the sand and mud flats all year round, and they’re one of the best baits for whiting, bream, flathead and even tarpon.

You can tell where the yabbies are from their large clusters of small holes in the sand and mud flats throughout our river systems. You can pump yabbies on the exposed areas, but if this proves unsuccessful try the submerged holes around the water’s edge.

Yabbies are often easier to dig in the water, and the best way to collect them is to use a yabby pump and a sieve, generally at low tide. If you’re pumping yabbies on flats that are covered in water, keep the sieve afloat by putting it in the middle of an inner tube. If you’re pumping alone and don't have someone to hold the floating sieve, tie a small piece of rope to the tyre and hitch a loop around your ankle to stop the sieve from floating away.

Remember to set up a bucket half full of estuary water (collected from the area you’re pumping) on a firm surface.

Here’s how to use your pump:

1. Push the pump part way into the sand and pull the handle back.

2. Lift the pump out of the sand, place the open end of the pump over the sieve, and push the handle down. This should push out a sand or mud core. Using the sieve reduces the chance of you losing yabbies, especially when pumping in water. Repeat this process several times from the same hole. Be careful when you walk away though, because pumping yabbies from the same cluster can create a hole big enough for you to fall in. I’ve been caught out a few times!

3. Once you’ve collected a couple of the sand cores in the sieve, gently lower the bottom of the sieve into the water and swirl in a circular motion. This gets rid of the sand and leaves the yabbies behind.

4. Place the yabbies gently into a bucket of saltwater. It’s a good idea to remove all dead and injured yabbies from the catch so that they don’t foul the water and kill the other yabbies.

5. Continuing the pattern, work around the flat. Most anglers like to leave a few paces between diggings. This should give you enough yabbies for a successful fishing trip.

The easiest way to keep yabbies alive is to keep them in a bucket of water in a cool shaded area, remembering to change the water regularly. When changing the water, pour the yabbies and the water into the sieve and remove all dead and injured yabbies. Place the remaining yabbies back into the bucket of new water. This may seem tedious, but it helps to keep your bait fresher for longer.

Another option is to keep the yabbies in pine shavings and/or sheets of newspaper, but take care not to use shavings from treated wood.

Yabbies can nip, and the first time the big white claw latches onto your finger you’ll get quite a fright! It’s always a great prank with newcomers.

Baiting Up

Putting a yabby on a hook is easy. Push the point of the hook into the yabby’s underside, just under the tail flaps. Next, gently push the hook down the centre of the body (sliding the yabby up the shank as you go). Then push the point out through the bottom of the head.

For deep water whiting, I prefer a yabby fished on a no. 4 hook and a long trace with a heavy sinker at the top. I like to leave this rig to waft in the current. When shallow water whiting fishing, I prefer to slowly retrieve a lightly-weighted rig with a yabby on a no. 6 or no. 4 hook.

For bream, a good option is to use a larger hook, such as a no. 1. If you’re chasing tarpon, a lightly weighted (or unweighted) yabby fished on a razor-sharp 1/0 is excellent.


Squid make great bait for all types of fish, and they’re great on the dinner plate as well! Squid are attracted to lights, so if you’re fishing from a jetty opt for one with overhead lighting and position yourself near it.

You can use bait to catch squid, but most anglers use modern prawn-style jigs because they’re the most common and effective way to catch squid from a jetty. There are a plenty of squid jigs of varying quality on the market. The better prawn-style squid jigs usually have a high quality knitted cloth covering, and generate a higher catch rate.

On the occasions when I’ve caught squid on bait, they’ve been a welcome by-catch. Live baits also attract squid, and often you’ll just feel a slight increase in weight through your line. A bite mark behind the fish’s head is proof that squid readily take baits from the side. Many of the higher quality squid jigs have a few barbs further along the body as well as the tail, to tangle or hook the squid’s tentacles.

Squid can be finicky, so once you have one on it’s best to avoid sudden jerks or movements that may spook them. When using a jig, cast out, let it sink and slowly retrieve it at a steady rate. This allows enough time for the squid to get hooked before you lift it out of the water.

From my experience, I believe that squid generally move across the weed beds on high tide. If there are weeds in the vicinity of the jetty, it’s worth a cast.

The stationary retrieve involves fishing the jig vertically under the jetty light. This enables the jig to waft with the current. A neat trick is to suspend the squid jig under a float. You can also slowly wind in the jig and, once it reaches the top, freespool it back to the bottom. If you have an interested squid clinging to your jig you’ll feel an increase in weight and resistance when winding in. It’s hard to tell if a squid is hooked well or just lightly, so it’s best to keep your movements slow and smooth.

The basic technique for landing involves slowly winding the squid within netting distance. Gently place the net under the squid as you gradually lift the rod tip. A rapid rod lift or large change in the angle can result in the squid falling off. Remember to keep the movements slow, smooth and try not to cast a shadow over the squid. And watch out for that ink squirt!

Squid are more often caught around Winter. They make an excellent bait and, on a BBQ plate after being dipped in flour and garlic, calamari is a real treat.


You can collect prawns in the tidal creeks with a cast net. But if you’re going to the effort of catching fresh prawns, you might like to have a few of them on the dinner table and not just on a hook. For those of you who want to collect your own prawns, Queensland regulations state that a recreational fisher must not take or have in possession more than 10 litres of prawns.

Prawns work well for bait, whether they’re alive, fresh or shelled. On the dinner plate it’s a tossup between garlic, chilli and ginger. You know what? Why not give all three a try!


Some of my best childhood memories involved collecting pipis with my grandfather. We’d go to the sandy beaches, stand in ankle-deep water and twist. As your feet delve deeper, the wave action washes away the sand and you can feel the pipis under your feet. You can keep your pipis in a shaded bucket of seawater. In Queensland, anglers are allowed up to 50 per person in possession.

Sometimes you can even spot the pipis by the small bumps in the sand as the tide recedes. This is particularly noticeable in areas where cars drive along the beach.

As kids we’d eat what we didn’t use for bait, often enjoying freshly-caught dart and pipis on the BBQ plate. Just place the pipis on the plate and, when they’ve opened up, just scoop out the flesh and eat – maybe with a squeeze of lemon or lime.


You can catch beach worms with an old fish frame and lightening reflexes! Wave the fish frame or a hessian bag (onion bags work too) containing fish scraps over the sand in the shallows, and wait. If there’s a worm in the area he’ll be attracted to the scent and stick his head out of the sand. He’ll reveal himself by the ‘v’ that’s created as the water recedes over him.

When you see the worm’s head, coax him further out of the sand by tempting him with a small piece of fish. Be quick but smooth, otherwise he’ll duck straight back into the sand again before you’ve had a chance to latch onto him with your thumb and forefinger (some people also opt to use pliers). Once you’ve drawn him further out, grab the worm and pull him slowly and steadily out of his sandy abode.

Queensland DPI regulations state that you must have no more than 50 beach worms (including parts) per person in possession. If one beach worm splits into three parts, that’s counted as three worms.

Keep beach worms fresh by storing them in a small amount of moistened sand. The sand also makes them easier to handle.


You’ll often see swarms of soldier crabs on the exposed estuary flats and sandbanks at low tide. If you see them, grab a few for bait. It’s always good to have all your options covered, particularly when it is locally-caught bait. I’ve found that the small black soldier crabs seem more popular with most estuary fish than the larger blue versions.


OK – so it doesn’t look pretty, and it can smell even worse. But mullet gut is one of the old favourites, and rightly so – it really catches! You can buy small containers of mullet gut from tackle stores for convenience. Some anglers prefer to use the mullet gut with the ‘onion’ (a hard knob in the gut) and some without. Trial both and see what works for you. Personally, I like using gut with the onion because it gives the bait a bit of security on the hook.

To get your own mullet gut, just catch some mullet using the methods I outlined in last month’s QFM, and simply remove the innards yourself after opening the stomach cavity with a sharp knife.

Just talking about mullet gut reminds me of those jetty rat days! There was always one kid who’d lob some ‘gizzards’ in your direction.


There are a few varieties of weed available from the tidal flats, saltwater sections of coastal creeks, drains, and swampy and rocky areas. These varieties include dark green algae known as ‘blackfish weed’ (Enteromorpha) ‘eelgrass’ (Zostera), and ‘sea cabbage’ or ‘sea lettuce’ (Ulva), which is a green, flat-leafed weed. Another bait I’ve used is a darkish moss, sometimes referred to as ‘black magic’.

Some anglers say that particular weeds are suited to different areas. For example, some anglers prefer sea cabbage for coastal areas and blackfish weed for estuarine scenarios. I use both sea cabbage and blackfish weed in the estuary.

In a fishing magazine years ago I read that you can tell whether weed is old by a yellow tinting it gets. In warmer weather, weed often dies off. Heavy rain also affects weed growth. It seems that Mother Nature has timed the luderick season to coincide with the supply of weed in Winter.

You can sometimes buy weed from tackle shops, but you miss out on a lot of fun this way! You won’t get the occasional and purely accidental handfuls of mud thrown at your fishing buddy who’s searching out weed and unaware of your attack. (That’s one way to get them back for putting mullet entrails on your seat at the jetty just as you’re about to sit down.)

Rigging Up

Put the weed onto a long shank no. 8 hook by winding, weaving and plaiting the strands onto the shank and continuing down to the bend. This will help to keep your weed on the hook for longer. Make sure to leave tag ends no longer than 1cm, otherwise blackfish may suck on the bait, pulling the float down but not having the hook in their mouth.

Some anglers secure their cabbage with thread, but I prefer to keep the bait looking as natural as possible. I use an extra piece of cabbage to bind what has already been wrapped around the shank.


The Alvey belt-mounted bait bucket is an old favourite, particularly for beach goers, because it’s durable and easily washable to remove smelly leftovers. This bucket is capable of holding a number of baits, weeds, worms or any of the above for the self-sufficient angler.

It takes me back to those days when long rods leaned up against the garage (or side of the tent), the BBQ provided lunch (Mum’s way of keeping us outside I reckon), feet were barefoot and only the mozzies, midges and sandflies could chase us inside.

Next month I’ll delve into the world of flesh baits. Stay tuned!

1) Yabbies are easy to find on the sand and mud flats all year round. Collect them with a yabby pump and sieve at low tide when the clusters of holes are exposed.

2) Squid make great bait for all types of fish, and can be caught on bait or the more modern squid jigs.

3) The delectable mullet gut is one of the old saltwater favourites.

4) There are many types of weed for the luderick angler to collect from the tidal flats, saltwater sections of coastal creeks, drains, and swampy and rocky areas of south-east Queensland.

5) You’ll often spot swarms of soldier crabs on the exposed estuary flats and sandbanks at low tide, and it’s good to grab a few for bait.

6) The Alvey belt-mounted bait bucket is durable and easy to wash, and is capable of holding a number of baits.

7) Everything about luderick is fun – from catching them around structure to the bait collecting!

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