I was like a kid taking their first visit to the candy shop. The excitement didn’t wane as I stood on my feet the whole night with net at the ready to scoop the prawns. I would totally recommend it to any man, woman or child that has not yet experienced prawning. It was thrilling watching the prawns rush out with the tide but also an experience watching the surrounds of nature and how everything unfolds before the prawns start to run.
I had only been prawning about three times in my life before. Twice I had been to the back of Lake Illawarra wading in the water scooping the prawns out of the weed and the third was down Sussex Inlet when they weren’t really running hard. There was only one or two prawns coming down every couple minutes and worst of all I would miss most of them.
When a good mate Efton asked Scott and I to join him for a prawning night on the dark of the moon there was no way I was missing out. The week couldn’t go quick enough. The plan of attack was to be on the lake just before the outgoing tide change. Trying to work this out was trial and error. It turns out we were about 3 hours early but that has now given us an indication for future ventures. It doesn’t matter which river system you are fishing you should take note of the official tide change and then go and watch the river/lake and take note of when it does actually change on the water.
In the summer months the prawns run from their cover of weed beds and sand and head to the river mouth out to the ocean. In Lake Illawarra we were able to anchor up on the west side of the bridge, just off to one side of the main channel and wait armed. It was a great time to take in the surrounds while the tide was still running in. The water was crystal clear and the bottom could be seen easily. The pelicans were resting on a sand bar and there were fisherman on top of the bridge. About half an hour before the tide changed we started seeing flathead appear under the boat, bream moving through, people starting to yahoo from the bridge of their fish captures and the pelicans became restless starting to move into the water. Before we knew it, it was feeding stations all round. The tide started screaming out and the red eyes of the prawns were glowing under our torch lights.
I had a few lessons come quick and fast then as a few prawns gave me the shimmy shimmy shake and went around my net. Maybe I was just a bit naïve but I thought you just put your net in the water and they swam into it, not so. You could pick the bigger ones out by the size of their eyes and as they got closer you could see their bodies, they would pause in the torch lights for a bit and then you had to make the quick jab with the net predicting what way they were going to flick off. I found a little trick which made life a little easier was to just lift your torch slightly once you had them close and before going for the jab, they didn’t seem to move as much. Another lesson was once you thought you had one shake it to the bottom of the net so it doesn’t swim out again. When you start getting a few prawns in your net you will need to empty it otherwise it acts like a big drag in the water against the current. We had an esky with some water in it that we emptied them into. It was everything I was hoping for with yelling and bantering amongst us “get this one, did you see that one, I think I got him”.
Watching weed clumps come down with a number of what we called – “hitch hikers” on it was fun. You just saw a row of gleaming red eyes clinging to the weed clump as they camouflaged themselves against predators. We seen a couple of crabs go by laden with eggs and occasionally you would see a fish or two coming in for a feed. The pelicans at this stage were gorging themselves.
You must be careful when emptying your net of fortesque. They are really tiny spiky fish that give you a nasty pain when spiked and are good getting entangled in the net.
What you need is a “prawning net” this is a long handled net with tightly netted mesh so the prawns cannot swim through and some strong lighting to spot the prawns. We noticed as the night went on and our lights got a little dimmer it was harder to spot the prawns through the water until they were really close. If prawning from a boat you will also need an anchor and a bucket or esky to put your catch in. You do need a fishing license to go prawning and the limit is a 10litre bucket per person.
After staying throughout the whole tide we realised the first half of the tide seemed the most productive with the largest amount of prawns rushing out, it then thinned out until towards the end when we experienced more short bursts. We got home at sunrise this day, we weighed up and separated our prawns and then went home to cook them, had a shower while they were cooling and then refrigerated them and had a feast after we awoke from a well deserved sleep. They only took a few minutes to cook, once they change colour and float to the surface they are done.
Fresh prawn rolls with homemade seafood sauce were the bomb. I can’t wait until the new moon next month.