A good alternative bait for a wide range of sea species, we show you how to collect and use them.
SCIENTIFIC NAMES – AESOP PRAWN (Pandalus montagu)
COMMON OR EDIBLE PRAWN (Leander serratus)
COMMON PRAWN (Leander squilla)
COMMON EDIBLE SHRIMP (Crangon vulgaris)
These are the commonest varieties found, but there are many others found alongside the common types, all of which make good bait.
A quick way to separate prawns from shrimps is to check the outer antennae. On the prawns the antennae will be about one and a half times the length of the body. The antennae on the shrimps is only as long as the body, or less.
Prawns tend to be a semi transparent grey, but carry a purple to blue hue.
Shrimps are also greyish in colour, but carry a brown mottling across the back and sides with faint red or deep orange tones. They can adjust their colouring for extra camouflage.
Prawns and shrimps only turn that pinky white colour when boiled for eating.
HABITAT – PRAWNS
These are rock pool dwellers. You can find prawns in isolated pools with rocky fringes on the low water line of sandy beaches, but you’ll do much better seeking out the boulder beaches underneath cliffs etc, which will carry far higher numbers of prawn.
The pools below the mid tide line are the best and need to have some weed growth under which the prawns can hide from predators.
HABITAT – SHRIMPS
Shrimps are sand residents. They inhabit the low water line of clean sandy beaches, bays, the pools amongst sandbanks around estuary mouths and some lower estuary creeks.
SEASON – PRAWNS
These frequent the shore throughout the year, but as the winter gets colder and the seas coo, the prawns move out to the low water line and beyond where the temperature is less affected by the outside air temperature. Peak numbers occur throughout the summer months when the bait is at it’s most effective.
SEASON – SHRIMPS
From the open shore, shrimps are available all year, but, due to lower salinity levels, shrimps only move in to estuaries from late spring onwards staying until the early autumn when the rain accompanying the traditional gales pushes the shrimps back to the open shore.
Their numbers show peaks through the year. These peaks occur, with some variation, during the spring and autumn months. Part of this is to do with the masses of shrimps waiting to enter the estuaries, and then the autumnal outward bound influx swelling the ranks of the shore based shrimps again in the autumn.
COLLECTION – PRAWNS
This takes you back to your school days. You need one of those kids nets they sell by the seaside.
It’s then a case of edging up the sides of the rock pools and working the net through the overhanging weed and underneath the rock edges scooping up the hiding prawns as you go. You need to have quite quick reflexes as the prawns have a powerful swimming action propelled by the segmented tail.
Another way is to put a small chunk of mackerel in to the middle of the net and rest the net on the seabed. You need to keep a constant watch and when a prawn is feeding on the fish, lift the net clear of the water. Place them immediately in to a bucket of seawater which needs to be changed frequently.
This all sounds simple, but it takes practice. Once acquired, you’ll get enough for bait, and a tasty supper besides.
COLLECTION – SHRIMPS
This is easier, but much harder work. You need a push net made from a wooden frame, Y shaped and wider at the front than the back with a section of fine meshed netting to trap the fish.
Wade in to the low water surf tables on a calm day until the water is just over knee deep. Put the front of the net on the seabed at a shallow angle that’s comfortable, then walk pushing the net in front of you across the surface of the sand as you go. Stop every 15yds or so, and without pausing lift the net clear of the water and empty the contents in to a bucket of fresh seawater.
Just half an hours work should collect enough for bait and again your supper. Also watch for other bits of bait turning up in the net such as peeler crabs, sandeels, small flatfish etc.
Gin clear seas are never as good as when the surf is carrying a little a colour. In clear seas, the disturbed shrimps panic easily, but in coloured water they seem less cautious and prove easier to net.
Neither prawns nor shrimps keep more than a few hours unless you go to a great deal of trouble beyond that anticipated by the average angler.
Prawns and shrimps need to be left in seawater with an aerator and produce the best results when still alive. Obviously, it’s best to catch them just prior to actually fishing.
Don’t though, discount prawns and shrimps as dead baits. It’s surprising, but lightly boiled in saltwater, they still catch fish, and prove especially effective in estuary situations when used in conjunction with a small swim feeder with minced mackerel and smashed up bits of shrimp added.
You can boil up a batch and then pop them in small sealable bags in the freezer until needed.
The big prawns are deadly for bass and pollack float fished around rock fingers, over boulder beaches and close in to pier and jetty supports.
The hook needs passing through the tail around the third segment leaving the prawn hanging head down in a natural position. Let the float wash around with the swell which imparts movement to the bait.
You can ledger live prawns, but not actually over the rocks themselves. Aim to use a light lead of no more than an ounce and drop the bait right at the junction where sand meets rocks, or on to sandy patches amongst the rocks. Use a long 3′ hook length of clear mono. This is excellent at taking roaming bass.
Larger shrimps can be used singly for smaller fish such as dabs, smaller flounders, school bass, whiting and pout. Again, go for a fine wired hook and just nick the point through the rear quarter of the tail section.
Bunches of shrimps surprisingly take thornback rays too. Few anglers know nor try this, but good rays are taken on shrimps from Cornish and Welsh marks, and even along the Holderness coast in Yorkshire where thornbacks are not that common.
In estuaries, single large boiled shrimps or bunches of two or three make an excellent flounder bait. It’s most effective if the water is clear and the hook used is a fine wired Aberdeen fished on a light 6lb trace and the lead light enough to roll along with the tide. This combined scent and movement appeals to the flounders hunting style. You’ll pick up bass and dabs this way, too.
It’s important not to underestimate just how effective prawns and shrimps can be as bait. Anglers regularly using prawns over rough ground account for bass and pollack over 6lbs. Match anglers also rate shrimps as a must for estuary competition work in the winter.