Float or ledger fishing with a live prawn is a successful and exciting way of fishing, and a good alternative to other live baits.
Aside from their effectiveness as a sea fishing bait, one of the best things about prawns and shrimps are that they are easy to collect. You can either have a prawn trap set up off shore, or collect them by hand. If you consider how many prawns and shrimps there are, and the locations they are found in, they must be a staple food source for most of the UK fish species (and also liked by many people).
Prawns or Shrimps?
There is a quick way to distinguish between prawns and shrimps and that is to check the outer antennae – on prawns the antennae will be about one and a half times the length of the body, whereas the antennae on the shrimp is only about as long as the body itself or less.
The colour of the prawn tends to be a semi-transparent grey and carries a purple to blue hue whereas a shrimp is also greyish in colour but carries a brown mottling across the back and sides with faint red or deep orange tones. (Shrimps can adjust their colouring for extra camouflage). For those that don’t know prawns and shrimps only turn that pinky-white colour when they are cooked for eating.
How to Catch Prawns and Shrimps
As I have said there are many ways to catch your bait with some examples listed below.
Rock Pools – why not get your children involved with this one – all you need for this is one of those kids nets they sell by the seaside. Find yourself some rock pools and working the net through the overhanging weed and underneath rock edges scooping up the hiding prawns as you go. You will have to be quite quick 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. You never know what else you will find in the rock pools either…
Push Net – This method is easier to catch the bait, 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/prawn/shrimp. A good set of waders is also advised as it involves wading in to the low water surf on a fairly calm day until the water is just over knee deep. Put the front of the net on the seabed at a shallow angle, then walk pushing the net in front of you across the surface of the sand as you go and stop every 10 – 15 meters or so, and without pausing lift the net clear of the water and empty the contents in to a bucket of fresh seawater. After around half an hour you should have collected enough for bait (and maybe even enough for your tea). You never know what else you will find in respect to other bait in the net such as peeler crabs, sandeels, small flatfish etc.
Clear seas are not as good as when the surf is carrying a little a colour, prawns and shrimps panic easily when in clear water, but seem less cautious and prove easier to net where the surf is churning up the sand.
Prawn Net/Trap – These are nets or baskets that are cylindrical in shape and are open at both ends with a mesh of some kind to stop the captured bait escaping. There is normally a place to put in some bait to attract the prawns etc. The trap is then lowered into water and left for a few hours before being retrieved. These traps also attract crabs and other small fish, or as in one of my recent forays a dogfish (probably gorged on all of my prawns as there were none in the trap).
Drop Net – Using a drop net, bait it with old fish and lower down alongside a wall of a pier or jetty, leave it for 10 minutes and then haul it up quickly – you should have a few prawns for bait, and may also end up with the odd peeler crab or even a decent edible crab.
Homemade Prawn Funnel – get a large soft drinks/water bottle and cut the top off (the end where the screw top is) to about where the label stops. Turn the top around and shove it back into the bottle – the neck creating a funnel. You then need to fix this in place (stitching is a good idea) – make sure it can be easily removed and replaced when emptying the prawn trap. Fill it with some sand for weight and attach a line to the prawn trap, Bait it and lower it along side a harbour, pier or jetty wall for a food few hours and then check your results.
Once you have collected your prawns/shrimps you will need to keep them alive. This you can do quite easily with a decent bait bucket and aeration pump.
Bait Presentation: Prawns & Shrimps
There are many schools of thought when it comes to baiting up the prawn / shrimp as you can use them in a manner of ways – live bait, dead bait (useful when you haven’t had time to catch live ones – just pull some out of the freezer that you caught previously) and cooked and peeled (even those bought from a supermarket). It also depends on what type of fishing you are doing, either float or ledger.
Float Method – there are different thoughts on where to stick the hook through for this method, although all use a fine wire type Aberdeen hook. Using a sized hook relevant to the size of the prawn and the fish you want to catch (number 4 – 3� – a larger hook obviously hampers the prawns swimming ability, so it’s a case of hooking power against natural presentation, you will need to be the judge) and going from the underside stick the hook through the prawn and out the other side somewhere between the first and fourth segment from the tail end. This allows the prawn to hang upside down and be able to swim and look natural under the float.
Try and fish it about 1 – 2 meters from the bottom, or the top of weed etc, depending on where you are fishing. If you get a lot of missed bites, you are either being plagued with small fish or cuttlefish I would change my hook to a small treble and hook the prawn using one of the three hooks. Let the float wash around with the swell which imparts added movement to the bait.
Ledger Method – If you are casting with any sort of power at all then mount the prawn on the hook by pushing the hook through the first segment above the tail, pull the hook right through, insert the hook back through the same segment and pull right through, reinsert the hook through the fourth or fifth segment and pull right through, insert the hook back through the same segment and pull right through, insert the hook through the segment just behind the head but making sure you miss the black spot. If you do go through the black spot you will instantly kill the prawn. You should now have a prawn with the line nicely laid along the underneath side its body and with the tip of the hook protruding out from just below its head.
It is very important that the prawn’s body lies straight along the hook. This should now make it secure enough to cast. Some people start at the opposite end so that the hook protrudes tout underneath by the tail. Either way is ok and I leave it up to you to experiment and work out which is best for you. You can always bunch the prawns/shrimps up in 2’s or 3’s and tipping them off with a thin strip of mackerel, squid, or ragworm and this will often make the bait even more attractive. When using them in groups of two or three, nip them lightly through the tail so that they can move naturally.
When using cooked peeled prawns put them on the hook in bunches to get maximum scent and secure them on the hook with bait elastic but don’t wind it too tight or you will cut through the prawn and render the elastic as useless.
Fish to Expect
Prawn and shrimp whether dead or alive including cooked will attract the attention of many fish species such as wrasse, bass, black bream, whiting, pollack, pouting, coalfish, gurnard, flatfish, rays especially thornbacks, cod, poor cod, mullet and many more.
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. Larger shrimps can be used singly for smaller fish such as dabs, smaller flounders, schoolie bass, whiting and pouting, again, go for a fine wired hook and just nick the point through the rear quarter of the tail section.
Bunches of shrimps also take thornback rays as well. In estuaries, single large boiled shrimps or bunches of two or three make an excellent flounder bait and is most effective when the water is clear and the rig is light enough to roll along with the tide – this combined scent and movement appeals to the flounders hunting style and as a bonus you’ll pick up the odd bass and dabs as well.