Yabbies – Catching shrimps for bait
Yabbies are Top Mullet Bait
This article is all about catching yabbies and yellow-eyed mullet. Yabbie, or saltwater shrimp, is one of the best baits available for a wide range of species. I’ve used them successfully to catch flounder, red cod, tarakihi and rainbow trout. When it comes to catching yellow-eyed mullet for later use as surfcasting bait the yabbie is without peer!
Yabbies can be fished either live or dead. The later being the most effective. The wiggling legs of a back-hooked yabbie are irresistible fare for any fish. The wriggling shrimp sends minute vibrations through the water. These are picked-up by the lateral line which runs the length of all fish. The patrolling predators can then home in even in murky water.
Yabbies are also great fun to catch. You can even get the whole family involved.
The yabbie is found down burrows it digs in the sand. Each incoming tide brings the yabbie a fresh supply of plankton upon which it feeds. Therefore you have to gather yabbies at low tide with a yabbie or bait pump. You really need a yabbie pump for catching these salt-water shrimps or you could be digging all day with a spade. They are only found on fine sandy beaches. In Canterbury, just such habitat is available to the yabbie between New Brighton and Waikuku beach. You won’t find them along the entire beach but rather in patches covering hundreds of square metres. Along some parts of the beach you won’t find any.
The best place to look for them seems to be about half way between the high and low tide mark. Also focus your efforts where water has just receded. They’ll be closer to the surface. I’m sure they dig down deeper as the tide goes out! Lookout for the small entrances to their burrows. These are quite small – perhaps 2 or 3 mm across.
That sounds small I know, but their holes are easy to find on the otherwise smooth surface. You will also see a slight mound around the entrance to the burrow where the industrious yabbie has cleared debris from it’s vertical tunnel. They must be sociable creatures because if you find one yabbie hole you always find hundreds in the same area. Sometimes you also find more than one yabbie in the same hole! Usually the holes will be spaced between a few centimeters up to a metre or so apart.
Once you’ve found their vertical tunnels the next step it to catch the little blighters. There are two methods of doing this. Firstly you can dig them out with a garden spade. This is hard work! So hard as to be barely worth the effort. The yabbies can be up to a foot or so down. They are only an inch or so in length and you have to search through all the sand you are digging up to find them.
A far superior way of catching them is by sucking them out of their burrows with a purpose made yabbie pump. These are available from several of the leading tackle stores in Christchurch . They are not a huge selling item so you might have to telephone to find one. I’ve seen several different models on the market over the years. One is made from PVC pipe, and others from stainless steel. The best one to get is an Alvey bait pump imported into New Zealand from Australia by Kilwell Sports. These are made from quality stainless steel and brass components. I’ve had my Alvey bait pump for years and it’s still going strong.
Place the tube of the pump directly over the yabbie hole, and then push it down vertically into the sand as far as it will go before pulling the plunger up. Then lift the whole pump from the sand and finally push the plunger back in to eject the pump’s contents onto the beach. You’ll still have to search through the sand “plug” for the yabbie but with experience you can squirt the pump’s contents out in a sweeping action which will spread the sand out across the beach making the kicking yabbie easier to spot. This is where a couple of helps can come in handy to catch the yabbies before they can dig their way back below the surface. If the yabbies are down deep in their holes you might have to insert the pump back in the same hole a couple of time to repeat the process.
With a bit of experience you’ll be able to easily catch three or four dozen yabbies in half an hour or so.
Where to fish
Carry a small bucket part filled with water, and a handful of sand, to place your yabbies in as you catch them They stay alive in the bucket for several days. But are livelier if used the same day.
Mullet come in to the rivers feed with the tide. Therefore you can plan your bait gathering trip something like this. If low tide is at 10.OOam catch your yabbies then. By 3.OOpm you will be able to use them to fish for yellow-eyed mullet in the river just before high tide. Good spots to fish for yelloweyed mullet, with your freshly caught yabbies around Christchurch, are the Kaiapoi, Heathcote and Avon Rivers . Head about a mile or so upstream and pick a comfortable spot on the riverbank. The best spots are where there is a big rise and fall in river level with each tide. Good examples are the Kaiapoi wharf and the Avon River at Owles Terrace. The sandy beaches on either side of the Waimakriri Rivermouth are excellent places to cacth yabbies.
You can also fish your yabbies for mullet from wharves or rocks, but if doing so you need to use some sort or berley to keep them in the area. A 20 litre bucket filled with a mixture of water, bread crumbs, minced fish and fish oil cast across the water by the cupful every few minutes will attract huge numbers of mullet to your baited hooks. Berley isn’t necessary in the river because the river itself will channel the feeding fish to your bait.
Over the years I’ve found the float rig to be the best for catching yellow-eyed mullet. The two main benefits of float fishing are you get fewer tangles from river weed; and the float acts as a bait indicator.
River weed can be a nuisance in some spots when fishing a bottom rig. Otherwise a simple Paternoster rig with size 10 hooks will catch plenty of mullet. It is important to fish with small hooks because mullet have small mouths. If you reel in your line only to find your bait missing it is a sure sign that your hooks could be too large. If you are losing baits change to smaller hooks.
The hooks I like to use are Mustad 3666 in size 10. But some of the modern chemically sharpened hooks such as Kamasan B405 or B100, also in size 10 work very well too. You can try a slightly larger hook which will be fine for bigger mullet, but if you use hooks that a bit too big you will find the mullet are cleaver at taking the yabby without getting hooked.
It is essential to pre-tie your rigs at home. These are quite small hooks and fiddly to tie on. A job that is made worse at the river bank if the kids are impatient to start fishing.
I like to make up my rigs with 6 lb mono. Set your hooks around a metre beneath the float. Apply just enough split-shot to take the hooks down. When a fish strikes it will pull the float under the surface. The smallest nibbles will cause your float to vibrate alerting you to a strike.
Sometimes the mullet can be quite small (just 100 mm in length). These little guys can sometimes be a nuisance stripping your baits repeatedly without getting hooked themselves. If this happens all you can do is change to smaller hooks.
Give catching yabbies and yellow-eyed mullet a go. It’s addictive, rewarding, and proof you don’t always have to catch big fish to have a lot of fun!
I have had some of my most enjoyable days, with rod in hand, catching mullet on yabbies under a float rig. It is very relaxing sitting on the riverbank watching the ducks and leaves float by. Very occasionally a trout will even hit one of your yabbies.
In this video we are catching yellow-eyed mullet using yabbies for bait.