Make a Whitebait Cleaning Screen to Separate Bait from Debris Video

Whitebait Cleaning Screen Video

Making a Whitebait Cleaning Screen. Sometimes the best whitebaiting takes place when the river and surf are discoloured. There can be a lot of rubbish in the water carried down from upstream. It is frustrating having to waste time picking the whitebait out one at a time. Unwanted rubbish like leaves and sticks can clog your net making fishing in such conditions very annoying. Oddly I have had some of my best catches when the Waimakariri River has been in flood following heavy rain in the Southern Alps. Dirty water certainly doesn’t prevent the bait from running. I suspect it makes them easier to catch because they can’t see my net.

Several times I have had so much rubbish and whitebait in the net at once I have taken the lot home in a chilli-bin and picked out the bait in the kitchen sink. This isn’t good because you need river water to clean your bait. Don’t use fresh water from your tap at home because it washes off the slime detracting from the taste.

Picking out the whitebait is the problem. If you’ve been whitebaiting in the dirty water you will know what I mean. It is a difficult and time-consuming job to separate whitebait from debris every time you empty your net. It can be especially challenging when there is a lot of sea lettuce in the water when whitebaiting in the surf zone.

One of the quickest ways of separating whitebait from debris is with a cleaning screen. You can easily make yourself one of these from light timber (50mm x 25mm) and a small section of Cyclomesh (aluminium mesh) of the type used to make whitebait box nets. It is available from tackle stores, or they will at least know where you can get some. It can also be purchased from Netting Supplies.

There are several ways of making up a cleaning screen. You can build a frame or stand for the screen to sit on with the end placed over a bucket. An improvement is to make the two legs pivot on bolts attached to the top of the screen. The other end of the legs can be pushed into the beach (see the picture below). This is good and secure while being relatively lightweight. It also allows one-man operation. The downside is that it is awkward to carry any distance if you are walking to your whitebaiting spot.

A well-designed and made whitebait cleaning screen in operation near the mouth of the Okarito River, Westland

The second method is to make up a small whitebait cleaning screen like the one shown in the video above without a stand. The downside is that you will need to improvise a method of setting it in position for use each time. It is also good if the sides are a bit higher as the odd whitebait will jump over the side.

The legs on this whitebait cleaning screen are pushed or hammered into the beach making a good stable stand, Okarito River, Westland.

The key to making and using a whitebait cleaning screen is the angle it is set at. It will also work best if it is larger. You want a good steep slope with the sides closer together at the bottom to act as a funnel. The wriggling whitebait slides down to the bottom while the debris remains on the screen. Be sure to have plenty of water in the catching bucket at the bottom. After brushing the debris from the screen you can send the whitebait down the slide for a second or third time to catch any small bits of debris that were missed. A whitebait cleaning screen speeds the cleaning operation quite a bit and is well worth the effort.

Special thanks to the blokes who helped to make this video.

This post was last modified on 29/01/2023 3:30 am

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