Fishing For Yabbies

Yabbies have long been a favourite with kids here in Australia.  They are great fun to catch and can be caught in good numbers at times.  Found almost Australia wide, they are accessible to anyone and they don’t taste too bad either.

There were a few places near my home when I was a kid that produced yabbies.  All small streams or creeks, these areas didn’t have yabbies in great numbers, but they were always quite large.  The method we used to catch them is simplicity itself, but it proved to be far more effective than nets, which were next to useless in the clear, shallow waters of the creeks.  This method, described below, still works today and should be utilised on small, shallow waterways and areas where fishing pressure is high, like a local lake.

All you will need is a few metres of light fishing line, around 6-8lb will do; some bait, a knife and a hand net.

There really is no substitute for fresh, raw, red meat for bait; the bloodier the better.  Kangaroo meat is a favourite bait due to its high blood content.  Other top baits are liver, lamb hearts and beef.  Each bait need only be about an inch or so square in size, so trim the bait to size with a knife.  That done, tie the lump of meat to the end of the line and you’re ready to go.

YabbyCredit: Steven Pike

Creeks lined with muddy banks, tree roots and rocks are prime spots, as long as there is a muddy bottom somewhere.  Yabbies burrow into the river or creek bed and prefer muddy areas.  In the smaller waterways, drop your bait near any rocks or deeper areas and underneath overhanging vegetation.  This done, tie the other end of your line to a stick.  Leave plenty of slack in the line.  There is no need to sit there and watch the line continuously; just check it every few minutes.

You’ll know when a yabby has taken an interest in your bait when the line is pulled steadily tight.  When this happens, pull the yabby in very slowly.  It will be reluctant to stop feeding on your bait and will hang on until the last moment, with some yabbies not letting go until they have been pulled from the water.  Most of the time the yabby will let go when he nears the surface.  Keep pulling the yabby and bait back towards you until you can see the yabby clearly and it is in reach of your net.  Keep slight pressure on the line and scoop the yabby up with your net. 

With a bit of practice, you will net far more than you miss.

As mentioned above, the yabbies in the smaller systems seem to be generally larger in size than those from the larger river systems, at least here in South Australia.  However, the yabbies from waterways like the Murray River are far more numerous and are almost exclusively caught in nets.

Within the River Murray system, yabbies are plentiful after the river has flooded and water levels start to drop.  Both the main river and the backwaters will produce yabbies and it is more a case of the right time rather than location, as yabbies are caught right through the system.

Check your local fishing regulations before fishing, as these will vary depending on which country or state you are from.  Here in South Australia, the bag limit for yabbies is 200 per person per day with no size limit.  There are restrictions in regards to how many nets, and of what type, you can use etc etc.

The two most popular types of nets used here are the hoop net, usually with a double hoop, and the yabby pot; a mesh cage often square of “Opera House” in shape.  These have a funnel each end (the size of which is very important and it’s illegal to use an entrance funnel of more than 7.5 cm) and the bait is placed inside in the centre of the net. 

When choosing a spot, look for steep, muddy banks in the main river and a nice soggy, muddy bottom in the backwaters.  The latter won’t be difficult – I have yet to come across a backwater that doesn’t have a soggy, muddy bottom.

The water close in to these steep banks is usually quite deep in the main river, and the nets can be set from the shore.  In the backwaters, the water is very shallow and, although a few yabbies can be caught with nets set from the shore, it is much more productive to utilise a canoe or small boat and drop then nets along a far shore or around the many dead trees in the middle of the waterways. 

Best baits are those already mentioned, with the lamb hearts probably taking the number one spot, although bones from the butcher are good too and are easy to tie into the nets. 

If using hoop nets, check them every ten minutes or so or, if the yabbies are really on the bite, every five minutes.  They make a mess of the bait very quickly, especially if they are about in any numbers.

The pots can be left for an hour or so, as the yabbies find it difficult to get out once they climb in.  They take a little more time to find the entrance on these nets, and sometimes crawl all over them until they find one of the entrance funnels.  Pots are also good to leave overnight if you have the time.

If doesn’t take long to acquire a large number of yabbies, so keep on eye on how many you have.  Employ one of the kids as catch counter – a task that my son takes very seriously.  Take care of them too if intending to eat them.  Place them in clean freshwater as soon as you can if keeping them alive for any length of time, otherwise put them straight on ice, or into an ice/water slurry.

Yabbies are very simple to cook.  Boil a pot of water.  Add a bit of salt, pepper and lemon juice to it and, when boiled, put the appropriate amount of yabbies into it.  This will, of course, depend on the size of your pot.

Leave them in there until the water starts to boil again and give them another couple of minutes.  They turn orange like crabs and start to float when cooked.  Straight out of the pot, they need to be cooled as quickly as possible to stop them cooking further in their shells.  Just rinse them in cold water or, better still, put them into a container of the ice/water slurry.

They can be cooked on the barbeque as well with equally satisfying results.

They are peeled like prawns and taste very similar.

The warmer months are generally the best to target yabbies and they disappear almost completely over the winter months.