Live shrimps and prawns are excellent shore baits in summer for sporting fish such as pollack, bass and wrasse. The higher sea temperatures of summer tempt shrimps and prawns inshore, where they provide fish with rich pickings in the shallow water. With the onset of winter they retreat to the deeper water offshore.
Boiled and peeled, shrimps and prawns are generally much less effective baits -though in the right place at the right time they can be deadly from the shore for such fish as mullet and flounders.
The American way
The main problem with shrimps and prawns is obtaining them. Very few British tackle shops have live storage facilities. This isn’t the case in countries such as the USA, where the value of these baits is much better appreciated and where the majority of coastal tackle shops have their own aerated sea water tanks specially for the keeping of live shrimps and prawns.
Until such facilities become more widespread in Britain the only option is to collect your own. This in itself can be a very interesting task and helps to give you a valuable insight into the life-styles of these crustaceans.
Shrimping and prawning
There are three main ways of gathering shrimps and prawns. Whichever method you use, select only the biggest ones for bait, returning the smaller ones to grow on.
The first way is with a small hand net -the sort sold alongside children’s buckets and spades in holiday seaside towns, though you can find them in some coastal tackle shops as well.
As the tide goes out, shrimps and prawns get stranded in rock pools and pools around the bases of breakwaters, harbour walls, pier pilings, jetties and other such structures. Poke the net as far under rock and weed overhangs as it will go then withdraw it quickly to prevent the shrimps and prawns darting out of the mesh.
Larger hand nets can be very effective over open, sandy ground at low tide. Wade out up to your knees and push the net along the sandy bottom at walking pace, working parallel to the shore. Lift the net up every 30m or so and among the weed and debris you should find plenty of shrimps and, if you’re lucky, a few prawns.
The third method is to lower a baited drop net down the side of a harbour wall or pier. The beauty of this is that you can do it at the same time as you are fishing, to provide a steady supply of fresh bait.
The drop net should have a fine mesh and be baited with a piece of fish. Mackerel and herring are ideal. A kipper can be very effective, although at a push almost any kind of fish or meat will produce results. Leave the net down for about ten minutes then bring it quickly but steadily to the surface. Don’t stop lifting even for a second, or the prawns and shrimps will escape. With this method there is always the chance of an edible crab or a lobster as a real bonus!
Alive and well
There are two ways of keeping shrimps and prawns alive. A bucket of sea water is the most commonly used one, but remember to change the water regularly and don’t put too many shrimps or prawns in together. A small, battery operated air pump reduces casualties and enables you to keep more shrimps or prawns in the bucket.
Another effective means of storage is keeping them in damp seaweed. Whichever method you use, keep the container as shaded and cool as possible.
Fun float fishing
Floatfishing and freelining are the best ways to fish live prawns and shrimps from piers, breakwaters, harbour walls and rocks, with bass, pollack, scad, coalfish and wrasse the target fish.
Bright days and clear sea conditions are best, as the fish are attracted by the sight and jerky movement of the bait rather than by its smell in the water. Set your hook well clear of the bottom so the fish can see the bait more easily.
Light, sporting tackle is the order of the day, with a carp rod, fixed-spool reel and 6-10 lb line ideal. Fishing close to the rocks, pilings or harbour wall is usually far more effective than casting far out into the open sea, because then your bait is exactly where the fish come looking for shrimps and prawns.
On the menu
Boiled and peeled shrimps and prawns can be good baits off harbour walls where holi-daymakers discard food scraps into the sea. Mullet are the main quarry in these circumstances, but in some places other species eagerly take them.
One that comes immediately to mind is the creek behind the cockle sheds at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. With a regular supply of shellfish and other seafood regularly deposited into the water, the fish there have become accustomed to such morsels. A shelled prawn or shrimp fished under a float or on a light leger rig produces some excellent mullet and cracking flounders. You might know of a similar place near you.