by Sean Thompson •
It is a fact that the very last, yet most important link in the chain between you and the fish is the bait. You can have the best graphite rod and finest quality reel, the thinnest and most expensive fluorocarbon line and the best quality hooks and swivels, but get the bait wrong and the chain will break.
In just about every fishing scenario, that ‘right’ bait is 1 that is live or very fresh. Sure there are some fish who don’t mind frozen baits as a food of choice (like tailor and pilchards), but they are the exception rather than the rule. Fundamentally, for most fish, if the bait is not fresh, but in poor condition, frozen or badly presented on the hook, you are considerably reducing the chances of success.
This article presents you with the tips, tricks and tools on how to collect some of the best and most accessible baits for a variety of bread and butter species from our magnificent Queensland beaches, rocks and estuaries. It also outlines how to keep your bait in tip-top condition until such time that it is presented on the hook. I say ‘presented’ as even a live bait presented badly, like a bunched up beach worm, will have far less appeal that a worm threaded along the hook shank, over the eye and up the line so it lies naturally.
CATCHING BEACH WORMS
Considered by many as the number 1 beach bait. A live beach worm will catch you whiting, bream, dart, flathead and even in a bunch, the Holy Grail of beach and estuary fishing, the mulloway. The best part is that live worms are available right at your feet on the beach shoreline. There is no mud to dig, sand to pump, rocky cliffs to climb or nets to cast. Furthermore, they can be caught in the middle of the day provided the swell and tide is right.
The only equipment you will need is a fish scaler bag (or onion bag with lots of small holes) on a piece of rope; some fish carcasses, pilchards or old meat; and a finger bait of a pipis or tough piece of fish flesh. If you are on your own you can also use a stake to anchor the stink bag higher on the beach at the edge of the wash, but I prefer to be mobile and simply stand on the rope tied to the bag while I’m targeting an individual worm.
Some wormers also choose to use pliers to catch their worms. I don’t recommend this for beginners as your fingers give you a better feel for the timing to grab the worm, but that said, a worm caught by pliers is no better or worse than a worm caught by your fingers, so if you can’t catch them with your fingers, by all means try the pliers.
WORMING TECHNIQUES, DOs AND DON’Ts
The key to catching beach worms is timing and technique. Having taught numerous club mates and random onlookers to catch worms (including my eldest boy in catching his first worm at only 11 recently), there are a couple of critical dos and don’ts for worming. When it all comes together, I normally shout just as loud or louder than my learners due to the pleasure I get out of their success… as some people try and fail for years in their quest to catch a beach worm.
Each beach wormer has their own technique, but one that has worked successfully for my worming ‘students’ and me is outlined step by step below.
10 Steps to beachworm success
1. Use a strong smelling stink bait like pilchards or red-fleshed fish like mullet or tailor frames in a bag on a rope.
2. Use a firm finger bait, like a pipi or mullet flesh.
3. Wave the stink bag too and fro at the very top of the wave’s reach of the flats or sand spit.
4. Look for a V in the water as the wave recedes as evidence of an inquisitive worm head.
5. Approach the worm by treading lightly and offer it the hand bait about 1cm in front of its head.
6. Let the worm latch onto the hand bait and try to ever so slowly draw it out of the sand so it ‘arches’ its back.
7. Starting approximately 3cm back from the worm, dig your thumb and first finger about 2.5cm wide apart into the sand.
8. Slowly drive your fingers down about 2-3cm deep and parallel either side of the worm head, making sure you go well past it.
9. Firmly squeeze the worm between your thumb and the line on your index finger joint. Squeeze any further up and the worm will slip and escape.
10. Slowly pull the worm up with constant pressure.
If you are a bit slow and the worm digs in with its feelers, don’t try and pull against it, as you will pull its head off. Rather, grip the worm down as close as you can to the sand and dig with the other hand to loosen up pressure and grab a lower grip on the worm. At the same time wait for the worm to loosen its grip in an attempt to shoot downwards into the sand. This is when to start to pull it up again.
I also recommend trainee wormers initially practice on a small stick in the sand to get the technique right before they try on a worm.
And before you hit the beach, check out my worming video.
Pipis, eugaries, cockles, whatever you want to call them, they are a very good beach bait. In my experience, a whiting will take a live worm before a pipis, but they are still a good bait, popular too with bream, tarwhine and dart.
There are 2 popular ways to get pipis. The easiest is along surf beaches where 4WDs are permitted to drive along, such as Fraser, Straddie and Moreton Islands, where at low tide they are revealed by small round mounds in the sand. This is caused from the pressure of the cars driving over the sand causing either a slight rise, or sometimes, a small indentation.
Another way to find pipis is by doing the ‘pipis twist’. But before going into this dance, a good place to start is by looking for pied oyster catcher birds. If they are around the water’s edge it is generally a good indication of pipis nearby. The pipis twist is then performed by simply standing in the soft wet sand in at least a few inches of water and then twisting the hips to screw your feet in the sand. Shuffle down to just cover your ankles, and if no pipis, then move slightly until you find them. You will feel the hard shell under your foot, so simply bend down and grab it. The shuffle is best done around mid tide so they aren’t too far up the beach or under the deeper water. When you find 1, concentrate around that area/distance from the dry sand of the beach.
Some anglers also like to dig around in the sand with a knife until they find them. This is not recommended. You can cut the tongues off pipis you either don’t extract or extract and later don’t use. Also return any unused pipis to the surf, not the dry sand. They are a valuable resource and too good to waste.
Be sure to keep your pipis in a bucket or foam esky of water, preferably aerated or at least with a couple of saltwater changes each day.
YABBY TRICKS AND TIPS
How hard can pumping yabbies be, right? Well, if you are in a hurry to get fishing and they are sparse, these little tricks, tips and tools can help you gather your bait and get onto fish much quicker than might otherwise be the case.
A yabby pump, particularly a quality model from companies such as Alvey or Wilson, will last you for decades. Buy a cheap model and you will end up with a sore back from the shorter tube, blistered hands from no rubber padding, the shaft might bend or break, or the washers and inner materials may deteriorate quickly. I’ve seen it, it does happen.
When to pump
The best time to start pumping yabbies is around 2 hours before the bottom of the tide or 1 hour after. Dead low tide can mean a lack of water in and around the holes that will send the yabbies deeper, making it a bit harder work in the drier sand and requiring you to pump down deep. The tide rule of 12ths dictates that half of the tide rises (6/12ths) or falls in the combined 3rd and 4th hours of the 6 hourly tide cycle, so this means it is harder to find dry sand to pump yabbies in the last 2 hours of the rising or first 2 hours of the falling tide. See how the tide rule of 12ths works in the table below, i.e. how much of the tide rises (or falls) in each hour after a tide change.
The rule of 12ths
|1st hour||2nd hour||3rd hour||4th hour||5th hour||Last hour|
|1/12th of tide||2/12ths of tide||3/12ths of tide||3/12ths of tide||2/12ths of tide||1/12th of tide|
Even near the top of the tide though, all is not lost. You can drag around an over-inflated car tube with a sieve inserted in the middle on a rope behind you. You then pump into the sieve and the mud/sand washes out and the yabbies are left behind. The other advantage of this technique is you are creating a berley trail of sand and mud and tiny worms or yabbies that fall through the sieve that will attract the interest of fish nearby. Make sure you then fish the trail you have created after you finish yabbying, or if you are with the kids, bait them up straight away so they are fishing the trail while you continue to pump.
Where to pump yabbies?
Firstly, what you are looking for are a scattering of small holes about 5-10mm in diameter. Good places to start are around mangroves, muddy river flats, or expansive sand flats, particularly those with softer sand. Flats with softer sand lend themselves to stingrays creating melon holes, which retain water even near the bottom of the tide. These holes are themselves great places to pump.
If I was to chose the 2 best spots to yabby though, I would say in the vicinity of mangroves roots and on muddy estuary flats. When I say in the vicinity of mangroves, you will find if you pump too close to the tough mangroves roots it turns to sticky mud and you will know you have hit it because the mud sticks together, becomes hard to extract and tends to makes a loud pop when you extract. On the other hand, as you move away from the roots, it becomes a combination of mud/sand. If you combine that with plenty of melon holes with water in them around the low tide, you will know you have hit the right zone when you hear a distinctive long ‘slurp’ as the pump sucks up water, sand and soft mud. As you expel it, it tends of splatter, and with it hopefully a few yabbies at once!
Muddy river beds that are exposed at low tide can be dynamite, but be prepared for a bit of a slog in and out in knee-deep mud! One word of caution though for parents of young kids! I thought the first time I took my toddlers yabbying a few years ago it would be a great idea to take them to a productive spot. Carrying a muddy toddler back through the mud under 1 arm, as well as a yabby pump, bucket, gumboots and the hand of your second toddler in the other (who keeps getting stuck and falling face first in the mud) isn’t anyone’s idea of fun!
There are a couple of things you can do if yabbies are proving difficult to find, despite there being heaps of holes. You can look for evidence of a disturbance around the holes, with darker sand at the top of the hole. This generally means a yabby (or yabbies) are in residence and dug in the hole over the last tide. Secondly, try to avoid walking over where you are about to pump, this can send the yabbies down deep.
SQUIRT AND WRIGGLER WORMS
Squirt worms are a medium size thin red worm found in coarser or thicker sand interspersed with a little bit of mud. The holes are much smaller, but can still be pumped with conventional yabby pumps. The best location I have found are at the edge of sand islands in an estuary where the holes are permanently covered by water. You pump them either into a sieve or up onto the dry bank. These are dynamite whiting and bream baits in the estuary.
Wriggler worms are found again in coarse sand, but often on exposed sand flats on low tide or under rocks or logs close to the water’s edge. These are best dug with a shovel, as the sand grains will slip through a pitchfork. These worms are thin, whitish in colour and only about 4-5cm long. Scarborough is a great place to find these, but if you can’t, Bribie Sports and Cycles are 1 of the few locations I know of (at least around Brisbane) that sell them live. If you do dig a few of these, they are best kept alive in the same damp coarse sand in a foam box.
These are arguably the tastiest worm of the lot for a summer whiting and the amount of fish they catch in the estuary and the beach is phenomenal. They are also the hardest of the worms to extract. They are dug with a pitchfork in the mudflats around bay type foreshores, such as out front of Wynnum Esplanade, south of the T-Jetty. The mud is a thick sludge and to find them you have to sift through the mud and extract them by hand. Dirty, back-backing work, it explains the high price they fetch at the tackle shops. That said, with many anglers being time poor these days, purchasing them from tackle stores with quality bait choices such as Water Tower Bait and Tackle at Manly or Mossops Bait and Tackle at Cleveland, can mean you have more time for fishing rather than bait collection.
While cast-netting for prawns is often done for the sole purpose of eating them, if you can get enough for a feed or even pass it up, live or freshly peeled they make fantastic bait. However, once frozen, particularly freezer burnt servo bait packets, they are a significantly inferior bait. There has been a lot of literature and videos on catching prawns by cast netting, so rather than attempt to explain it at length here; it is best demonstrated via a YouTube video.
Catching prawns with a scoop or dip net on foot is much more fun and again they can be used for bait or to eat. In the January edition of QFM (available on the mag’s website) I explained the techniques in detail about to catch tiger and bay prawns in Moreton Bay on foot. It is simply a case of chasing them on summer nights on a low tide out on the sand flats. The best nights are after a calm, hot day, provided the water is relatively clear. All you need is 2 scoop nets, a 12v 12amp battery, a headlamp, a backpack to carry the battery in, and a shoulder bag for the prawns and the odd mud crab.
Briefly, the process involves wading at and around low tide on the sand/mud flats in less than knee deep water at night. The moon is not relevant for this type of prawning, unlike the run of prawns in the estuaries of NSW. The prawns are spotted as 2 red glowing eyes in the dark from your LED headlamp. It is then a case of approaching the prawn side on (parallel to the prawn) with both nets close together, then simply bringing them together. Good fun, and top baits!
Catching live squid is also growing in popularity, at least in and around south east Queensland. Again, like the prawns, these can be caught on foot like tiger and bay prawns. Your equipment is a 7’ rod, squid jigs and a powerful torch or better still a LED headlamp. The cooler months are better for arrow and big tiger squid caught by foot around places such as Wynnum Manly foreshores. Popular and proven squid jigs are Yo Zuri and Daiwa Nude Jigs in 3.5, used in about 30-80cm of water around high tide. The jigs from Squid 360 are also worth checking out.
A technique that works is sight casting along the waterfront using headlamps, or blind casting. The process is to cast, let it sink, 2-3 aggressive flicks, let it sink again, wait a few seconds then repeat!
Live poddy mullet are an under-utilised bait for flathead these days, but they are incredibly effective. They can be taken in Queensland by cast net or in NSW in poddy mullet traps. Once again, I must admit I get more pleasure and learnt more about the species catching poddies the hard way via the poddy trap technique. While bread is a popular bait with a berley of crumbs, 1 of the most effective baits I’ve found for poddy traps are hot chips! If you squeeze a couple as well, it creates a great greasy berley trail. Another tip is to stir the sand/mud up near the trap with your feet, as this can really make a difference to captures. Poddy traps are also great fun for the kids.
Green weed, cabbage weed, rock crabs and soldier crabs are other effective baits for estuary fish such as luderick, bream and big whiting. Green weed can be found around little estuary creeks, particularly areas with little flow. Cabbage weed can be found around the rocks at low tide, but exercise caution with the waves. Likewise, as the name suggests, rock crabs are caught in similar locations. Soldier crabs, on the other hand, are caught on expansive sand flats and are best fished 3-4 on a hook, but only using the tiny pea size crabs. While soldier crabs won’t take as many fish as worms, the fish they take are often big, blue nose whiting.
Beach Worming DOs
• Best time -2 hours to +1 hour of low tide
• Look for long, flat sand spits at the water’s edge
• Wave the stink bag at the top of the waves’ reach up the beach
• Approach the worm slowly and tread softly
• Try beach worming at night with a good headlamp, it can be surprisingly productive
• Grip the worm between the tip of your thumb and the first joint of your index finger
Caring for yabbies and worms
• Run your thumb and finger down the worm to remove the excess slime and place them in dry, soft sand while worming.
• Keep yabbies and worms alive for a couple of days in a flat wide container (a rectangular foam esky is ideal), with a shallow covering of salt water.
• Run an aerator in the esky, such as a small fish tank aerator that runs on 240v power, or purchase a rechargeable one
• A shallow, wide container is better than a deep bucket of water, as the oxygen in the water is more dispersed and the bait will last longer
• Beachworms can be kept alive for shorter periods in soft, cool, dry sand.
• Yabbies can also be kept alive in a bucket with newspaper strips that have been dampened with salt water. Damp sawdust is also an old timers’ trick.
• Lastly, do not keep your yabbies and worms together! The yabbies will soon make a mess of them with their nippers.
Anglers spend a lot of money on rods, reels and tackle. but too often they don’t go the extra mile to collect the best baits. The best are either live or very fresh. Hopefully after reading the tips, tricks and tools to collect beach, rock and estuary baits in this article, you too will soon be improving your catches.
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