Prawning in Tasmania - oh yeah!

by Jamie Henderson
No matter where you are in Australia, pretty much every
saltwater based estuary environment you come across will
contain a species of prawn…..yes even in Tasmania.
I am often quizzed by tourists travelling through the North
East region about the subject as they notice lights in the water
during the dark nights over the summer months. Many are
amazed that we have prawns in Tasmania at all, but let me
assure you there are plenty here at the right time of year.
Successful prawning is an art, and for some groups of
people, an annual pastime that has been going on for decades
with secret spots, times and techniques guarded as closely as
the gold in Fort Knox.

Sometimes on an ideal night some areas on the East Coast
can contain dozens of people out collecting prawns, either
alone or in small groups where you pass one another in the
dead of the night, few words are spoken and you move on
quickly to try and get to fresh ground.
Best of all it can be very enjoyable and something the
whole family can join in together and have a lot of fun in
the process.
It is not a hard nor expensive activity to do and can be
very rewarding however sometimes it can also be a lot of
time and effort for very few prawns but, like all fi shing, you
have to be prepared to take the good with the bad and at the
worst you will still have a small feed of fresh tasty prawns a
damn site better than any Taiwanese import you will buy at
the supermarket.
The summer months are when the prawns are active and
come out to play; usually many will start to look for prawns
over the Christmas period however I have always found the
prawns are just way too small at this stage. As the month
pass by February through to June seems to be the best period
with the prawns generally getting bigger but fewer as you get
closer to June.
Easter time seems to be a good prawning month but I think
the fact that coastal holiday regions are heavily populated at
that time of year counts more toward the volumes of prawns
that are caught during that period.
If the system you are in is tidal the often the best tide to
prawn is during the run-out tide. This is when the prawns run
the gauntlet through the channels and across the fl ats to try
and reach the ocean.
Everything in the estuary likes to eat a prawn, which is
a very unfortunate situation for the prawn. It’s because of
this fact that the little creature starts to feel the pressure and,
typical of many Crustaceans, why they’re primarily nocturnal
They avoid nights with lots of moon when it’s easier for
predators to see and catch them, moving most freely during
the dark period of the lunar cycle.
Every month during the period of the “New Moon” for
about seven nights, there is no or very little moon visible in
the sky and it is very dark.
This is when the prawns come out to play, so that’s when
you should be out and about as well. Start at sunset and stay
as long as the prawns are running or as long as you feel like
being out on the water after dark.
The greatest enemy when prawning is the wind, the wind
creates ripples on the waters surface defl ecting light and
making it diffi cult to see into the water.
However it can also concentrate numbers of prawns into
an area for easy collection. Although completely calm nights
are preferred sometimes on a breezy night you can fi nd an
area that is out of the wind and very calm but also has a
current being created by the breeze that will bring the prawns
into that area. These conditions can sometimes concentrate
prawns onto a small pocket where it’s easy picking for the
avid prawner.
The most productive nights are when the prawns are very
active and swimming on the surface. It’s just a case of moving
around and scooping them up with a dip net, by coming up
from underneath them they have no chance to swim or skip
away as easily. Usually when they are like this there are great
numbers swimming around as they have been triggered by
an outgoing tide or “wind” current and are trying to migrate
to sea.
Tasmania’s East Coast has many areas that contain prawns
during the summer months. Open Estuaries such as
Georges Bay, Ansons Bay and the Scamander River all
produce good prawn seasons every year and just about
every coastal Lagoon from Eddystone Point to Orford will
have a consistent season from year to year provided they are
fl ushed out with seasonal rains and replenished every year
with fresh, clean salt water.
The prawns hatch and grow into juveniles in warm, shallow
waters all around our coastline, estuaries and coastal lakes
before running to the sea as they approach maturity. It’s these
larger mature prawns that are ready to migrate that you want to
be targeting. The big, shallow lagoons and estuaries that have
large weedy shallow bays are the perfect environment and will
have many numbers of prawns populating them. If a system
like this is near you and supports a healthy prawn population,
then it will be common knowledge you’ll see quite a lot of lights
out on the water after dark over the summer months.
If I am wading for prawns I prefer areas that are between
ankle and waist deep and have a good mixture of patchy
weeded areas and open sand or mud fl ats, funnily
enough it’s the same type of country I would look for
if I was chasing bream with lures and soft plastics.
Alternatively the channels leading out of an estuary
to sea are a great area to target prawns on the outgoing
tide. Usually the use of a small dinghy is needed as
the water is too deep and fast to wade and requires
someone to drive and hold a light whilst someone else
nets the prawns.
Depending on the location as mentioned above you
can either wade or use a small boat. Wading requires
a pair of waders, either standard PVC style or if its
cool Neoprene waders, a prawn net with as long a
handle as possible, a fl oating tub of some description
to hold all your prawns and of course an underwater
prawn light.
You can use just a bright torch from above the water
and locate the prawns by looking for them swimming
on the surface or for the pair of red eyes under the
surface however it needs to be deadly still and calm
with crystal clear water in order to do this.
An underwater prawn light is a much better option
as generally the light is softer than a bright torch which
doesn’t spook the prawns as easily whist also making
them easier to see underwater.
There are many lights on the market today, some
good and some bad but one of my favourites and most
reliable is the Piper prawn 12 volt underwater prawn
light. It has a 50W halogen globe which gives off a nice
penetrating light but can also be used out of the water
as a torch for extended periods of time without blowing
a globe. This light does however require the use of a
small12 volt battery such as a motorcycle battery.
There are LED prawn lights on the market now
that run on AA size batteries and will last a very long
time with minimal battery power. Whilst they are not
quite as bright as the Halogen globe style they do give
off a softer light which doesn’t spook the prawns as
easily and are easier to carry around as you don’t need
to drag a heavy battery with them.
They can also be used in or out of the water with
no effect on the globe at all unlike the old school style
“sealed beam” which have basically become obsolete
in prawning circles these days.
Once you have a light sorted its just a case of
donning your waders, light in one hand, net in the other
and have your tub tied around your waist. I have seen
many prawning tub variations in my time from small
buckets with holes placed inside inner tubes so they
fl oat right through to elaborate miniature boats made
from polystyrene and even aluminium.
Personally all I drag around with me is a white
plastic nally crate or “fi sh bin” which sits and fl oats
upright on the water quite well, doesn’t fall over and
has pretty high sides to stop the lively prawns jumping
If the prawns are active and up on the surface
swimming it pays to work quickly as they can be quite
fl ighty and skip about at the slightest touch. Slide your
net in the water and come up from underneath and
behind slightly in case the prawn decides to take off
he should go straight into the net.
You can usually grab a few prawns one after the
other in your net before emptying into your bin or
bucket but don’t get too greedy as sometimes you will
concentrate so hard on chasing one quick little bugger
that the ones already in your net will escape leaving you
with nothing for your last 10 minutes hard work.
If the prawns are walking around on the bottom
this is where your underwater light works best, just walk
along sweeping your light from left to right until you
locate a prawn or two and place your net behind them
and move the light in front of them, they will move
backward straight into the net and just scoop your net
forward and up out of the water. Sometimes the little
buggers will bury into the sand and you may have to
poke it out with your net.
If the prawns are a bit thin on the ground I like
to walk along a bank reasonably quickly and stir up
the bottom a little. This does two things, it disturbs
and prawns that may be hiding in the sand, they see
the murky water and are attracted to the food that has
been stirred up and it also creates a bit of a current as
you walk along. This fools some of the prawns into
thinking there is a little tide movement and they move
toward it thinking they are heading out to sea.
Once you let it settle a little and walk back over
the ground you will fi nd that there are twice as many
prawns around then there was before. This can be done
many times along a stretch of shoreline in a night and
can produce a good haul of prawns from quite often
a small area that at fi rst appeared to not have many
prawns at all.
The worst part of the whole exercise is standing at
the kitchen sink shelling all the fresh prawns you have
caught, there are a number of ways it can be done but
none are any easier than the other so just be prepared
to spend some time doing it….on the bright side it
can be a great job for all those freeloaders who like to
come around and taste the fruits of your labour if you
know what I mean.
Some people like to boil their prawns fresh, this
is best done by bringing some salted water to the boil
and adding all the prawns in and cook until they are
bright red/orange, remove and let them cool down,
peel the shells off and enjoy with a seafood sauce…….
its that simple.
I like to leave my prawns green; I put them in the
fridge in a large bowl with some fresh water and shell
them the next day.
There are many ways you can cook your green
prawns, with a garlic sauce, Chilli sauce, in a dish with
other seafood it’s all up to your imagination but I can
assure you they will all taste good.
One of my favourite dishes is to use green prawns
and do them in a Szechwan style sauce served simply
on a bed of steamed rice……magnifi cent.
prawning is a great pastime in the warm summer
months and something everybody no matter how
old or young can enjoy, just remember that there is a
possession limit of 2kg per person so don’t try and get
too greedy there are plenty for everyone.
Jamie Henderson

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