One of the major food sources for estuarine fish is crustaceans. This family of marine creatures includes crabs, crayfish, prawns, shrimp etc. There are thousands of species of crustaceans inhabiting our estuaries and inshore zones, and these creatures provide a very important food source to most of the fish that occupy the same areas.
With this in mind, it seems rather strange that there are so few shrimp or prawn-type imitations in the lure sections of tackle stores.
Being a bit of an estuary fanatic, I buy any shrimp imitation that I find in a tackle store and I love to fish these lures when I get the chance. One of the great things about an artificial shrimp is that it will be eaten by such a wide variety of species of fish, some species that seldom take lures imitating bait fish will still hammer a shrimp imitation. I have caught fish such as stumpies and a variety of grunter species on these, which is great when the fishing for more traditional gamefish species is slow.
Fishing prawn imitation lures takes much patience and perseverance. I think of this as finesse fishing, with small twitches and lots of thinking involved. If you look at the way that a prawn or a shrimp moves, it generally crawls around slowly on the bottom; they shoot off with a flick of the tail when they get a fright, and then sink gently down horizontally back to the bottom. When they are on the surface or in midwater, they swim forwards slowly, with their body out straight; again, when they get a fright, they can dart off in any direction with a quick flick of the tail.
When I work a shrimp lure I try to picture what the lure is doing and try to imitate a prawn grooving around down there in the most natural way possible. Fishing like this is often very slow and takes plenty of effort, but when the lure gets smashed it is just so worthwhile!
My swimming pool at home is my lure testing tank. I spend hours at the poolside, (much to the amusement of my two Jack Russels), making casts and slowly working each lure to see exactly how they react to every little twitch and movement of the rod tip. Sometimes, I put on a mask and snorkel and get into the pool with the rod to check out the action underwater. Extreme, I know, but it pays dividends when I am on the estuary and I can picture in my mind exactly what the lure is doing.
Each lure has different properties and different actions, and it is important to figure out how to make each one look its best and most enticing in the water. The most important feature of many shrimp lures is that they sink horizontally, not vertically. This means that they need to be weighted in the middle and well balanced. If this is the case they can be made to look very lifelike in the water and can imitate a swimming prawn very well. Dropshot-type shrimps are also good, though they obviously nosedive when they sink, as the weight is right at the front of the lure. With these, I work them right on the bottom, so that they kind of scrape along, with tiny flicks, to make them trigger a strike.
The centre-weighted lures are brilliant for simply dead drifting down past structure, where they look like a prawn sinking naturally down to the bottom. You need to use the current to get the shrimp right where you want it, and only impart the very slightest of movements to it as it sinks, if any at all.
When fishing this way you need to keep your line straight and keep a very careful eye on the line for any flickers or movements, showing a strike or close strike from a fish. I have found this method to entice strikes in spots where no other lure could produce a fish before.
I like to use the lightest weighted shrimp that I can get to the depth where I figure the fish to be holding. This means that the lure sinks with a slow, natural action, as opposed to dropping too fast. If you have watched a prawn sink in a fish tank or snorkelling, then you will know exactly how it should look. Obviously, wind and current play a huge part in this sort of fishing, and you need very specific conditions to get it right, particularly in deeper water.
If there is a long rock ledge, I cast the prawn up-current close to the rocks and take up the slack as it slowly sinks, drifting back towards me. When it reaches the bottom I will give it some short lifts, taking up the slack again as it sinks back down. Sometimes I will give it tiny twitches, to make it hop a little. I find that working them very slowly, with more pause time than actual movement is the answer.
Many hits come while the prawn is sinking on a dead drift. The bites are usually aggressive and hard, rather than just being gently sucked in.
I guess fish expect the prawn to dart away with a quick flick, so when they decide to eat, they hit it hard and fast. I like the DOA shrimps for this type of fishing, as they have a single hook coming out of the back, and a small weight inserted into the thorax of the shrimp. They sink very naturally and remain upright, so I don’t snag up often with them. These are difficult to find in stores, so I usually order them from Bass Pro shops online.
When it comes to colours, I generally prefer clear or natural colours for my prawn imitation lures. A slow-worked lure is going to give a fish a lot of opportunity to inspect it and decide whether or not it wants to eat it, so the more natural it looks the better. Faster-moving lures that draw reaction strikes can be more extreme in their colours, but for this job the more muted colours seem better.
Often during the late summer months, when swimming prawns are plentiful in our estuaries, it can become difficult to get fish to eat traditional lures imitating bait fish. The fish appear to have tuned in to feeding on the masses of shrimp in the water and will ignore most other offerings. At these times the challenge is to imitate the prawns and get the fish to eat them. Everything from kingfish, garrick and springer to kob, grunter, gurnard, snapper and perch will take a swimming prawn imitation if it is worked well.
Some of the prawn imitations that I have in my box that catch fish are: Rio’s Prawns and Prawnstar lures from Australia, DOA Shrimp, Berkley PowerBait and Gulp shrimps. As I said earlier, they aren’t common in tackle stores, so when I see prawn-style lures I buy them!
Prawn imitations are not a lure that you just tie on and start catching fish; they need a lot of practise and skill. Once they do start producing for you though, they will be amongst your favourites in your tackle box. Those lure anglers who enjoy a challenge and get a thrill from catching fish on artificials when it seems impossible will know the feeling of achievement that comes with catching a difficult species to fool. Landing a grunter, for example, on an artificial lure is always a huge achievement, and even a small one will give me as much satisfaction as catching a bigger kob or garrick.
Of course there are times when you are drifting along an estuary slowly working a shrimp lure near the bottom when you see some surface action, with swirls and splashes showing that there are feeding fish near the top. Then you can quickly retrieve your lure and flick it out to where the action is. In this case, I work the lure with a quick snappy retrieve, so that it darts around just below the surface with the action of a panicking shrimp. This almost always gets results, and produces fish.
So next time you are in a tackle store and you see a lure that looks like a prawn, grab one and stick it in your tackle box. You may find yourself loving that lure down the line, when you have landed some great fish on it!
Craig Thomassen is the presenter of Inside Angling, which can be seen on SuperSport 6 on Monday nights at 7pm.