Unlike the sand prawn, the mud prawn prefers the muddy area rather than the sandy bottom, so it can make a perfect burrow. By Dean Dickinson
Mud prawns are green-brown in colour, and occur both in rock and tidal pools and estuaries along most of the South African coastline. They are filter feeders, feeding from their burrows on algae and small fish.
Mud prawns are eaten by most fish along our coast, but are especially good for bait when you are targeting spotted grunter, white steenbras, baardman, blacktail, kob, Cape stumpnose, white and black cracker, bronze bream and zebra. They live for around three to four years, and breed between July and March. Eggs are carried by the female on the underside of the abdomen (see picture 3), until they hatch, when they are released into the sea, returning to the rivers to grow into adult prawns.
From time to time mud prawns are driven out of their burrows by parasites, or when a shoal of grunter covers the holes by fanning sand over them, driving them to migrate from one area to another. This is known as a prawn walk, and if you are lucky enough to come across this, it could be one of the best days of your life, as the grunter tend to feed in a frenzy.
Anglers are required to have a bait permit to collect mud or sand prawn using a bait pump. The limit is 50 prawns per angler per day. Mud prawn works especially well in the sea using light tackle, in foamy gullies or in the shallow surf. I have had great success fishing for baardman in the Port Elizabeth area, at Pipe in Summerstrand, and in flat rocks near Cape Recife in May and June, fishing for spotted grunter and steenbras.
I would use a light spinning outfit, 0.30mm line with a running trace and a 1/0 hook baited with one prawn. I would wade out onto the sandbanks and spot-fish for grunter, throwing the prawn past them without a sinker, standing waist-deep in the water and watching them eat the bait as they swim over it on the sandbanks.
Free-spool the bait until the fish has swallowed the prawn; clip over the bail arm and start tightening up. This is one of the most exciting ways to fish with prawn, both in the sea and in rivers.
Don’t store your prawns in a bucket (see picture 1 – taken of a bait seller at the Swartkops River in Port Elizabeth). Make sure to stick to your limit and return prawns in berry. The best way to store your prawns is in a tray, giving them loads of space to move, and wetting them in fresh saltwater regularly, covered in river grass found on the wet banks where you collect your prawns.
There are many ways to bait a prawn, but these are the most common.
The first method is to thread the prawn on from the tail end to the head. This is probably the most common method, and is effective when there are loads of bait fish around to rip the prawn from the hook. The unfortunate problem with this method is that the prawn dies when the hook penetrates the head, and it isn’t as natural as the second method.
The second method is to hook the prawn in the tail section, leaving it alive and able to crawl along the bottom, making it look natural. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay on very long when there are loads of Cape stumpnose around. Also known as the East Cape river piranha, they are able to strip any bait within seconds, making river fishing very frustrating and hard work.
The next method is hooking a circle hook through the head or tail, and, lastly, there is the daisy chain. This is good when targeting steenbras and kob, in the surf or in rivers.
All of these methods are best fished without a sinker – or a very light sinker, if you need to use one. Cast the prawn out, set your drag very lightly and, when the fish takes the bait, free-spool it for a few seconds before tightening up; hold your spool and set the drag according to the size of the fish.