Yabbies

 

Anyone who has caught yabbies will have their own favourite method and carefully guarded spot.  I have been lucky enough on only a very few occasions to catch large numbers of them, but it is always enjoyable, especially for children.

When I was in my early teens, a couple of rivers north of Adelaide produced yabbies.  Not in any real numbers, but they were quite large.  My friends and I would spend hours at either location, armed with fishing line, a hand net and chunks of raw meat.  The water was very shallow, only a foot or two deep.  We would tie a piece of meat to one end of a length of fishing line, throw it near a rock or undercut bank and wait for the line to be pulled tight.  Then it was a matter of slowly retrieving the line with the yabby hanging onto the meat.  When the yabby was in the right spot, he was scooped up with the net.  We caught plenty using this method, as the water was just too shallow for nets which seemed to frighten the yabbies.  We released the yabbies at the end of each day, none of us aware at the time of the eating qualities.

Frequent trips to the Murray River revealed a different fishery altogether.  The water was deeper and nets became the number one option.  The above mentioned method still worked, but the yabbies would let go as they got near the surface more often than not.  Time of year and location became very important.

After a lot of trial and error it seems that the warmer months are best, especially late Summer, early Autumn.  Falling river levels generally produce good catches. 

Location is an interesting subject.  It is difficult to guess where yabbies are going to turn up in good numbers, unless you have a proven spot and know when it works. 

During a house boat holiday in Summer one year, we caught heaps of large yabbies.  It was the upper river, north of Renmark, and the banks were muddy and steep.  The weather was warm, but not excessively hot.

A year later, and another house boat holiday, saw me on the mid section of the river, between Kingston and Berri.  The banks were similar to the year before, muddy and steep, but the weather was cooler and the water higher.  We caught few yabbies along the banks, with one exception.  We had moored the houseboat on the foreshore at Moorook.  There was a rock wall lining the bank.  I threw the nets out from the back of the boat and went ashore.  We returned about 30 minutes later and each net contained about half a dozen large yabbies each.  We caught quite a few from this unlikely spot.

These yabbies have just been caught and put straight on ice.

A few years on and I have finally found a reliable and productive spot.  My last trip there produced my limit of 200 yabbies without any trouble at all.  I was looking forward to another trip this year, but due to the drought, there is no water at all there.  I'll have to start looking again.

My most successful trips have been in the backwaters of the Murray.  The yabbies are generally smaller than those caught in the main river, but they are more numerous.  There is no need for a boat either.  My son and I would have two hoop nets each, baited with fresh meat of some kind (the bloodier the better).  We then wade out into the backwater and drop the net in.  The rope is tied to stick that has been pushed into the mud and we return to the bank.  The nets are left for about 10 - 15 minutes.  If there are heaps of yabbies about, we check the nets every five minutes.

If there are no yabbies after two or three pulls, then it's time to try another spot.  If we are camping overnight, we retrieve the hoop nets and put out two "pots" (the nets with the funnels at each end).  Yabbies are apparently nocturnal, so there is a good chance of catching a few overnight.  I have had most success in the backwaters very late in the season, with March and April being the best months.  Be aware though, that the nights are cool at this time of year and the yabbies seem to slow down a bit.  This becomes obvious in the mornings, with the numbers increasing as the day warms up.

The bait I have had most success with is lamb hearts.  Cut in half, they are the perfect size and yabbies seem to like them.  Kangaroo meat is good too and, if you run out of meat, carp are never far away.  With the carp though, be prepared to change baits regularly, as it seems to lose it's appeal the smellier it gets.  With all bait, fresh is best. 

An esky with some ice is all you need to keep the yabbies fresh when caught, and they will stay alive for ages in a bucket with some water.  I will normally remove the yabbies from the bucket when it gets crowded and put them in an esky with ice.  They will keep very well, going to "sleep".  When they are removed from the esky and they warm up, they will start moving again.

The easiest way to cook them is to bring a large pot of water to the boil, and put the yabbies in.  Leave them for about 7 minutes and take them out, making sure to cool them straight away.  This is best done by putting them straight into a tub of cold water and ice.

They are peeled much the same way as prawns and taste almost as good.  If you were lucky enough to catch some large yabbies, there is a fair amount of meat in the claws.  At times, they may have a slight muddy taste, but this is easily removed by soaking them first in fresh water with a bit of lemon juice.

A pile of freshly cooked yabbies.