Grab your grubs and catch your grub

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THERE’S NO BETTER way to enjoy your fishing than by going out and sourcing your own bait, writes STEVE COOPER:

WE LIVE in a society that is taking away our independence. We have gone from a hands-on to a hands-off society, one where people are being spoonfed. Fast food outlets, pre-packaged vegetables and throw away electronic goods are just part of the way we live. Older readers will remember when it was commonplace for people to have chickens, vegetable gardens and TV repair men.

It is the same in fishing. There was a time when anglers built their own rods, often out of Rangoon cane, went fishing for a feed, and sourced bait.

Recently I came across an unusual sight: a man fossicking among rotting seagrass for sandworms. Head down and bum up, the rotten weed was up to his knees as he scraped the mud with a small trowel.

“I don’t go fishing unless I have fresh bait,” he said, “and I always collect my own bait.”

Not certain that what he was doing was legal, but he was on the right path. Those blood red wrigglers make an attractive feed for King George whiting, yelloweye mullet, garfish and black bream. And yet, for all the value these worms have as bait, it is unusual to come across anyone gathering these, or any other bait.

A favourite bait for Murray cod, the bardi grub is an expensive bait to buy.
A shrimp pot with a fillet of carp was used to attract these baits in the Murray River.

A fishing friend often talks about how society has lost the self-sufficient, hunter-gatherer ethos that he was brought up on. The spin goes something like: “Instead of buying frozen bait and relying on old (fishing) news, people should go out, source fresh bait and then set about making news. Whatever happened to doing it yourself?”

Good question, however, despite my friend’s remonstrations, many top anglers do gather their bait. It is why they are successful. These anglers know fresh bait brings results; all that is required is time and effort. The angler who collects bait knows its age, origin and quality, and so can be more confident of success. The same cannot be said of packaged baits.

Sourcing fresh bait is easy. A few years back I came across some anglers catching garfish in a sheltered cove along the Great Ocean Road. The anglers were float fishing using sand fleas as bait. Sand fleas are found beneath rotting weed and can be kept alive in a bucket of damp sand.

Many surf anglers will source bait like Bass yabbies, sandworm and pipi from under their feet while fishing.

Low tide is the best time for gathering burrowing baits such as worms, shrimp and Bass yabbies. Digging holes is illegal, but bait pumps are allowed in most areas. Small crabs are found sheltering under rocks and weed; lettuce weed, a luderick favourite, grows on rocks in rock pools.

The only problem anglers face with yabbies is whether to put them on the hook or in the pot.
The only problem anglers face with yabbies is whether to put them on the hook or in the pot.

The days when you could drag and rake up mussels from pier pilings are over. However, this shellfish can be found in shallow water flanked by reef. Mussels suffer from exploitation though, so are best searched for in isolated areas.

Pipis are found buried in sand under shallow water along ocean beaches. To find pipis, twist with your bare feet until you find a patch and then dig down with your hands. The shellfish lives in colonies; find one and there will be more.

Before fishing for snapper, I go in search of squid. The most versatile of all saltwater baits, squid hunt near and over grass beds. At night, squid will hunt along the edges of lights beamed from piers. Squid are caught on prawn imitation jigs, which can cost up to $30, or $1.50 for bait jigs. A normal delivery method for a prawn jig is cast, let it sink and then retrieve. Retrieve rates vary: some days, a jerky retrieve works best; on other days a slow, stop start routine might produce the best result. A bait jig is effective drifting below a bobby cork; a method that works for prawn jigs.

The most versatile saltwater bait, the squid is easy to catch.
The most versatile saltwater bait, the squid is easy to catch.

Freshwater anglers have more choice for fresh bait. Live baits, mudeyes, yabbies, scrubworms and bardi grubs, can be purchased from some tackle stores. Buying bait can be expensive and sourcing your own will save money and add satisfaction.

All the freshwater baits mentioned are easily gathered. A small bait trap is ideal for catching minnow in rivers and lakes. Place some breadcrumbs in the trap and surrounding water to attract minnow.

Mudeyes are found in dams and impoundments that have a good amount of vegetation under the water, particularly around the edges. A mudeye net is dragged through the weed; sometimes shrimp and yabbies add to the netting bounty.

Yabbies can be caught in yabbie pots in private waters, but these are banned in public waters, so you will need a hoop net. Alternatively, chance your arm with a piece of string, a piece of meat and a hand net: tie the string around the meat, cast it out a metre or two and let it settle on the bottom. When retrieving, do so slowly as the yabby will continue clutching the meat. Place the net under the yabby before lifting out of the water.

Bardi grubs are a top bait for our biggest native freshwater fish, the Murray cod.

The bardi is the larval stage of the ghost moth. These fat white grubs mature in the ground after falling from the leaves where the adult moths lay their eggs. In these tunnels, they feed on the roots of adjacent gum trees until they mature. This maturity happens in autumn at the first break.

A favourite bait for Murray cod, the bardi grub is an expensive bait to buy.
A favourite bait for Murray cod, the bardi grub is an expensive bait to buy.

Adult bardies are about 75-100 mm long, as thick as a man’s finger. The problem with the bardi is the cost, about $2 minimum each if you are lucky. In my experience, pricing depends on availability. When the cod are biting, and grubs are scarce, the price is likely to increase.

The alternative is to invest in a bardi puller, roll your sleeves up, adopt a do-it-yourself attitude, and gather your own grubs. The place to look is around the outer edge of the branch line of gum trees above the high-water mark. According to the people I fish with along the Murray River, sugar gum saplings are often the most productive trees.

You will need a shovel, which is used to scrape off about 25 mm of topsoil. Work the bare ground and not grass. A good place to start will be where you find old casings on the ground, or exposed holes. Bardi holes are different to spider holes in that they have a sort of lining, but be aware that spiders sometimes take up residence in unused holes.

Two of the best baits for whiting are sandworm and mussel, and both can be sourced free by anglers.

Once you have located a fresh bardi hole, the bardi puller is opened and inserted into the hole, ever so gently. A bardi puller looks like a car speedometer cable. At one end it has a claw like attachment consisting of four prongs with a noose of wire. At the other end of the puller is a knob or handle. When the cable is pushed in the tube the prongs open up, when the cable is pulled prongs and wire close.

The cable is inserted into the grub hole in the opened attitude and gently manoeuvred over the head of the grub. The cable wire is then tightened so that the wire noose encircles the grub, which can then be gently retrieved from the hole. It pays to be careful as the grubs are soft and can be damaged easily.

Anglers can source many bait types with little effort. The raison d’entre for doing so isn’t about saving dollars. It is the satisfaction you feel at the end of a successful trip: knowing you did it all yourself. If this is you, welcome to the world of the hunter-gatherer.

Salmon are fun to catch and make excellent bait for snapper and gummy shark, as Rod Mackenzie knows well.



Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.



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