It may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but for those who enjoy it, recreational prawning is more than just a pastime, it’s also a social activity.
In the summer, lakes and estuaries in the Bega Valley come alive at night, particularly around the months of February and March, as prawning season really kicks in.
Lake Curalo is a favourite spot for prawning for both locals and visitors and during the peak of the tourist season the lake at times looks like a fairy land of lights with all the prawning activity happening on the waterway.
Michael Mashado of Eden Outdoors and Marine knows a thing or two about prawning, even though he doesn’t like to eat them.
“People travel all over the shire to have a go at prawning,” he said.
“Lake Curalo is very popular as it is so easily accessible.”
Along with Lake Curalo, prawns can be found in most local estuaries including Merimbula, Wallagoot and Wonboyn Lakes.
“Most estuaries have them, bar a couple,” Michael said.
“Wallagoot is actually stocked with prawns so they can get big there, about the size of a stubbie.”
The prawns generally start about four nights after the full moon, ie after dark before the moon rises and will continue through until the new moon.
If you are prawning near the mouth of a tidal estuary the runout tide will definitely produce better than a run in tide.
This may mean starting at a very late hour or even early morning.
If you are prawning in an area with little or no tidal movement try any dark night. The darker the better.
Sometimes they are best not long after dark but they can run at any time - one minute there may be very few and the next they are everywhere. They can also go off just as quickly.
Michael said seasons vary, depending on weather and lake conditions at the time.
“If there has been a lot of rain, for example, and the lake opens up and is flushed out, that spells a bad season for prawning.”
To ensure the long-term sustainability of prawn stocks, recreational prawn fishing is controlled by NSW Department of Primary Industries.
There are also restrictions on gear used for prawning and a daily bag limit. ‘Daily’ means from midnight to midnight.
In NSW each person is allowed to catch up to a 10 litre bucket-full daily with three types of prawn net designed for legal use in NSW - the dip or scoop net, scissors (push) net and hand hauled net.
One of the main reasons prawning remains a fun and traditional activity is because all that is required is a light, prawn net and bucket (plus a fishing licence - under 18 and pensioners exempt).
“You just have to wade around in the water with the light and scoop them up in the net or you can do it out of a boat at Merimbula Lake.”
But, is it really that simple?
It sounds fairly easy, but Michael says sometimes the hard part is actually finding the prawns.
Although prawning is still as popular now as it ever was, just like fishing, it can be a hit and miss affair.
“Sometimes you can’t find any prawns, then on other nights it only takes half an hour and your bucket is full.
“It’s a matter of walking around and having a look especially around the sandy areas and they get more active as the weather warms up.
“We get a lot of excited people coming back to the shop to tell us about their prawning … and a lot of disappointed ones!”
The best thing about prawning is that it’s an activity for everyone, and is still mainly done for fun.
You can go by yourself, with some mates, take the whole family or even introduce someone special to this Aussie tradition.
“We’ve had four to six year-old kids come into the shop to buy a net,” Michael said.
“It’s a very social activity.”
Eden resident John Walker remembers his prawning days on Lake Curalo when he was young as a fun activity, with many a prawn captured.
But he hasn’t put a net in the water for quite a few years now.
“The lake produces really good prawns,” Mr Walker said.
“I recall near the netball courts and the channel between the racecourse and the caravan parks were always good spots if the prawns were running,” he said.