How to Catch and Cook Yabbies in South Australia

Here’s some authentic tips and techniques to help you score a feed of wild yabbies in SA. I won’t go into detail about every bait, every place, and every technique, but just comment below if you have any questions!

A long time ago, when we were kids we’d ride our bikes down to the Torrens River with a ball of wool, an ice cream bucket, and some red meat. We’d tie some meat onto the wool and throw it into a deep pool. When a yabby pulled the wool tight we’d slowly pull the bait back in with the yabby attached and scoop them up with the ice cream bucket before they let go.

This recipe got me thinking… but finding yabbies in shops was almost impossible! The first time I found them in the fish market they were a whopping forty dollars a kilo! Last summer I started heading to the river again in search of a decent catch of yabbies.

What are they ? How do you catch them?

Yabbies (Cherax Destructor) are native to Australia and related to crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, and shrimp. You can find them in creeks, dams, rivers, backwaters and lakes all over Australia.

I tried different baits I’d read about – cat food as bait doesn’t work. Lamb heart, beef bones, and kangaroo meat work. They’re cheap and they keep well in the freezer.

WARNING: The rules on Yabby nets are changing in July 2023. Only pyramid nets and drop nets will be allowed after then.

Seasonal changes and conditions are important things to consider when catching yabbies and late summer is the best time of year. Things improved considerably this year as summer flood levels retreated by late January, creating perfect conditions as the flooded backwaters returned to their channels concentrating the cantankerous crustaceans along with them.

Leaving Adelaide well before the sunrise we arrived just after to set our traps in a backwater channel of the Murray River near Swan Reach in South Australia. Yabbies are nocturnal though they can be caught all day long. We hedged our bets with a sunrise trip.

Where to find Yabbies

I’ve only caught one or two yabbies in the main channel of the river before so this time we didn’t bother setting traps there. We tried lamb heart, kangaroo meat, and lamb kidney in the traps, and set three traps in a backwater channel near a bridge which had open fish gates, and one outlying trap in the back of a reed choked swamp. The net in the swamp was the least successful probably because the water was only a foot deep. The nets closest to the fish gate with lamb heart as bait were the most productive. We got yabbies each time we pulled a trap in. Leaving it in ten minutes would yield two, leaving it in twenty minutes would yield four, and so on. After a few hours we were getting fewer yabbies so we may have fished that small spot out.

Simple home-made traps like wrapping some bait in among the branches and leaves of a tree branch work when yabbies are plentiful. The ball of wool method described earlier suits kids who prefer more active methods of fishing. Using opera house nets has been my most successful technique.

Take them out of the net (watch out for the claws!) and chuck them in an esky with ice in it. This’ll slow them down and keep them fresh until it’s time to cook them. Just watchout though, sticking your hand into an esky full of live yabbies is like sticking your hand into a box of mousetraps. A nip from a yabby claw will draw blood. Some say keep them in clean water for a little while. I didn’t do it with Murray River yabbies and they taste fine.

Yabbies can breathe and live for a short while out of the water but will suffocate in a water-filled container unless that water is constantly changed/aerated. If you do keep them in a bucket or container with water, make sure the water level is just over their backs or they’ll die in a few hours.

Cooking Yabbies

The simplest way to cook yabbies is to drop them into a pot of boiling water for five minutes or so, depending on how big they are. Peel them when they are cooked (when they’ve turned red), and their shells peel off easier. I peeled them raw but I wouldn’t recommend doing this. It’s hard work.

We usually only eat the tail meat. I only bother with large claws – there’s not much meat in them. Yabbies have a nice subtle taste. They go well with most dips and sauces you’d use for crustaceans like prawns, crabs and lobster. Be careful cooking them on the BBQ because they cook really quickly – usually in less than a minute.

Fishing for yabbies is a thing people do when they’re already camping or fishing at a spot. It’s not often that we’ll go out specifically to catch them.

If you like this article then check out more stuff to do in South Australia and the outdoors at Weekend Notes!

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