Prawns have something of a mixed reputation as a sea fishing bait in the UK and are fairly widely used in some areas of the UK and little used in others. Despite this, they can be an extremely effective bait for a  wide range of species such as dab, flounder, wrasse, coalfish, dogfish and whiting, as well as larger species such as cod and bass.

Live and Raw Prawns
Live prawns, left, and raw prepared prawns, right, both make good sea fishing baits.

It stands to reason that as prawns are found around all of the UK coastline then fish will naturally come across this source of food and therefore be receptive to feeding on it. Prawns can be gathered from beaches around the UK, or bought from supermarkets, fishmongers and some bait retailers.

Gathering and Buying Prawns

Prawning Goodwick Bay
A man using a push net to gather prawns in Goodwick Bay, Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales.

Prawns can be gathered from around the British Isles. Like gathering peeler crab this can be a long and drawn out process which sometimes results in meagre rewards. One approach is to use a small net with a long handle (such as the type used to catch fish from a garden pond) and go through rock pools looking for prawns. They will sometimes be found amongst or behind seaweed or underneath rocks. However, finding the area which contains prawns can prove difficult, and, as stated, a long time can be spent to collect only a small number of prawns.

Another method is to use a push net. This is a triangular net with a long handle which is pushed through shallow sand to gather up any prawns which are found there. It can be necessary to put on a set of waders and go out into some depth of water to get to areas where prawns are present. Again, this is a fair amount of work and effort but can produce a decent number of prawns. If prawns are to be used live this is obviously the only way to collect them. Anyone collecting prawns should always check local by-laws and regulation to ensure that the gathering of prawns is permitted. To use prawns as a bottom fished bait it is much easier is to buy prawns from a fishmonger or supermarket where they are available fresh and frozen. While some anglers report that cooked prawns get results it is always best to go for raw prawns as these are closer to the actual wild prawns that fish will be feeding on.

Storing Prawns

Freshly caught prawns can be kept alive by keeping them in a bucket of seawater but it must have an aerator pump attached – the prawns will soon die without this. If stored correctly in this manner the prawns will live for a day or two. Freshly caught prawns can also be frozen for future use. If prawns have been bought from a supermarket in frozen form they can simply be kept in the freezer and defrosted prior to use, whereas refrigerated prawns can be used straight out of the packet.

Bait Presentation

Live prawn hooked
Prawn hooked for livebaiting.

If live prawns are available they are best used as a float fishing bait where they will account for catches of species such as wrasse, pollock and bass. Set up the float rig and hook the prawn once through one of the segments near to its tail. This will allow the prawn to wriggle about and the movement will attract predatory fish. Although prawns hooked in this manner will not by any means stand up to powerful casting they will certainly survive a short lob out into deep water from a rock mark, and will still be alive to wriggle and move. Prawn baits presented in this manner can work particularly well when they are fished down a harbour or pier wall, or along a rock ledge where fish will be looking for food. Alternatively, a prawn presented under a float can be allowed to move in the tide until it is noticed by a fish.

Refrigerated or defrosted prawns can also be used for float fishing but they are also effective as a bait for fishing. Here they will attract most fish species which feed on the seabed with cod, coalfish, pollock, bass, whiting, all species of flatfish and many other species all being caught on prawn baits.

Prawn on hook
A single prawn on an Aberdeen hook.

If prawns are large a single prawn can be used, or multiple small prawns can be used on the same hook to create a bigger bait for species such as cod and bass. The presentation will be improved by clipping prawn baits behind an impact shield to protect them from impact with the water. While refrigerated prawns are relatively firm many anglers prefer to secure them to the hook with bait elastic such as Koike Bait Elastic. Frozen prawns are often softer once defrosted so anglers fishing with these almost always use bait cotton or elastic. Prawns can, of course, be used as part of a cocktail bait with prawns being paired up with practically any other sea fishing bait to provide a cocktail bait which will attract a number of different species.