Beginner’s Guide To Prawning
For most of us, our first experience prawning involved lots of sitting around, with just a few moments of exhilaration. At every prawning pond in Singapore, there will be that one person who will nonchalantly pull up prawn after prawn, filling their keep nets almost to the brim. We’d sit there green-eyed with envy, as they seemingly do exactly the same thing as us. After all, prawning is just putting a piece of bait onto a hook and tossing it into the pond isn’t it?
My very first experience prawning was at the old Bottle Tree Park (has since closed down). I remember shelling out $10 for a rod, for an hour. I also remember not catching a single prawn during that hour while people around me hauled out prawn after prawn. Irritated, I paid another 30 bucks for another 3 hours and triumphantly pulling out my first prawn. I was quite literally, hooked.
I think for most people, the first thing they would think of is ‘For $30, you can go to Sheng Shiong and buy a bag full of these prawns, why sit around and catch just a few?’
Quite honestly speaking, it’s the thrill of the catch. Even after spending hundreds of hours prawning, I still get that thrill each time I successfully strike and hook on to a prawn. And I’m still learning!
This guide is meant for beginners, a rough gauge would be someone who either has just visited his /her very first prawning pond or is catching less than 10 prawns in 3 hours (still happens to me!). With this basic guide, I hope you’ll see your catch rates go up!
So here is your ‘weapon’, the prawning rod.
It’s broken down into 3 main parts:
- The rod itself
- The float
- The hook
If you’re just starting your journey into prawning, I’d suggest using the house rods available for free at all prawning locations. Even with this basic rod and setup, you should still see a better catch rate if you understand the technique and strategy behind it.
Before do anything else, the first thing you should do is to quickly check the rod and the tackle provided to you. You wouldn’t be catching too many prawns with a broken rod or if your float is missing! If anything is missing, just go ahead and exchange it for another rod at the counter. Also don’t forget to grab a keep net from the counter, you don’t want to have a prawn on the line then go hunting for a keep net!
Here’s the most important part in effective prawning: MEASURE THE DEPTH
Prawns mainly spend their time at the bottom of the pond, not swimming around in mid-water. If your float is too high, that also means that your hook with the bait is floating around in mid-water. Not the ideal place for prawns. You want your hook to be basically floating just slightly above the bottom of the pond, or dragging the bottom of the pond.
While most prawning locations now have a measurement on the wall, I still feel that it’s preferable to do my own measurements.
If you have a sinker, simply attach it on to the hook and see where your float is. If you don’t have one, a quick and dirty method is to take your rod and insert it into the water with the handle down. Take note of where the water level is. That’s basically how deep the pond is. Using that as a guide, adjust your float to the same level on the rod, with the hook at the end of the handle. Word of caution, do this carefully so you don’t damage the rod, the float, or the hook. Once adjusted, your float be right at the water level, leaving your hook and bait dangling right in front of the prawns!
*While doing this, check on your float to ensure that it’s floating upright in the water. Having a float that’s askew will make it more difficult for you to gauge if there is a prawn on the line.
Here’s a great video on how adjusting your float will affect your hook. (It’s in Chinese)
Baiting the Hook
Now that your float is set up correctly, the next step is to bait the hook. All prawning locations should provide you with free bait, the most common of which is chicken heart. The bait should already be diced and prepared, so you shouldn’t need to cut them up anymore. You should also find either razor blades or plastic knives or small scissors available at the counter. Grab one of those just in case the pieces have been diced too large. Imagine the size of the prawn, now imagine the size of its mouth. Now look at your bait. Do you think it’ll fit into the mouth of the prawn? If yes, then proceed.
You’ll want to place the bait on the tip of the hook. Push the bait through so that just a little bit of the tip is exposed. With the tip slightly exposed, it will make it easier on you to set the hook when you strike. If your bait is too large, or pushed up too far the hook, your strike rate will go down and you will feel the worst of prawners’ frustration; the missed strike.
With your float adjusted and your hook baited, you’re ready to go!
From my experience as well as lessons taught to me by others, prawns tend to clump together in certain areas. Look for areas of the pond where the water is slightly turbulent, or exposed drainage pipes above the water level. The corners and sides of the pond are also places where the prawns like to hang out. This will differ from location to location, so use your own judgement and cast your float towards likely areas. We’ll talk more about the ‘hunting’ of prawns later on in this article.
So how do you know if you have a bite? Now, with the hook under the water, the only thing you should be looking at is the float. Not the cute boy/girl sitting opposite you, not gazing into the eyes of your significant other. You should be looking at the float. Most floats provided by pond operators will be this:
Once in the water, the float will by default leave about a quarter of the top exposed and floating above the water line. If a float dips lower than the default level, congratulations! You most likely have a prawn nibbling on your bait. For 70%+ of bites, you can follow the guide below.
DO NOT TUG on your rod the moment the float dips below the water. Take a look at this picture of the typical freshwater prawn.
Notice the large claws? Freshwater prawns have several different set of claws. The big ones are used to catch their prey, while the smaller ones nearer to the head or mouth are used to bring the prey into the mouth to eat. What happens when your float goes down initially is the prawn dragging your bait. If you strike at this moment, chances are more than likely that your hook will miss the prawn or if you’re really lucky, hit the claw. For a surer strike, you’ll want to wait after the initial dip of the float and the moment when you’re sure that the prawn has placed the bait into its mouth.
A good rule of thumb used by many is to count down from 10 seconds after the initial dip. Another indicator is the float submerging almost 100% into the water. Waiting for 10 seconds, as well as a full submersion of the float are indicators and techniques to ensure that the prawn has placed the bait into its mouth.
Here’s a great video that shows you exactly how the freshwater prawn will take your bait:
So now that you know for sure that you have a prawn on the line, nibbling away at your bait, what do you do next? Now most beginners will simply lift the rod out. While that may work sometimes, I wouldn’t recommend it. Striking and setting the hook into the prawn gives you a much higher chance of getting the prawn out of the pond. So how exactly do you strike?
While the prawn is nibbling away at your bait and you see your float dipping in the water, you’ll want to slowly adjust the tip of your rod to be directly above the float. At this point, you shouldn’t make any sudden movements as that might alert the prawn and scare it away. Once you’ve positioned the tip of your rod directly above the float, you’ll want to slowly raise it up (DO NOT PULL THE FLOAT OUT OF THE WATER). You need to collect the slack on the line to put some tension on it. Once you’ve collected the slack off your line, very very slowly, raise the end of your rod and keep an eye of the tip of the rod. You should see it bend just a little lower. What you’ve done here is to position the hook so that when you do strike, the hook is set upwards and not sideways. Make sure that your movements are slow and steady. Any sudden movements or jerks will result in the prawn letting go of your bait.
Once you’ve felt that the line is relatively tight (or tensioned), you’ll need to strike.
The best way I can describe striking is the movement by which you rev a motorcycle. It’s purely a wrist movement and is just a slight flick of the wrist. What happens when you strike, is that the hook is set into the prawn, making sure that it cannot run away.
‘Fighting the Prawn’
Once your strike has set the hook into the prawn, you’ll need to bring the prawn up and into your waiting arms. For smaller prawns, they tend not to offer too much resistance and you’ll be able to just drag them out of the water. Bigger prawns though, will put up quite the fight! Many beginners will often panic at this stage and try their hardest to drag the prawn out of the water. Remember your physics. Force = Mass X Acceleration
If you pull the prawn with all your might, you’ll encounter some water resistance at first, but the moment the prawn leaves the water, it will literally come flying towards you. While fun to watch and a nice way to meet girls, flinging a prawn at someone might also have those snappy little claws clip them. Bigger prawns fly faster and have bigger claws. Prawns have actually drawn blood from the cuts they make on me. So be careful and take it slow.
You’ll want to go slow and tire the prawn out a little. If your strike wasn’t firm enough, the hook can be easily dislodged and away your prawn goes. These are usually described as the ‘biggest prawn I’ve ever seen’.
Hunting the Prawns
Now that you’ve read through most of the article, you’d have gained a working knowledge of how to actually catch a prawn. Now you’ll want to know how to find the prawns!
While prawns tend to clump together, you wouldn’t know where to find them unless you’re a regular at a particular pond. Even with that, prawns move about and you’d still need to find them. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, you should look out for these things in a pond
- Deepest areas of the pond
- Pumps sticking out of the water
- Drainage pipes sticking out of the water
Similar to fishes, prawns like to congregate amongst structures. There aren’t that many of those in a small pond, so there’s always a good chance that the prawns will be there. If you do get bites in one area, keep casting your hook there until the bites run out. Then it’s time to go hunting again!
Handling the Prawn (How to De-hook Prawns)
So you’ve finally caught your prawn! Now what?
You’ll need to remove the hook from the prawn. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to bring an old rag and wrap it around the prawn while you de-hook it. Be careful of the pincers though, those can really hurt.
Another way to stay clear of those pincers is to grab them with your index and middle fingers of one hand, while using the other hand to de-hook the prawn.
When de-hooking the prawn, you’ll want to find the top of the hook (where the line is tied) and push down while moving it in an outward manner. Remember that when you caught the prawn, your strike was upwards. You want to remove the hook in the opposite manner you sunk it in.
So that’s the end of the guide! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and learnt a little something from it!
This beginner’s guide to prawning is an accumulation of a couple of hundred hours at the ponds, knowledge handed on by the mysterious uncles and aunties, as well as reading whatever I can find online. While I can’t give credit to the kind uncles and aunties since I barely know some of their names, I can give credit to those who came before me and have kindly shared their knowledge online. Here’s the links to some of their posts:
Fishing Kaki Forum – (prawning tips – proven!) by lovefishing09
Baktao’s Blog – (Basic Introduction to Prawning: Simple Tips & Tricks)
Prawningman’s Blog – (Guide to Prawning For New Prawners)