Nippers are undoubtedly one of the best estuary baits around. Pretty much anything that swims in an estuary will eat a nipper. Also known as pink nippers, ghost shrimp or yabbies, they are plentiful in most of our south-coast estuaries, and anyone keen to catch a feed of fish should consider using them on their next outing.
Nippers live on shallow sand and mud flats that are either covered with water all or part of the time. The areas that are only intermittently covered are usually the best place to start looking for nippers, as these are generally the most accessible. Nippers will live in deeper water – I have seen plenty of holes in water around 1 metre deep – but would be fairly hard to catch at this depth!
They are located by the small holes they make in the sand. Often there will be some discoloured gray sand around the entrance to the hole, and other times the hole will be slightly raised like a tiny volcano. Usually, there are many holes in one area. The best thing to look for is a number of holes that are close to each other, which may indicate a small colony.
Nippers are caught using a yabby or nipper pump. It’s basically a long metal tube with a handle, with a washer inside that acts to suck up sand-and hopefully any nippers in that sand- and spit it out again. They are available from tackle stores for about $40, but you can pick them up at certain department stores that sell fishing gear for around $20.
While nippers are generally easy to locate and catch, there are a few techniques that will greatly improve your catch rate. As discussed, start with a spot with a high number of holes. Place the yabbie pump over the hole and insert it into the sand about 15-20cm while pulling on the handle, so as to get the suction working. The depth you push the pump to is a critical factor. I used to have trouble catching nippers as I was going too deep. 15-20cm will be more than enough and is far less labour-intensive than going down 40cm or more. You can catch them when there is water covering the holes or without – there is no discernible difference, but if you are pumping when there is water over the holes you may wish to invest in a cheap floating sieve. Without a sieve the nippers have a much better chance at escaping in the puff of sand that is ejected from the pump. Obviously if you are pumping a nipper colony without any water covering it, you can just eject the pump onto the sand and you will find the nippers crawling around quite easily.
Spend a few minutes in each spot before moving a few metres. Where you catch one, you will usually catch another, as they seem to congregate in colonies. After about 10 minutes, you should have enough fresh bait to go and catch a delicious feed of fish.
There are a number of ways to rig nippers on your hook. One is to hook the nipper lightly through the fleshy section of the tail. This will keep the nipper alive and it will be an irresistible temptation to any fish in the vicinity. Just take care with casting as they are quite soft and can come off easily.
Another way to rig them is through the main section of the body. Insert the hook where the tail starts and thread it through the body. You can also do this in reverse, meaning you thread the hook back down towards the end of the tail. Both of these techniques work well if there are pickers around, but the nipper will not survive as long.
I hope these basic tips will help you catch a few more nippers. They’re probably the best, cheapest estuary bait around. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun catching them as you will fishing with them.