How to catch Nippers / Saltwater Yabbies

I can remember when I lived in QLD, pumping for the humble yabby from sand flats was such a great family activity and then going out and catching everything from Whiting to Barramundi with this small crustacean. This article will show you what to look for when searching for yabbies and also how to catch them.

The humble saltwater yabby

Yabbies (Callianassa australiensis), or nippers can be found in many estuarine sand flats and bays around Australia. Yabbies live in the sand around two feet (600mm) underneath the surface and can grow to a length of 3inches (75mm). The male of this species has a rather large claw that can be half as big as itself, the female has a less prominent claw. They feed by filtering organic materials from the sand.


The yabby bed is very distinctive and can be seen here with hundreds of holes in the sand. This is not indicative of how many yabbies are living there. One yabby can have up to three surface holes that may lead to one main tunnel. The easiest way to get them out is to pump them out.

Yabby pumps

 You can buy three different size pumps (500mm, 750mm and 1000mm), but be warned, the longest pump is not necessarily the easiest or the best to use. If you are using these pumps for the first time, go and get the shortest or the mid sized pump.

ImageTo use these pumps is quite easy; firstly thrust the pump into the sand quite hard. Then pull the handle up as you thrust the pump further into the sand. Once you have the pump in the sand as far as possible, pull the whole pump out and then push the sand slurry out with hopefully heaps of yabbies. The yabbies will start to move as soon as they hit the water or sand. Please only take what you need and don’t take the very small baby yabbies; they are the future of the patch.

The best time to get these crustaceans is low tide. I have seen people at mid tide successfully getting yabbies by using a round plastic sieve with floats on the sides and pumping the slurry into the sieve and picking out the yabbies.

Keep them clean, cool and dry

Yabbies can survive for quite a long time out of the water and it does depend on where you are and how hot it is. If you are in the Tropics, the best way is to keep them alive is to strain them after you have cleaned them and separate them so they are not bunched up and put them in the esky (not cold, but cool) in an ice-cream container (You may need a number of them). If you are in cooler climates, clean them and put them in sawdust to keep them cool (not cold) and dry in an esky. There are two no-no’s when handling yabbies: 1. Never keep them in the sun and 2. Never leave them swimming in water. I have never had any success with leaving them in water for long periods of time.

 Yabbies as bait

Wide gap hooks are by far the best hooks to use when using yabbies. They must be presented as naturally as possible. Always thread the hook through the tail of the yabby and continue until the point of the hook goes through the head. When taking yabbies from storage, only take a few at a time as leaving them in the sun will kill them really quickly.

Clean up

When you have finished with the pump, it is really important to give the whole thing a good flush with freshwater and also to loosen the wingnut in the bottom of the pump that holds bucket (The seal) in. This will make sure that it is ready to go for the next outing.

There you have it; gathering yabbies can be a wonderful family outing and when used as bait, can produce a wide range of fish. If you haven’t tried it, go out and buy a small pump and take your family out and have some fun.

Written by Rod Cumming Copyright 2013