It’s coming up to that time of year, when many fishers will be dusting off their cray pots and loops in readiness for the annual ‘whites run’, a time when hauls of tasty crays (WA rock lobster) are pulled freshly from the inshore reefs, not far from the local boat ramp.
There’s a real sense of anticipation as fishers launch their boats, park the trailers and get ready to head out to their pots or gear up for a dive.
Catching crayfish is a big part of our WA lifestyle with thousands of families sharing the experiences of catching and enjoying this fantastic seafood each year.
The quality of recreational fishing for this highly popular crustacean has gone from strength to strength since changes were made to the management of the fishery in 2013.
Now there are more than 52,000 licensed cray fishers who contribute millions of dollars each year to the WA economy through spending money on licences, boats, bait, gear, fuel and ice.
Cray fishers’ activity goes up another level at this time of year with the hotly anticipated whites run whetting the appetite for soaking pots and dive-suits.
“The much-anticipated whites run allow fishers to get out there and catch their own seafood for the Christmas table. It’s not uncommon to see boats lined up at the boat ramp,” Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell said.
“Seagrass seeds popping, Christmas trees flowering – according to fishers, these are signs the whites run is not too far away.”
The whites run, a potter’s dream!
The annual whites run also coincides with boat-ramp-chaos, as thousands of recfishers hit the boat ramps each day during the run, presenting the best chance to bag themselves a feed of crays.
During November and December, crayfish embark on a migration that fishers can target to land a good feed. The specific time of the migration varies each year, although generally it’s around late November to early December. The migration is usually triggered by environmental factors like tides and the moon-phase kicking off the crayfishes’ movements.
Crays shed their shell to grow into a larger one that’s often initially pale, and walk out to deeper waters, hence their description as white crays.
During these times, the best option is usually to position your cray pots on the back side of the reefs on the sand.
The position is crucially important, if you place your pot on the reef it’s prone to becoming stuck in the cracks and crevices or the crayfish will simply choose the more natural caves in which to hide.
But if you drop your pot on the sand west of the reef, it’s likely to attract any crayfish walking out to deeper water.
Remember to bait them as often as possible and weigh your pot down so it doesn’t rock or shift in the surge, as crayfish are unlikely to enter pots that are moving around.
Given the high abundance of crays on inshore reefs resulting from a well-managed fishery, the prospect for cray fishing in the run-up to Christmas is very good.
Going ‘loop-y’ for a feed of crays
Dropping pots may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so for those that prefer or enjoy life under the water, there’s always the option of diving for your crays. Sometimes the best places are in less than 5m of water!
Yep, during the whites run, many of the inshore reefs, particularly the shallow ones, become loaded with crays! All you’ll need to get started is a licence, cray loop, some snorkelling gear, gloves, a wettie and a mate!
It doesn’t matter if it’s only shallow, or how experienced you may be, you should always have someone there to watch your back.
Learning to loop can be difficult at first, but practice makes perfect. Give it a shot laying on the ground at home and looping a water bottle and you’ll pick it up in no time – just let your housemates/partner/family know in advance what you’re doing – or they may question your mental well-being!
A tip is not to mess around slowly positioning the loop behind the crayfish, get it in there quickly and calmly. Avoid opening the loop too much as they might just shoot straight through it and try to remain calm when you spot one.
Remember that not every cray you see is worth pursuing and sometimes its best to ignore the crays that are in a difficult-to-reach location and find one that is more out in the open. It’s known that jumbo crays can be found in six metres of water, so don’t feel like you have to dive deep to catch them.
Often you’ll find them in ledges that border sand, ledges that are protected from surge, or in the same places you find baitfish and small reef fish relaxing in the calm water.
Want to find out more about cray fishing techniques?
Evolving rules with an evolving fishery
Over the past few years, cray fishing rules have evolved to ensure rules are simplified, practical and people’s fishing experiences are maximised.
In May 2018, the recreational crayfishing season was opened year-round allowing fishers the chance to chase a feed of crays through winter, something that was much to the delight of Mid West fishers who enjoy cray fishing during what is considered to be some of the best weather during the year.
The latest change in rules came into effect in November 2018, which dictates the rigging of recreational cray pots to be similar to commercial pots, to mitigate the potential risk of interaction with migrating whales when the ropes are over 20m in length.
The top half of the rope must hang vertically in the water column when the rope is over the length of 20m.
This can be achieved by using sinking rope on the top half of the pot rope, or by simply attaching a weight such as a fishing sinker half way down the rope.
Additionally, a maximum of two floats can be attached to a recreational pot meaning greater participation and enjoyment for everyone.
Make sure you’ve rigged your pots right by watching our video below.
Get out there and into ‘em!
Good luck to all cray fishers headed out in search of a tasty feed, may your pots be full and ledges packed!
There’s no better time to get out and chase down a feed of crays with the loop or drop a pot.
Start slow and give it a go, like all types of fishing you will pick it up the more you do it and there’s nothing better than bringing home a feed of crays that you caught yourself for a beautiful family Christmas lunch.
We’ll keep you posted as the cray season unfolds and when the whites make their run. Keep in touch via our weekly fishing reports, monthly newsletter, social media or website.