Where prawns can be elusive

The scenario had all the ingredients of a B-grade zombie flick. A sliver of moon in the velvet night. An ebbing tide braiding exposed sandbanks. Dozens of aliens wading the shallows following the light radiating from their underwater torches.

Actually, I'm just about to wade thigh-deep through waters of unknown substances to join the thrill of the crustacean chase. In other words, I'm going prawning.

The Entrance, at the mouth of Tuggerah Lake on NSW's central coast, has long been a favourite spot for families to go prawning. And it's far more technical than slipping a net through the water and catching a kilo of kingies.

It's 10pm on a Saturday in a month containing the letter "r" (part of prawning mythology) and I'm standing on the promenade at The Entrance. My fishing licence is in my pocket and the tide is on the turn, whooshing zillions of prawns through the gauntlet of hunters and gatherers as they head for the open ocean.

In the dark, families are picnicking on the grassy verge. Meaty smells waft from the charring shish kebabs on their makeshift barbecues. Kids are running alongside the channel calling out to the prawners, "Look, there's another one. Quick! Aw, you missed it!". A bubbling hookah, shared by an older couple, adds to the exotic soundscape.

My friends and I are dressed in an assortment of prawning attire while the pros are clad in waders. They have devised impressive flotation devices to cradle their catch, while ours consists of a pre-loved foam portable cooler shoved into a plastic swimming ring tethered to our waists. As we crabwalk down the mossy boat ramp and enter the water, it floats behind us.

In the summer dark, the channel looks to be dotted with fireflies. We begin trawling against the tide. The beams from our torches scan under the water like prison searchlights.

We follow the line of weed along the shallows where the critters anchor and hide before making their dash for freedom. As we strain against the tide, two red eyes flit towards us. We dip our nets in its path but the little blighter dives for the sand.

Pairs of red eyes flit teasingly from every direction like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. We dip and flick our nets but are not quick enough as they dart out of the light into the dark.

For the next hour, our flotation device gets scant work. The chill onshore wind whips around our bodies, my friend falls into a hole and nearly drowns and spiny fish that inhabit the weedy shoals attack our legs. Cigarette butts drift by but the bug-eyed prawns stay elusive.

At the end of the night, wet, cold and hungry, we count our catch. The legal limit in NSW is a 10-litre bucket. We look into our cooler. The grand total for Woman versus Wild is six prawns the size of a fingernail, accompanied by a bad dose of pelican itch.

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