CRAWFISH SEASON

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In many parts of the country it is crawfish season.  Here in Utah we are still at least a month away from the best time to fish for these little lobsters but if you live in the South you are already enjoying the season!  My memories of fishing for crawfish date back to my young teens.  I was growing up in California and I loved to fish.  There wasn’t a weekend, day off of school or vacation that I wasn’t fishing.   It was on a quick summer vacation along the Southern California coast when I caught Crawfish Fever.  We were camped near the beach and due to a wild undertow current I found myself confined to the campground. At the north end of the campground, a small creek entered into a freshwater lagoon before entering into the sea.  I remember standing underneath a wooden railroad bridge that had a distinct smell of tar.  When the ocean breeze funneled through the wood pilings the smell of tar mixed with the sweet smell of the ocean and left a memorable imprint on my brain.  As I looked into the shallow murky water, I could see the ground move.  The shallow ledge of water plants and small rocks was covered with crawfish.  LOBSTER, I yelled as I raced back to camp!  I soon learned that they were not lobsters but a near cousin – the crawfish. I spent the next two days catching hundreds of these delicious little crustaceans and I have been hooked on crawfish ever since.  Now that I am in my late forties and living hundreds of miles away from that original secret crawfish hole, I still take every opportunity possible to catch these little critters. I introduced my children to crawfish at a young age.  Some of my best outdoor memories are of my children with a string attached to a chicken leg covered with crawfish.  The smiles on their faces were priceless. Catching crawfish is fun for the whole family and your friends.  It is a great opportunity to get together as a group and enjoy the outdoors. The feast that follows is also memorable! Crawfish Techniques and Gear Determining best location- Crawfish like cover and ample food sources.  Most of a crawfish diet is going to be small aquatic life and plants.  The best location is going to be in areas that have both cover and food.  Areas with submerged rocks and crevices work well.  Also, areas of thick underwater vegetation produce good numbers of crawfish.  Most of the crawfish that you catch will be in water from 1 foot to 10 feet in depth.

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Rocky Shorelines give crawfish protection image005 Rocks and underwater vegetation means crawfish Bait What is the best bait to use for catching crawfish?  This depends on the time of year and the temperature of the water.  It also depends on the preferences of the person fishing. In cooler water I like to use fish or chicken as bait.  It is very important that you check your state fishing regulations before using any fish as bait.  In most states, it is illegal to use any parts of a game fish for bait to catch crawfish. As soon as the water warms up, I fish a little deeper and with manufactured baits, chicken, turkey or any other meat. Crawfish bait must be fresh! I use to think that crawfish bait had to be extra stinky to attract the little crustaceans.  However, contrary to my belief, crawfish don’t like spoiled, smelly or aged bait. I found that out the hard way recently while fishing at Strawberry reservoir.  I had several chicken legs that I left out to spoil.  When they were sufficiently smelly, I tied them to my string and put some in my trap.  I thought for sure that the crawfish would go wild for this smelly bait.  To my great surprise, I caught very few crawfish. Hand Line – this is probably the most common way that people catch crawfish, especially if they are with small children or not catching them for commercial purposes. A hand line is just that – a line.  Any twine will work.  I recommend that you cut a piece of twine about 25 feet long.  This will allow you to fish at different depths. image010image007 Bait on the end of the hand line When fishing with a hand line, tie your bait to the end of the line with a slip knot. Once the bait is secured to the line begin fishing. Start close in and work out until you find the greatest concentration of crawfish.  In many cases the crawfish will just move to where your bait is located.  However, there has been many times when fishing that the crawfish seem to be concentrated in certain areas. Once you locate crawfish, make sure your hand line is baited with fresh bait.  Let your bait sit for 3-5 minutes or longer if necessary.  Once the bait is covered with crawfish pull in. Very important – it is necessary to pull the hand line in slowly.  A quick movement of the bait will scare the crawfish off your bait and into their protective layer.  Also, try to keep your shadow off of the water and crawfish.  Shadows and excessive movement in the water will scare many crawfish off the bait. As you pull the hand line closer to you, take your net and gently submerge it behind the bait and crawfish.  Once the net is in position, gently lift the bait off the bottom and position the net under the bait and crawfish.  Scoop upwards and out of the water.  If you have completed these steps your net will be filled with tasty crawfish. image009 Net full of crawfish Net If you are going to be using a hand line from shore to catch crawfish, then it is very important that you have a small mesh net to scoop the crawfish out of the water.  Don’t try to lift the crawfish out of the water and then over to your bucket or cooler.  They will fall off and you will lose them.  If you do not have a net, a plastic or metal strainer will work well. Traps There are many types of crawfish traps on the market.  Every manufacture of traps will claim that their trap catches more crawfish then their competitors.  I will leave that argument up to you to decide.  Any of the traps pictured below will work just fine to catch crawfish. image015 image014 image013 Placement of your Traps The traps should be placed in areas that provide cover for the crawfish such as rocks, roots, or other structure.  These areas provide cover for the crawfish but the algae which grows in these areas is also a food base for the crawfish.  Crawfish will be concentrated in areas of good structure because they will use this to their advantage.  In Utah where I catch crawfish, the lakes are full of Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout that are always on the lookout for a shellfish meal. Many lakes have depth and structure charts that are used by boaters and fishermen alike.  If you have access to these charts, use them to locate areas where crawfish would be concentrated. The best areas have a lot of rocks.  Areas where rocks shore up a dam or bank of a river are excellent locations for placement of traps.  Areas of heavy underwater vegetation are also excellent locations to set your traps. The best bait for crawfish traps would be chicken, turkey, dog food, or manufactured crawfish bait.  Manufactured baits are mostly used in the commercial crawfish industry but can be bought by individuals on the internet. Make sure that your traps are located in 5 to 15 feet of water. These depths are the best for traps.  If you have access to a boat, you can set multiple traps around the body of water that you are fishing.  Just like in crab or lobster fishing, you will need to mark your traps so you can find them when it is time to pull them.  An inexpensive way to mark your traps is to tie an old plastic detergent or milk container to the end of the Line.  You can paint these containers a bright fluorescent orange if you want to be able to see them easier at night. image017 image016   Best time to catch crawfish The best time to catch crawfish is in the evening and during the nighttime hours.   Crawfish are predators that come out at night to catch their prey.  Nighttime also gives the crawfish protection from other predators that are looking for a quick meal.   Fishing with traps works especially well at night.  Set your traps in the early evening and let them sit for a few hours or overnight.  If you are going to let them soak overnight, make sure that there is plenty of bait in your traps.  Crawfish are ravenous feeders and if you don’t have enough bait they will clean the trap out and move on. Fishing during the day is also productive with hand lines.  Focus on areas with heavy coverage or rock piles.  Fishing in these protected areas works best during daylight hours. The crawfish will be hiding out to avoid predators but are opportunistic feeders and will latch on to your bait. Crawfish Outings are Fun! One thing is certain, if you go fishing for crawfish you will have a great time.  Young or old, you will have a smile on your face as you catch these little lobsters.  Crawfish outings are a group affair and should be enjoyed by family and friends.  There is nothing better than a day on the lake with your family and friends enjoying the outdoors and catching your own dinner. After a day on the lake, it is time for a crawfish boil.  Summer evenings spent over a long table piled high with red delicious crawfish caught earlier that day is a feast meant for a king.

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 If you want to make memories that will last forever, take up the sport of crawfish fishing.  Be careful, fishing for crawfish is habit forming!

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