Crawdad fishing isn’t your granddad’s fishing. Or, maybe it’s right up grandpa’s alley!
For some, crawdad fishing summons images of lazy summer days spent by the creek. Others, though, have no idea what a crawdad even is.
While this unique form of fishing can represent nostalgic nirvana, many folks are a little confused and perhaps a lot intrigued by the idea.
Whatever your relationship with crawdad fishing, one thing’s for sure: It’s not an experience you’ll soon forget.
The Freshwater Lobster Demystified
First, let’s get the obvious question out of the way. What is the darn thing?
If you’re into science, you probably know a crawdad by the name crayfish, instead. This little creature also gets the common moniker of “freshwater lobster” from its appearance.
According to encyclopedia giant Britannica, the crayfish shares the segmented body, outer skeleton, snouted head, and, of course, the infamous pincers characteristic of a lobster.
While lobsters thrive in saltwater, these close cousins are found in the freshwater of North America.
Crayfish are about 3 or 4 inches long. As such, they hide snugly under rocks and other debris found in creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes.
In parts of North America, you haven’t earned your honorary country badge until you’ve caught yourself a crawdad!
On-the-Hook: The How of Crawdad Fishing
Eager children might righteously tell you that hands-on is the “only” true method of crawdad fishing. Many a child has waded into a creek, lifted rocks, and simply grabbed their peek-a-boo prizes.
More than a few likely have the battle scars to prove it.
Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to sacrifice your fingers to the cause. But you definitely won’t be partaking in the traditional rod, reel, and worm fishing experience, either.
With the right approach, though, you can earn your stripes as a crawdad fishing champion even the most rambunctious kid would be proud to call a creekside partner-in-crime.
Location is key
Hundreds of crayfish species populate both the northern and southern parts of the world. Wander the streams and lakes of the Northwest or the South especially, and you’ll likely bump into a few of these crustaceans.
You might need the compound eyes of these creatures, though, because they do like to play hide-and-seek.
Rocks and logs are the most popular hiding spots. These murky locales host the snails, worms, and tadpoles that make a proper crawdad feast.
If you’re determined to find the most prolific crawdad communities, the mini-lobsters have been known to lead an active nightlife.
Gone Outdoors advises that lakes and rivers with shallow water ranging 5 to 30 feet deep are good crawdad fishing grounds. The more grass and reeds in your chosen spot, the better.
Some restrictions do apply, however. In Washington state, for example, the official crawdad fishing season runs from May to October, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Although fishers don’t need a license, they may only use two traps.
Always check your local crawdad fishing laws, as each state has different regulations. Additional regulations may also exist, such as those surrounding Washington’s large breed of signal crayfish.
Catch ‘em crawdad tools
Oh, about those traps: Traps are simply a method to snare your critter while keeping it alive.
They make up a major part of a crawdad fishing connoisseur’s trusted toolbox.
In contrast, ring nets are an open variety of trap. With an opening on one end, these nets ensnare the crayfish. The nets are attached to a stick or ropes and are submerged in the water.
Once the crawdad moves within range, the newly anointed crawdad fishing expert (you) can lift the net.
Many traps come with long lines so they can be reeled in easily after casting. Some are also collapsible. Field and Stream recommends quality net traps measure less than 3 feet and use a cylinder or cone shape.
Don’t just expect the crawdad to mosey into your trap, though. To entice these critters, you’ll likely need to make use of some tasty bait. These substances can be put within a trap’s built-in pouches or hooks or placed in bait bags, jars, or boxes.
Finally, attaching a buoy or another flotation device to your trap can help you more easily identify its location if you leave the trap for an extended period.
Gone fishin’ techniques
Once you have secured your trap of choice, you’ll need to do a little prep work to ensure maximum success. As already mentioned, the key to a successful catch may rest in three little words:
Bait, bait, and bait.
Crawdad fishing experts swear by the hauls they get with oily fish bait. Salmon seems to be a particularly popular choice. Carcasses or chunks could both work.
Some more non-traditional offerings have also found their way into the crawdad fishing playbook. Chicken necks and gizzards pack a powerful punch for many. Some crafty crawdad hunters even give a chicken leg a little creekside dip.
If you’re not keen on these options, you might give some dog or cat food a try. A few caution against this approach, though, due to its low success rate.
Once you’re baited up and ready to go, you can continue your crawdad fishing adventure on land or water. If you’re lake hunting, you can take a boat and try your luck on the open waters. Gone Outdoors claims that a trap can be placed in water from 15 to 30 feet deep.
Cast your trap of choice out, by fishing pole or by hand. If you plan on leaving it overnight, attach an identifiable flotation marker. Be aware that adult crawfish generally prefer deeper areas away from any imminent danger.
Then, when you’re ready, bring in your haul. Traps can hold multiple crawfish, so you just might be in for a lobster of a surprise.
In a pinch storage
People capture these crusty critters more than all other shelled marine creatures combined.
Regions like Louisiana have even made a business out of crawdad fishing with sophisticated crayfish farms, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In the absence of your own farm, you can keep your crawdads in living storage for an impressive amount of time.
No fancy tanks or filtration systems need apply, either, unless you plan on making a pet of your crawdad. Instead, a simple lidded storage container should do the trick.
Just enough water should sit in your container that it covers about 75 percent of the crawdad. So a bit at the bottom should do fine.
Don’t forget to give your crawdads some breathing room, either. Drill some air holes in those lids.
They’ll need some nourishment, too. A few leaves of lettuce about once a week will keep them in good physical condition.
And remember to keep that water pristine and empty it out after feeding.
Crawdads, Crayfish, Mud Bugs, Ditch Lobsters, and Yabby, Oh My!
So you’ve caught your crawdad, now what? With so many names to its credit, the crayfish offers just as many uses.
As mentioned, you could domesticate your critter. Be warned, though; these little buggers can stage an escape fit for a prison break. You’ll need a deep tank, a mesh screen, and a lot of luck.
For the live bait lovers out there, your crawdads might be just the enticement catches like bass and steelhead need. These critters are such a fish magnet that manufacturers have created artificial stand-ins.
At last, we cannot let any crawdad fishing checklist go by without a shout-out to one eyebrow-arching phrase: “Pinch the tail and suck the head.”
Minds out of the gutter and into the kitchen, please.
This colorful turn of phrase references the common method used for eating crayfish. Not including these critters on the menu in some locales is akin to throwing your entrée on the floor.
Eat ‘Em, Bait ‘Em, Tame ‘Em
Whether they invoke dreams of childhood creeks or nightmares of three-headed lobster invasions, crawdads have crawled their way into American pop culture.
So think of learning the ropes crawdad fishing as your cultural contribution!
Think you have what it takes? Reel us in with your humorous, enlightening, or otherwise fascinating crawdad fishing stories in the comments below!