Set Your Hook

Catching Crayfish

Crayfish, also called crawfish, mudbugs, or crawdads, are closely related to the lobster. (I will admit that that’s one point in their favor!) They are pretty easy to catch and very easy to cook. Plus, they’re nearly free.

(Okay, in my opinion the FREE bit makes them better than lobster!)

Before you go out to catch these guys, be sure you know what the fishing regulations for your area are: In Arizona there is no limit, but they can’t be transported live.

I do all of my crayfish fishing at night, in the early evening at sunset until I get too cold to continue. My favorite crayfish lakes are near Flagstaff, Arizona, or in the White Mountains.

While you’re out fishing for game fish, keep an eye out for likely crayfish hiding spots: large rocks along shore, under boat docks, etc. A sure-sign is to find claws in the water.

There are two ways of catching crayfish:

  1. One at a time with bait and a string
  2. A bunch at once with a baited trap

If you’re going to go after crawdads with a baited string, you’ll need the following:

  • A flashlight
  • Bait, tied to a long string (I like fish heads)
  • A net
  • An ice chest
  • Dry shoes, clothes, etc.

Tie the fish head to the string by poking the string through the mouth and out the back of the head. In Arizona, it’s okay to use fish heads, but not pieces of the game fish.

Fish guts work well, but they’re hard to keep on the string. I would try putting the fish guts in a nylon stocking or a little mesh bag.

Other baits can be raw chicken or pork, canned cat food, or hotdogs. I always use cotton string because it fills with water and sinks; nylon string usually does not.

No matter what type of bait you try, be sure that it s fresh. Crawfish are scavengers but aren’t too keen on eating anything that’s rotten or spoiled. I can’t say I blame them!

Then, gently toss the head into a crevasse between rocks or just at the edge of the dock. Keep gentle tension on the string and when your fish head starts walking away, you’ve got a crayfish! Pull up gently until your friend can get the net under it.

TIP: Don’t bring the crayfish all the way up to the surface of the water: it’ll let go! Slow movements are the best, and remember, crayfish usually swim backwards, so you can get them to swim back into the net!

Then, put the crayfish into your ice chest. Make sure there is some water in the bottom of the chest first! Make sure you don’t over-crowd the ice chest with crayfish. Live crayfish should not be transported, because they can get into any other body of water.

I’ve never had any problems taking them back to a campground adjacent to the lake to cook them right away, but, again, check with your state’s regulations before moving them. Arizona prohibits the transport of live fish (crawfish included) but I did as Game & Fish if it was okay to take them back to camp live. The officer requested that I put a bag of ice in with the crayfish and return to camp immediately and cook them.

Now that I’m older (not 9 and thinking that falling in a cold mountain lake after dark is fun) I use crayfish traps from Trapper Arne. ESP Boss and I use the same types of bait: fish heads! The trap has a large safety pin the in center that I pass through the fish head.

And yes, I bait the traps. It might be a bit gross, but it’s worth it to have fresh crayfish for lunch!

Tips for placing traps:

  • Make sure the trap is fully submerged.
  • Tie the trap to something so you can pull it up the next morning!
  • Label the trap with your name and address. In Arizona, we also have to put the number of our fishing license on the trap as well.
  • Make sure you remember where you put it!

Early the next morning, we pull the traps up and take it back to camp for cooking. A huge advantage of the traps is that we’re not cooking and cleaning crayfish by lantern light!

I like The Trapper, which is made by Trapper Arne himself, in Payson Arizona.

What’s a keeper and what gets thrown back?

We keep crayfish that are big enough not to fall through our net holes, about 1″. If they’re smaller, they get tossed back. Any females carrying eggs under their tails get put back immediately- they’re a mess to clean!

Although I imagine we should keep them to further limit population growth… What are your thoughts about it?

Tomorrow, I’ll share my favorite crayfish cooking recipe and cleaning tips! So be sure to check for the article!

Readers Weigh In:

  • Have you ever caught and eaten crayfish?
  • Would you rather catch them with a string or a trap?
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