I could barely discern the outline of the pot in the water, and as the pot drew closer to the surface it still remained fuzzy and difficult to distinguish. I suddenly realized that it was not the water quality or the dark night that blurred the pot's edges, but dozens of crawdads covering the outside.
My partner on this late night adventure, Matt Highby, swiftly dipped the net under the pot before the crawdads realized their impending doom. Dragging the pot to shore we realized the reason so many were clinging to the outside -it was literally standing room only on the inside! Not another crawdad could fit inside the pot. Counting out the total taken from the single pot (72), it was our largest one-time haul yet. With five more pots to go, it was easy to see we were definitely going to have enough for a big craw boil.
It's Fun and Easy!
We were catching crawdads in the Panhandle of Nebraska, but they can be found in almost any body of water in the U.S. There is usually no limit (or very liberal) on the number you can catch, with little or no competition from other "anglers," and they are excellent table fare. Why don't more people target these "freshwater lobsters?" I guess it is the fear of the unknown. Most people don't know how to catch them or how to prepare them once they manage to rustle up a batch. Both are simple matters that will leave you thinking, "why haven't I done this before?"
There are several ways to catch crawdads, but trap, net or hands are the most common. We have found that all three methods work well together. To start with, get a good selection of traps
. Cabela's carries them in several different configurations, but all seem to work equally well. Stock them with old meat from the freezer, stake them down with a rock for weight, and you are in the crawdad business. Crawdads are most active during the night so right after dark is the perfect time to set out your traps. Set them about 20 yards apart and tie them off to the stream bank or to a float (an old plastic bleach bottle with cap works well). Leave the traps set for thirty minutes to an hour (this may vary with the area). While you're waiting for the trap to work its magic, you can catch them with either your hands or a dip net, depending upon abundance and the depth of the water. Quietly walk along the shore with a headlamp turned on. They are generally easy to see, and if you have quick hands, they are easy to catch as well, but watch out for the pinchers. They cannot do serious damage, but they will make you wince. When it's time to check the traps, pull them in slowly. Often as many crayfish are on the outside of the trap as on the inside so it is a good idea to have a large net ready to catch the ones that drop off as the trap nears the surface.
When placing your traps, make sure the openings are positioned downstream (assuming you are using a single opening trap and are in moving water). Crawdads locate bait by smell and will follow the current upstream to the source. Your yields inside the trap will be greater if the opening is placed so that it is easy for them to climb inside.
We have tried a lot of different baits including, hotdogs, bacon, and fish filets, but we have not found much of a difference -- they all work well. The biggest key is in bait placement. If you simply throw the bait into the trap, it invariable gets washed to one side. Then the crawdads tend to stay on the outside and pull bits of meat through the wire mesh. A better method is to put the bait into its own wire cage, inside of the trap, and to hang the cage from the roof with a couple of zip ties. This forces the crawdads to enter the trap to dine.
Dinner is served!
Cooking up crawdads is a simple process but a few rules should be followed for the best results. First, only cook live crawdads; dead ones spoil rapidly. If you need to kill them, wash each one thoroughly and immediately place them on ice. I prefer to play it safe and only place live ones into the boiling water. They can be kept alive in a cooler full of river or lake water, with an aerator, for several days, but will die if left too long. We usually schedule the dinner for the next day after catching. This ensures a high survival rate and a fresh meal.
There are many ways to prepare crawfish, but Kelly's Crawdad Spectacular is one of the easiest recipes, not to mention delicious. Boil a dozen ears of corn (cut in half), add 2 pounds of link sausage or Kielbasa and five pounds of potatoes (peeled if you want them more spicy) in a pot using Cajun Craw Boil (can be bought at any grocery store) as a soup base. Then bring a separate gallon of water to a boil, add a container of Cajun Craw Boil and add 12 pounds of live crawdads. Boil for 10-12 minutes and then let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to absorb the spicy mix. After they have soaked for the allotted time, they can be transferred to a large pot along with the other items. This recipe will serve six to eight people.
A side dish of corn bread rounds out the meal. Simply dish up a pile of crawdads, corn, potatoes, sausage and enjoy. To eat the crawdads, twist the tail off from the body, split the hard shell (much like a shrimp) remove the sand vein by twisting and pulling out the middle two tail segments (the vein often remains attached and pulls free quite easily). Dip the white meat in melted garlic butter and you have a feast fit for a king. The claws are also good if they are large enough to bother with and can be cracked much like a crab.
This meal is best served outside and with bibs as the feast can get a bit messy. Be sure to include plenty of napkins and a five-gallon bucket at each table for the shells. Do it once, and crawdad hunting is sure to become a summertime favorite.
Click here to view our selection of Crawdad traps