Outdoor Corner: Crawfish!

Lyle Johnson
Alan and Allyn Eve's catch of roadside crawfish using set nets with melt for bait.

Crawfish! Springtime and the word crawfish just gets something going in the blood of most southeastern Louisiana folks and a whole mess of others that live here now. Yea, even those that have immigrated here for some reason or other usually get over the appearance and learn to understand just why we love 'em!

Because the popularity of crawfish is not limited to Louisiana anymore, the demand can hardly be met. Our neighboring states have that same hankering for those tasty mudbugs, so commercial harvest has found a home in lots of places. Who woulda' thunk it? But we still literally "own" the crawfish production industry as us Cajuns produce 95 percent of catch.

Late November and December usually brings the beginning of the harvest from crawfish ponds and gets the craving started. This year at the opening bell, boiled crawfish were going for $6.39 a pound. That price blows my mind because I remember buying them for $8.00 a sack in the late 70's when they were plentiful.

I remember back when I was a kid, our family usually took part in an early spring tradition that's nearly forgotten today. Crawfishing with set nets! Back in the day most folks couldn't afford to buy them, so we caught them.

But in my youth, our goal was usually to find a ditch or a spot in the swamp and catch enough mudbugs for momma to make one of her trademark crawfish stews.

I know crawfish tails are available year round and you can get them on the menus of many great restaurants, prepared just about any way you'd like. But if you've never tasted a stew made from ditch crawfish, you've never tasted the best. They are usually smaller, much more tender and possess a taste that can't be copied by the ones you buy.

Already I've seen a daddy with some rubber boots and a few kids by the roadside, and my mind travels back in time. Back to a time when my dad packed up a carload of us kids (there were eight of us) and set nets to try our fortune at catching a five gallon bucket full of crawfish for supper. Hmm, might have to find me a ditch and catch me a bucketful of those special crustaceans.

It's not that difficult to pull off. Get a dozen or so set nets, usually at a hardware store. Next, buy a few pounds of beef melt for bait. Several of our local stores have it for sale. You'll need an 8' pole of some sort to set out and pick up the nets and a bucket to collect the harvest in.

The ditch you choose will need to be a larger one that holds from 6" to 12" inches of water with some grass in it. We now have a great opportunity to catch them in the swamp as most of the land between Sorrento and Gramercy is part of the Lake Maurepas Wildlife Management Area.

Put the net as close to the grass as you can; a hole might need to be made to insert the net in. Make sure it's resting completely on the bottom or your success rate will be poor. Leave the nets in the water about five minutes. You may have to move often as sometimes it doesn't take long to catch what's in a spot.

My brother Alan and his daughter, Allyn Eve took a little time last week to celebrate the tradition of catching crawfish with set nets. They took to the roadside armed with a dozen or so nets and some melt. They hit pay dirt as after a few hours an ice chest full of crawfish were caught for a boil.

This time of the year is also perfect to use small crawfish for bait. All the rain we've been having creates optimum conditions for the drainage ditches to be filled with the perfect size mudbugs for catching just about any kind of fish that swims.

A dip net and some rubber boots is all one would need to catch enough of them to make a day's worth of bait. Find a location that has some type of grass. That's where they'll be. They can hide in the grass and use it for a food source also. An open ditch seldom has many crawdads in it. Reach out as far as you can and scoop all the way back to where you stand. When you scoop, make sure the net passes on the bottom, that's where they live.

Dump them all on an open spot in the grass and get started. Put a little of the grass in the bait bucket so they can stay moist. No water is required to keep them alive. Sometimes you'll catch grass shrimp, and that's an added bonus. Throw them in too!

Size matters. The smaller ones are the size to catch panfish. Bream, goggle-eye, chinquapin can't resist a live crawfish. The medium ones are the best to use for catfish. They'll eat the smaller bugs, but you'll catch the little catfish as well. Medium to large will be really good if you like to catch bass with live bait. This takes a little more work but it's worth the time if you enjoy fishing for bass.

The rig for panfish is pretty simple: a cane pole will do just fine, but a rod and reel will work also. Use a long shank and a number-four-or-six hook so the fish can't swallow the hook in case you choose to release the fish. If the hook gets swallowed, the fish probably won't survive.

A split shot two or three inches above the hook lets the bait sink a little faster and a cork set according to the depth of the water; keep the bait about 6" off the bottom. My favorite way is to use just a hook so the bait will sink slowly and all those wiggling legs just can't be resisted.

For catfish, a 1/0 hook is big enough to land a big one and will catch smaller ones also. I usually tie the sinker on the bottom and the hook up the line. The temperature of the water usually dictates how far off the bottom I place the hook. Catfish don't always swim along the bottom.

Now is a great time of year for the outdoors. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe, and may God truly bless you!

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman's League meeting held at Gonzales Fire Dept on Orice Roth Rd. starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

Wednesday Evening Bass Tourney: Every Wednesday at Canal Bank from 5 p.m. until dark. Fee $40/boat, one time registration fee of $40 going toward the Classic Tournament. Weekly event through spring, summer. Call Canal Bank for information 225-695-9074.

Dreams Come True Bass Classic: May 4 held in association with the Crawfish Festival at Lamar Dixon. $110 entry fee per team with a $50 side pot for attendees of captain's meeting April 30 at Fred's on the River. Contact Dave Cavell 225-937-0046 or Tammy Campanile 225-405-2478 for all the Bass Classic information.

Westside Bassmasters Veterans Open: May 11 Safe daylight, Doiron's Landing (either side), Stephensville. Registration 5 a.m. $150/boat. No fee for veterans. Donations benefit Wounded Warriors Project. Weigh-in jambalaya, soft drinks, door prizes. Call Darren Hernandez 225-413-6139 or Joel Bezet 225-776-6538.

Anything Outdoors Helping Kids Frog Rodeo:Postponed until June 15 due to high water. Save the date!

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