Why fish for crawdads, or crayfish, or crawfish anyway? Quite simply, because they’re delicious – like mini lobster! And besides, they’re easy to catch and a snap to prepare. California crawdads can reach about 6 inches long and vary in color from brownish, to reddish or greenish. Although there is no minimum size limit, most anglers return smaller crawdads (less than 2 to 3 inches) since the amount of edible meat on these is slight.
The easiest way to catch a batch of crawdads is to use one or more wire traps. These traps have funnel-shaped openings that allow the crawdad to get in but not out. Crawdad traps are available in many bait and tackle shops. They go for about $15 to $20, but can be purchased on sale for as little as $10.
These traps are baited with a piece of chicken or liver, or a can of dog food (fish flavored is good). Perforate the dog food can with a can opener. Secure the can or other bait in the middle of the trap with a line or string. All you do is lower the trap to the bottom on a rope and wait. Crawdads are most active at night and prefer rocky areas (provides a good place to hide). Undercut river bank in shady areas are also good. If evening or night fishing is not convenient, try it in the daytime. I’ve seen many crawdads caught when the sun is up.
Another technique popular with kids is to lower a strip of bacon or piece of liver into the water using a string or fishing line. Lower it to the bottom and wait. Once is awhile, slowly raise up the bait and ease a landing net under it, right near the surface. Usually the crawdad will hang on to the bait long enough to be caught in the net. A boat dock or tied-up houseboat is a great place to catch crawdads using this technique.
Caught crawdads can be stored alive for up to a day in a bucket that is covered with a damp towel or gunnysack. This is important because crawdads are cooked alive (like lobster), at least they are alive when cooking starts.
Tackle and Equipment
You’ll need the following to catch crawdads:
A bucket (to keep your catch in)
A crawdad trap or two, or
A pole and line (or rod, reel and line)
Bait (dog food, chicken leg, bacon, and liver)
Where to Fish
The Delta is very good. Many lakes, ponds and streams are also good. See the “Freshwater Fishing” section for more details.
Cleaning and Cooking
Crawdads don’t need to be cleaned. Most people cook them whole – the edible meat is in the tail and pinchers. But some people just remove the tails and cook them. If you do this, you can remove the tail by twisting and pulling it off where it meets the body. Then grasp the middle of the three flippers at the end of the tail. Twisting and pulling it will pull out the black entrail string that runs along the top of the meat under the tail side. If it doesn’t come out, don’t worry. You can easily remove it after cooking when the shell is removed.
The first step in most crawdad recipes is cooking them for about 10 minutes in boiling, salted water. The shell is bright red when crawdads are done. A whole crawdad can then be eaten like small lobster. Or you can clean out the meat (use a nutcracker and nut pick) and sauté it in your favorite Newburg sauce.
A popular recipe is to heat a little butter in a skillset and add fresh pressed garlic, sweet basil, finely chopped fresh parsley, a touch of olive oil and pepper. Now add about a fourth cup of white wine, a bowl of boiled and shelled crawdad claws and tail meat, and sauté for a few minutes. Serve over rice for a gourmet treat!