This story began in the strangest of places. I was at the grocery store looking for some good fresh crawfish for a low country boil. At the seafood department of the store, I quickly found several packages, and they all had a couple of common and in my book significant problems. Not only were they not fresh, they were not even from this country. It was unsettling to me to know these crawfish had traveled thousands of miles—who knows how—to be sold in the United States. I have never been one who demands the freshest of meat or seafood, but I do prefer it come from this country, at the very least.
With an empty buggy, I left the store with a plan beginning to formulate in my head. Could I find a way to catch my own crawfish? Now, like almost every other good ol’ Georgia boy, I grew up playing in the ditches around my house. From time to time we would see and catch the occasional crawfish. Now that was good and fine, but I think now as a now 29-year-old man, my neighbors may find it odd to see me wading around the ditch in front of my home.
The next idea that came to mind was a technique learned in my early teens. I could use a crawfish rake—a basket on a long pole—to comb through the ditches. There are a few problems with this method though. First, it requires a lot of hard work. No. 2, I don’t even rake my own yard, much less some stranger’s ditch. A third problem is that most of the crawfish you catch with this method are small. A crawfish rake is definitely a great way to catch some quick crawfish for fishing bait, but it’s not very productive for providing the means for a crawfish boil.
Then, while in my shop looking around, I spotted an old rusty trap in the corner, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. If fish would enter a trap for bait, I was sure mudbugs would do the same. So with no idea what I was doing, I began to rummage through the refrigerator for some bait. Hot dogs would work perfectly. I grabbed two, one for the trap and one for the trapper! Moments later I walked out the door of my south Georgia home with high hopes for my new found venture.
It took less than 5 minutes to find a good place for my solo trap. A neighbor that lives about a half mile away has a cypress swamp about as big as two swimming pools on the edge of his property. After a quick conversation and a few strange looks, I had the permission I needed to use his property for my new hobby. I then baited the trap and tied a piece of twine to the eye of the trap. A good one-handed toss, and I was fishing for crawfish with a fish trap.
The next afternoon, I had no idea what to expect. A few pulls on the string, and the trap emerged. There in the corner of the trap were two large crawfish. Now I know two crawfish isn’t much of a start, but to me it was all I needed to know to make me believe I could do this. The only problem was going to be to learn how to do it well.
I’m going to share what I’ve learned through research and trial-and-error. I’m confident you will be filling a pot with these mini lobsters in no time.
Some great news for your new-found venture is that no matter the time of year or weather conditions, crawfish are active. Thanks to our mild weather in south Georgia, our crawfish stay on the move year-round. Even better news is there are no restrictions whatsoever on crawfishing for personal use. So if you catch them, they’re yours to do with as you please.
The first thing you’re going to need to purchase are some good traps. My recommendation would be cylinder-shaped traps. They can be purchased from Wal-Mart for about $8 each. I would just grab a couple to get started and see how it goes. Depending on your success, you can always purchase more later. While picking up your traps, don’t forget to get some string. I use the same string that’s used for limb lines. It’s only about $3 for a roll and will be plenty for many traps.
Your next move is going to be getting some good bait. The best thing I’ve come across is fish heads. These work so well I think because they are a crawfish’s natural food source. Another plus is they are free. Just clean a good mess of fish, and freeze the heads for later use. If you don’t do much fishing, you do have some other great options for baiting your traps. Hot dogs, bologna, and most any other meat will do fine.
Next you need to find a place to put your traps. This is simple, but I do have a few tips. Cypress swamps are great as long as there’s not lots of large fish present. Crawfish don’t seem to establish large populations with lots of predators around. Creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds all can have fair populations. A sure sign of lots of mudbugs is plenty of burrows beside the water. Burrows are small hills of dirt or mud that crawfish pile up as they dig down in the ground. They do this to survive in dry conditions or times of very hot or cold weather. It’s much like deer hunting—lots of sign, lots of deer. The same thing applies for crawfish. One of the best places to find crawfish is ditches that hold water on rural dirt roads. I like to look for burrows in ditches when it’s dry. I make a mental note of these areas, and as soon as it rains and fills the ditches, I throw my traps. This is usually rewarded with great success. I’m sure with some scouting you can find some great locations close to home.
The key to crawfishing, like any fishing, is to be versatile. Action can vary from week to week. I like to move my traps frequently in search of a productive area. When I find a good place, I will place my traps about 30 feet apart to take advantage of the good conditions. You just have to be flexible and willing to try different areas until you hit the jackpot.
As far as crawfish go, in Georgia there are lots of different kinds, with the most common being the red swamp crawfish. They all taste good, and that’s what matters most to me. They tend to be most active at night, but they do feed during the day. The fishing is usually good year-round, with late fall and early winter being my favorite times. The cool mild temps of south Georgia seem to really make crawfish active. If you live in the northern part of the state where there are regular freezing temperatures, you will have better success in water that doesn’t freeze over, like streams or rivers as crawfish don’t handle extremely cold temperatures well.
Keep in mind there are no limits on crawfish in Georgia. You will catch the occasional small fish in your traps. Any game fish like bream or small bass have to be released immediately. I prefer to check my traps at least every 24 hours to ensure no fish die in my traps. When crawfishing with traps, you will regularly catch snakes, especially during warm parts of the year. I have found the occasional live moccasin in my trap, now that’s an interesting day!
When you catch a trap full of crawfish, the next thing to do is put them in a cool dry place to keep them alive. I prefer a large cooler with an ice pack and wet wash cloth in the corner. This set up will keep crawfish alive for a few days. You need to keep them alive until they’re cooked, because much like crabs, they release toxins into the meat when they die. If you ever find a dead crawfish, be sure to throw it out immediately.
You can expect to catch between a pound and two pounds of crawfish per day when running a few traps. If you want to cook them fresh, just rinse them off and boil them for about 8 minutes in a good crab boil seasoning. If you would rather save up your bounty for a large cookout, then boil the day’s catch in lightly salted water for 5 minutes. Lay the bright-red freshly cooked mudbugs on paper towels, and allow them to cool. Once cooled, they can be frozen in a gallon freezer bag. You can then add to the bag each day until full. Crawfish stored this way will generally last a few months. I generally date the bag when I start it, as they will quickly pile up in a deep freezer. When you get ready to use them, just thaw and then boil for 3 minutes in crab boil. The longer they soak in the pot, the stronger their flavor will be. I love to boil mine with potatoes, corn and sausage to combine the flavors. Just let it all soak. When you’re done, just drain and pour onto a table covered with newspaper or towels—and enjoy.
While you’re trying this fun new activity, don’t forget to include your children or grandchildren. Crawfishing is the perfect activity for children. It’s simple, cheap and entertaining. My son is 2, and he can do most any part of the trapping with minimal assistance. I think the simplicity makes it much more enjoyable than typical outdoor sports. One of their favorite parts is to gather around the table and enjoy the great food!
I hope you decide to give trapping crawfish a try. Remember to be flexible and willing to try different tactics. In a very short amount of time, your freezer will begin to fill with this delicious Southern delicacy. Pick a fall evening, and fire up a good crawfish boil.
You will feel like you’re the king of the Georgia Bayou!