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Trappers' Corner: Crawfish
© 2006

These three traps are for crawfish and minnows. The shape is the important part. The fish or crawdad enters the trap after a "tasty morsel" of bait placed inside the trap. A fish-head is ideal. Small minnows and crawfish (who are scavengers) will enter the small hole but cannot find their way back to the hole to leave the trap.

This is a commercial trap with holes at both ends. This doubles the chances of catching crawfish. The center section opens to get out the trapped crawfish.

Image: Steve's Fishing

Another commercial trap but this one has a trap door to get the crawfish out. Crawfish are a Cajun delicacy so you can eat the bait yourself, if you're so inclined. A few of these in a river may be enough to feed you AND catch all the catfish you can handle. Fish heads, chunks of dead fish, etc., can be used as bait.


This small minnow trap looks like a kitchen strainer. It breaks down in half using small clips to hold it together.

All three traps have to be baited for them to work. If you're in a hurry for minnows, use bread chunks so that small pieces float out to entice the minnows in closer. Kids love to watch the minnows as they swarm around the bread.

Image: Steve's Fishing

Many local fishermen make their own crawfish and minnow traps using wire mesh of varying sizes. If you want to catch only the larger minnows and crawfish, use a larger mesh that lets the small ones escape. If you want ALL the fish and crawdads, use a small mesh.

If you are forced to use a wooden frame to hold the mesh together, then you will need to put some form of weight in the bottom to hold it on the bottom. Lobster fishermen use poured concrete imbedded in the bottom mesh. It works great, but they are very heavy to lift out when full. I think the original flat-bottomed boat was designed to provide a stable platform to pull up these heavy traps.

Some advantage in hand-grabbing crawdads can be gained by hunting them at night. Like their saltwater relatives, light-sensitive crawfish are mainly nocturnal bottom scavengers which abandon their lairs mostly in darkness. They also move into lakeshore shallows at night where they can be seen and approached with a flashlight. As in nocturnal frog hunting, crawfish are mildly "hypnotized" by a strong light beam and can be grabbed with greater ease. Just don't move your hand fast in nearby water, since those long, ever-waving antennae are as sensitive as they look.


Whatever method you use to catch crawfish in sufficient numbers to eat, you still have the task of cleaning them. Basically, all the meat is in the tail. You can quickly twist the tail off upon catching the crawdad and feed the forward half to enthusiastic fish. (This saves you worrying about "escapees" or getting pinched by a bucket full of bristling claws.) Or, you can bring your entire catch home alive and dispatch them by brief submersion in boiling water, at which time you still must twist the tail portion free. It may or may not be more cruel, but I prefer the former method.

In any case, once you have a couple hundred crawdad tails still in their shells, boil them in lightly salted water until they turn slightly pink. Cool them down for handling. Then the more tedious cleaning portion follows, since you must shell out the meat with fingers and thumbnails. Depending on how finicky you are, you may also want to scrape and flush out the "mud vein" (actually the 'dad's lower intestine), which sometimes, though not always, gives a muddy flavor to the meat. After that, you're pretty much home free. You can boil the meat further and serve it with a butter dip, or you can flour, batter, and fry it


Handling big crayfish can be a challenge. If one latches onto your finger, you probably will emit a few words of despair. It's best to shake them through the trap's door into a bucket, then you can handle them with cooking tongs or gloves.


Crayfish are primarily nocturnal, feeding mostly at night. During the day, they hide under rocks or in holes in the banks.

Male crayfish mate with females in late fall and winter. In May and June, the female crayfish lays her eggs and gathers them under her tail. She holds them in place with a sticky substance she produces from glands under her tail.

The young attach themselves to her small tabs, called swimmerets, under her tail. The young stay on the tail for a couple weeks before becoming free-swimming larvae. If you catch a female in this condition, let her go so the young can be next year's dinner.

Crayfish can outgrow their shells and shed them. Before their new shell hardens, they are extremely vulnerable to predators and usually hide themselves. At this stage in Indiana, they are called "Soft Shelled Crawdads". It takes about a day for the new shell to harden.


You can de-vein the tail before cooking. Simply snap the pincers off and twist the middle tab, called the telson, on the tail fan back and forth and then gently tug on it. The attached vein should come free of the tail. This also works after the tail is cooked.


Soak the tails and claws in salt water for an hour or so before rinsing them and popping them into a pot of boiling water spiced up with a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning for every 2 cups of water. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes until the crawdads or pieces turn a bright red, indicating they are cooked. Serve them with anything you like, or just pig out on crawdads.



They can steal anything.