How to Catch Crawfish: A Guide

Do you want to learn how to catch crawfish to make your own boil?

These freshwater lobsters can also be used as bait to catch smallmouth bass and other aggressive fish. In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about catching crawfish using traps and how it differs from crayfish in this article.

Crayfish trapping tips
One of the coolest crawfish shots I’ve ever seen by Derek. Source: Derek Key

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Crawfish are crustaceans that look like tiny lobsters which they also happen to be related to. The head and thorax are joined together and the body is segmented. It is usually dark brown, red, green, or yellow. The head tapers into a pointed snout and the eyes are on stalks that can move in different directions. It has five pairs of legs and sharp pincers while the exoskeleton is thin but quite tough.

Also known as yabbies, freshwater lobsters and crawdad, they are omnivores and they feed on leaves, fish eggs, and small insects. But this small crustacean is also known for cannibalizing its kind as well as animal flesh. They are often targeted by predators such as raccoons, snakes and of course, humans who trap them in large numbers for crawfish boils.

Crawfish Facts

Scientific NameCambarus sp.
Common Name(s)Crayfish, crawdad, yabbies, freshwater lobster
Identifying CharacteristicsPowerful claws. Resembles a small Maine lobster.
HabitatRivers and streams around rocks, mud, and vegetation.
LimitsCheck your local regulations

Where Do Crawfish Live?

Crawfish live in fast-flowing rivers and streams amidst rocks, in mud, vegetation and other underwater foliage it can hide or find cover in. It prefers fast-flowing water because it cannot live long in a polluted habitat. This small crustacean is not a strong swimmer and has to wait for its food to sink to the bottom before it can eat it.

The largest gathering of crawfish usually occurs in southeastern North America, which makes up 330 species but all of them belong to the same family i.e. Cabaridae. Many can be found in lowlands where the water is rich in oxygen and calcium.

Crayfish Trapping

How to Catch Crawfish 101 w/ Gee's Trap/Extender

Do you want to know how to catch crayfish in a river and make sure you have enough for a fantastic boil? First, you need to know what they prefer as bait and the kind of trap that can work on them.

What Is The Best Bait For Freshwater Crayfish?

Catching crawdad or crayfish is not difficult once you get the hang of making traps but it pays to know the kind of bait that can lure this crustacean into them. The best bait for crawfish is fish such as shiners, herring, sunfish, pogies and gizzard shad. Some fishermen prefer to use cut up salmon heads and other oily fish they can get their hands on. You can get these from the locals easily enough or make them yourself.

While fish can make for irresistible crawdad bait, that doesn’t mean you cannot experiment with more types of crawfish bait and meat. Remember, crawfish are omnivores. Pretty much anything can work as long as it is edible so you can also attract them using cheap cuts of chicken wings and chicken necks.

You can also use cat food.

Whichever bait you use while you are catching crayfish, just make sure that it is fresh otherwise you will return with an empty trap. The more fresh bait you use, the more crawfish you can trap.

How to catch crawdads in the river
A Red Swamp Crawfish. Source: Andreas Kay

Commercial Baits

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can always go with formulated bait for catching crawfish. For example, some brands such as Purina make this bait on a commercial scale for crawfish enthusiasts who want to catch a bucket full of the crustacean without the mess. It is particularly useful during summer when live bait can spoil faster than it can be used.

However, this kind of bait will be of no use to you when the temperature of the water drops to 70F. Use fish bait instead during this time and it won’t go bad in the cold weather even though your hands may get a bit smelly.

How to Catch Crawfish in a River?

Crawfishing in a river or any freshwater source is not difficult if you are patient and have the right gear. If you are using bait to catch crawfish, you can use a simple, but strong string to reel in this crustacean. All you need to do is attach the bait (cat food, chicken or fish) you have to the string using a hook or a pin.

Lower this setup into the water and move it around a bit and when you feel a pull on the line, don’t pull in the crawfish immediately. Move the string with the bait and crawfish attached to it slowly towards shore and then place the crawfish in the bucket.

Besides a string and bucket, you can also use a fishnet that has a long handle to catch several crawfish at the same time when you reel in. That way, you prevent the crawfish from releasing the bait and escaping in the mud and catch a lot at the same time.

How to Make a Freshwater Crayfish Trap

While the string method is efficient, it can do a number on your back and you will have to spend hours on the water to catch enough crawfish for a boil. So how can you catch a lot of crawfish with little to no effort? Use a simple crayfish trap.

Crayfish Trap Instructions:

  1. Rinse out two plastic soda bottles (2 liters each) and remove the labels. This is important to ensure no pollutants find their way into the river or creeks you want to catch crawfish in.
  2. Use a box cutter to cut one bottle in half along its circumference about an inch above the middle point as cleanly as possible. The edges should be smooth.
  3. Cut the second bottle at a point that is a little higher than where you cut the first bottle and make sure its edges are clean as well.
  4. Place the smaller cut-out bottle in bigger one mouth first so you will have a funnel where the crawdads can crawl into. Make sure to unscrew the cap of the smaller bottle first. This way the crawdads will be able to get into the bigger bottle but will not be able to get out.
  5. Now you have to attach the bottles. Drill five holes along the bottom making sure that they are aligned and the bottles don’t slip. Drill five more holes a centimeter above these holes.
  6. Zip tie the bottles together by running a tie through the lower holes and then thread it through the one on top of it before tightening it. Repeat on the remaining holes till all of them are tied. Make sure they are tied tight enough that there are no gaps between the bottles that mud or other debris can get into.

Launching Your Trap

  1. Attach a weight to the bottom of the crawfish trap to ensure that it sinks to the bottom of the creek. Do this by making a hole through the bottom of the trap and then tie a weight on it using a zip tie. A 1 to 5-pound weight should suffice.
  2. You will also need to add weight to the top of the trap to keep it balanced in the water. Use the same weight size that you used on the bottom and tie it on the top part of the bottle.
  3. Congratulations! Your crawfish trap is complete! Now you only need to bait it to make your crawfishing expedition a success. To add bait, unscrew the cap of the trap and drop the bait into it. Most people use fish meat but you can use other kinds of meat as well.
Crawfish boil with corn
Hopefully what your hard work turns into! Source: Ali Eminov

How to Catch Crawfish With the Trap

  1. Now you are ready to use the trap to catch crawdads. Crawfish trapping is not going to be difficult if the trap is made well and is not loose. The first thing you need to do is to tie a thin rope right under the lid of the bottle. This will prevent the trap from floating away as the crawfish start to file in.
  2. Use the thin rope to tie the baited trap on a tree or anything sturdy that can hold it in place and then toss it in the water. Make sure that it sinks to the bottom.
  3. Leave the trap in the water overnight and don’t disturb it before that or cover it with anything. Crayfish are more active at night. Plus, you may scare the crawfish away if you disturb the trap. If you try and catching the crustacean in the morning, chances are you will return home with only a few or empty boxes.

And that’s it! Technically, the crayfish should be attracted by the bait in the trap and should crawl into it through the small opening of the second bottle. Once they have their fill of the bait, the crayfish will not be able to get through the small hole and will be caught.

Prevent Dead Crayfish

The crayfish will be able to survive on the bait but not longer than that. If you wait a day or more to retrieve it from the water, the caught crayfish will be dead crayfish. The more there are in the trap, the faster they can die out as the oxygen level drops.

Check how crawdads you caught by pulling the setup out of the water the next day. If it is heavier than it was before, it may be full of crayfish. Empty the setup by unscrewing the lid and then pour your catch in boxes or a net.

Crawfish vs Crayfish

So what’s the difference between crawfish, crawdads, and crayfish? The answer is none!

These are names of the same species of crustacean which may differ in appearance in different locations but are the same species so you can catch them using the same crawfishing methods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find crayfish to catch?

A: Crayfish can be found in freshwater sources such as a lake, river and a pond that has sufficient cover it can hide in. Look for them under rocks and around underwater vegetation.

Q: Is catching crayfish in the water by hand a good idea?

A: Yes, if you plan on catching a few only. Just make sure that you steer clear of their sharp claws. That pinch can be nasty! To make sure your hands remain safe, grab the crayfish behind the pincers.

Q: Should I add water to the bucket I place the crawfish in?

A: Place enough water in the bucket that it covers the crustaceans when they stand on all 10 legs and no more. They can drown otherwise.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

Johanes Godoy

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Articles » Techniques » Other Situations » How to Catch Crawfish: A Guide


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