A Crawfish House Call

Like most of people who enjoy fresh caught crawfish, I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to admit standing on a riverbank, staring at partially submerged ropes.

Sure, it sounds a little weird, but you can have some pretty good times staring at these ropes. Watch a boat motor by. Look at the rope. Crack open a beer. Look at the rope. Toss out a line and see what’s biting. Look at the rope.  

No matter how else you choose to fill the time, your attention always drifts back to the rope.

That's because, at the end of this rope, there’s a trap, one that hopefully is filling up with delicious crawfish every minute that it sits at the bottom of the river. It’s an exercise in patience, and sometimes, one in futility.

If you’re on the bugs, the longer the trap sits, the fuller it will be when you haul it in. If you’re not, the trap will be empty, and you’ll just have wasted whatever amount of time you had it soaking.

Well, not really wasted. At least you got to look at the rope.

Some days are easy. Other days are hard.

If you’re fishing in the winter, you’re bound to have more hard days that easy. That’s because crawfish, like many river dwelling creatures, aren’t as active when the water’s cold, and they tend to spend the more frigid months burrowed in the mud or lodged cracks along the rocky river bottom.

In these months, you can’t count on the craws to come to you. You have to go to them.

I first made this realization in late February, when the water temperatures of the American river hovered somewhere in the low 50s. After hauling in empty pot after empty pot, it looked like getting wet was going to be the only way.

Now, before I send a bunch of crawfish-crazed readers to their icy graves, I want to toss out a little disclaimer.

I cut my teeth spearfishing and abalone diving up on California’s North Coast, where the water's frigid year round, meaning I have the wetsuit, weights and other equipment needed to keep me warm and happy while I chase mudbugs for a few hours.

If you want to dive for bugs without this gear, I recommend waiting for the summer. Even then, be mindful of the temperature. Hypothermia is no joke.

If you do end up diving for burrowed mud bugs, you’ll notice something pretty quick. While slow on land, crawfish can motor in the water. If you try to grab one and miss, he’ll kick that tasty tail of his a few times and be gone. Meanwhile, you’ll be swimming around in a cloud of silt wondering which direction he went.

If you’re going to grab, grab well. You probably won’t get more than one shot.

Another advantage of diving for crawfish is size selection. With a trap, you’re limited to only the mudbugs that can shimmy in through the entry hole. When diving, you can look for the biggest, baddest bug on the block and take him home for dinner.

To do it well, you’ll want to swim out into the river a bit, maybe to the point where its about ten feet deep. Dive down and look for a good sized rock or tree branch that has a little space underneath. Give it a flip. If there are craws there, grab them. If not, repeat.

On a good day, I’ve picked up nearly a hundred crawfish in a little over an hour. One a bad day, you may only snag a dozen.

Results aside, actually getting into the river gives you a whole new perspective, especially if you ever come back to fish it from shore. You can scope out spots to place your traps, look around for areas where fish might hold and see for yourself what’s actually swimming around out there.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of work for mud bugs, but it's fun work. Since that first dive, diving's become my go-to way of harvesting crawfish.

Though I have to admit, I sometimes miss the rope.