you call them crayfish, crawdads, crawfish, or mudbugs,these freshwater
crustacean arthropods are much appreciated by research scientists, small
children, fishermen, and aficionados of cajun cuisine. So prevalent is
the last group that I had to search long and hard to find reference materials
for this article that didn't have anything to do with cooking.
Crayfish, members of the order Decapoda (ten-limbed), comprise the families
Astacidae, Cambaridae, and Parastacidae.
These freshwater relatives of the lobster are found in streams and ponds
throughout the world and range in size from just under an inch to sixteen
inches. Their thin, hard exoskeleton is typically a reddish brown or olive
color in North American waters, but may also be white, pink, blue, or
even bright orange. The brighter colors occur when the exoskeleton is
new and soft which makes them more vulnerable, hence more attractive to
fish. Dave Whitlock says that crayfish may be number one on the list of
favorite fish foods.
During the day they will hide in burrows or under stones and ledges. Crayfish
emerge at dark to feed on small fish, decaying plant and animal matter,
insect larvae, worms, and snails.
The crayfish is among the world's living fossils. In 1989, Steven Hasiotis,
a paleontologist at the University of Colorado, discovered the first of
many 220 million year old crayfish fossils in Utah, almost 100 million
years older than any found before. His fossils are almost identical to
modern crayfish. Hasiotis thinks they may have evolved as much as 300
millicn years ago. This would put the mudbug up there with sharks and
roaches among the most enduring animals of all time.
what size and color of crayfish inhabit your favorite fishing spot can
be a valuable asset in choosing the right fly pattern, but crayfish aren't
that easy to catch. I can remember spending long hours of my childhood
dangling chunks of bacon under the limestone ledges of Shoal Creek in
Austin. The trick was to feel the take and gently raise the crawdad into
net range before good sense overcame greed and he dropped off. I'm not
that patient anymore. A much more effective method is to build a trap
combining a light source and bait which can be left in the water overnight.
Use an opaque wide-mouth plastic jar with a sturdy lid. Cut an opening
about an inch and a half in diameter in the lid. Start cutting at the
edge, not the middle. The whole trap is going to be laid on its side and
partially buried, so you want the entrance to be above the center to keep
the crayfish from crawling back out. A small water proof flashlight or
a chemical lightstick will provide illumination. Use meat for bait. Just
before sunset put the light and the bait in the jar, place it in the shallows
along the edge of the stream or pond, and secure it well. The crayfish
will come to the light and bait, crawl through the hole, drop down in
the jar, and stay there. If you want to get fancy, put a section of wire
mesh in the bottom of the jar to make it easier to see what you've got
and drain the water out. The screen can be covered with dark plastic while
the trap is in use.
Crayfish escape from danger by fleeing backwards. The thrust of their
powerful tails creates a darting or jumping
motion. For these reasons crayfish fly patterns
are tied with heavily weighted tails and the claws extending out from
the bend of the hook. It is also a good idea to use patterns which ride
with the hook up so as to avoid snagging on the bottom. The retrieve should
make the fly dart along the bottom or hop up a few feet and sink back
down. Soft, bright body materials will simulate the new exoskeleton stage
favored by fish.
dozens of crayfish imitations ranging from the elaborately detailed creations
of Joe Robinson, Dave Whitlock, and Duane Hada (see ROP Dec. 95) to woolly
buggers with a split tail. The key factors are size, color, and texture.
For those who have mastered the use of soft plastic lures on a fly rod,
there are several small crayfish styles available.