How to Catch Live Crawfish

Collect enough mud bugs and you can have your bait—and eat it too

giant crawfish on a yellow and blue background
Big craws make great bait, and an even better boil.Jim Golden

Any decent smallmouth angler knows that -crayfish—aka crawdads or mud bugs—are one of the best live baits going. But it’s not just smallies that enjoy dining on ’dads. Channel cats are suckers for a pincerless crayfish fished under a slip bobber. Got a tiny craw, say an inch or so? There’s a bruiser bluegill in your future. Got some big ones? You might want to eat those yourself.

Catching crayfish is almost as much fun as fishing with them. There’s the by-hand method, which involves grubbing around in the water, flipping rocks or wood until a bug is located. Be quick; they’re fast on their feet—all eight of them. And be careful; those pincers aren’t for show. Reach from behind and above and grab them by the back with your thumb and forefinger.

Dragging a chicken thigh over the rocks by a string is another effective method. Once you’ve pulled the bait in, s-l-o-w-l-y lift it to the surface and slip a long-handled net underneath to collect the morsel and any mud bugs that latched on for the ride.

Seining is a two-person sport. One holds a spread net while the other shuffles downstream toward the seiner, dislodging rocks and, with luck, crayfish.

Finally, there are crawdad traps. Baited with fish carcasses or cat food, these cylindrical mesh tubes allow hungry bugs to enter but not exit. (Just be sure to check local regs before transporting crawfish for bait.)

Of course, you might decide that your caught craws look too tasty to share with the fish. Cook them by themselves in a little spice and eat them by the pile. Or gather up a bunch of friends for a boil, complete with corn on the cob, red potatoes, andouille sausage, and cold beer. Better yet, catch enough that you can go fishing and throw a party. You can’t do that with any other bug.