How to Catch Crawfish—for Bait or for Your Dinner

Fill your bait bucket—or steamer pot—with mudbugs. Here's how to catch crawfish and keep them alive

Whether you call them crawdads, crayfish, or mudbugs, crawfish are one of the most lethal bass, catfish, and big-trout baits you can put on a hook. They also happen to taste great steamed with a little Cajun seasoning. Both are terrific reasons to learn how to catch crawfish and how to keep crawfish alive if you want to use them as bait. All you need is a set of fast hands, a piece of raw chicken, or an inexpensive trap. Here’s what to do.

1. Nab Crawfish from Under Rocks

Though not very efficient, this method is probably the most fun. Just wade into any flowing, rocky creek, and start lifting stones to find craws underneath.

Stand on the downstream side of the rock and lift toward yourself so the current flushes away the silt. Crawfish swim backward, so attack from the rear, whether using a dip net or your hands. If the latter, scoop with your palms or grab just behind the head.

2. Get Some a Crawfish Traps

Baited with shad or chicken backs, crawfish traps ($11; frabill.com) funnel your quarry into a small opening to feed. Once in, the bugs have a hard time finding their way back out.

Leave traps overnight in slow streams, in shallow still waters, or in eddies within fast streams. To keep captured craws from destroying the bait before more of their friends join the feast, slip the chicken or shad into a nylon stocking before loading the trap.

3. Dip a Raw Chicken Leg

Great for slow- or still-water cray­fishing, dipping works exactly like the crabbing method that’s common on the coast.

Tie a raw chicken leg to a nylon cord, and dip the bait among the rocks, letting it soak for a few minutes. Crawfish will grab hold of the tough skin and stay attached if you lift the bait slowly up off the bottom. Scoop them into a small dip net, but be quick; crawfish usually let go as soon as they break the surface.

Crawfish make the perfect bait, or dinner for you.
Crawfish make the perfect bait, or dinner for you. Anton Starkov/Alamy

How to Keep Crawfish Alive For Weeks

Crawfish are one of my favorite live baits for smallmouth bass in late spring and throughout summer. Rather than catch them as needed, I like to keep a few dozen on hand for impromptu floats down the river or short trips to a local stream. Unlike some other live baits, crawfish are very easy to keep and don’t require a large fish tank with a filtration system. If you’ve got a drill and a large rectangular plastic storage container with a lid (the kind you might store sweaters in), you can keep crawfish for weeks in the garage or basement. Here’s what you need to to:

1. Just Add Water

Fill the container with just enough water to cover the crawfish three-quarters of the way. They do not need to be completely submerged. Using a 1⁄4-inch bit, drill rows of holes in the container lid.

2. Feed Crawfish a Vegan Diet

Crawfish will eat just about anything, but lettuce is a good choice, as it’s inexpensive and doesn’t dirty the water as quickly as foods like hot dogs or raw meat trimmings. Feed the crayfish once a week, dropping in just a few big leaves, and change the water the day after feeding. I’ll slowly flip the container over and let the old water drain through the holes in the lid.

3. Do a Body Search

If any crawfish molt in the container, remove the discarded shells right away. Likewise, get out any dead crawfish as soon as possible. Shells and dead crayfish pollute the water very quickly, which can cause you to lose even more of your baits.