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Why learn how to catch crawfish? Well, whether you call them crawdads, crayfish, or mudbugs, crawfish are one of the most lethal live bait you can put on a fishing hook. Any decent smallmouth angler already knows this, but it’s not just smallies that enjoy dining on ’dads. Channel cats are suckers for a pincerless crayfish fished under a slip bobber. Big trout will hammer them, too. Got a tiny craw, say an inch or so? There’s a bruiser bluegill in your future.

Got some big crawdads? You might want to eat those yourself, because crawfish also happen to taste great steamed with a little Cajun seasoning. All of these are good reasons to learn how to catch crawfish and how to keep them alive if you want to use them as bait. The only things you need are a set of fast hands, a piece of raw chicken, or an inexpensive trap. Here’s how to catch crawfish, using three different methods, plus how to keep them kicking for weeks.

1. How to Catch Crawfish by Hand

Photo of how to catch crawfish
Grab a crawfish by pinching it just behind the head. Adobe Stock

Though not the most efficient method for how to catch crawfish, but it 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. Be quick; they’re fast on their feet—all eight of them. And be careful; those pincers aren’t for show. If using your hands, reach from behind and above and grab them by the back, just behind the head, with your thumb and forefinger.

2. How to Catch Crawfish with a Trap

Baited with shad or chicken backs, crawfish traps funnel your quarry into a small opening to feed. Once in, the bugs have a hard time finding their way back out. Unlike the method above, this is one of the most efficient ways to catch crawfish.

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. How to Catch Crawfish with a Raw Chicken Leg

photo of how to catch crawfish with a chicken leg
Drag a chicken legs slowly along the bottom to catch crawfish.

Great for slow- or still-water cray­fishing, dipping raw chicken 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. You have to be quick here too; crawfish usually let go as soon as they break the surface.

How to Cook and Eat Crawfish

Once you caught a bunch of crawfish, you might decide that they look too tasty to share with the fish. Steam 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.

Three Steps for Keeping Crawfish Alive For Weeks

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

Crawfish are one of my favorite live baits for smallmouth bass in late spring and throughout summer. Rather than catch crawfish as needed, I like to keep a few dozen on hand for impromptu floats down the river or short trips to a local stream. An expert aquarist from Epic Aquarium says that “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. So, now that you know how to catch crawfish, here’s how to keep them.

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.