In our most recent Women in the Woods blog series Emma Dunfee gives us a step by step guide to crawfishing. Whether you're a crawfishing pro or just getting started, this has some great info that will improve your harvest and put a delicious and memorable meal on the table for you, your family, and friends. The Women in the Woods Blog Series is a Colorado BHA effort to highlight the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the sportswomen in our ranks and is led by Kassi Smith.
Crawfishing: Start to finish
When you spend time next to a slow river or shallow reservoir, you get to know its inhabitants. One of these water-dwelling critters is the crayfish (or crawfish, crawdad, mudbug, or sometimes ditch lobster). Crayfish are one of Colorado’s many delicious and accessible wildlife species and are easily caught with a little bit of work.
As a new resident of Colorado’s front range, I wanted to take advantage of the fishing opportunities in the area. Since I have a Colorado fishing license, I thought learning how to catch crawfish would be a useful endeavor. I reached out to my young friend Emma Dunfee who educated me in all things crawfish. Read on to follow her lesson of how to build a high-quality crawfish trap, catch a mess of crawfish, and to boil them up for a Louisiana-style dinner!
How to Build a Crawfish Trap
- Work gloves
- Tape measure
- Hardware cloth (24 inches wide, 10 foot roll, galvanized. This roll can make 2 traps.)
- 4 inch zip ties
- Wire cutters
- Needle nose pliers
- Small springs, string, or wire to hold the bait in the center of the trap
- A large binder clip
- A rubber band
- A length of rope or p-cord
- Half-circle template (trace two circles, one with a 8.25 inch radius, and another with a 2.5 inch radius. This will be easiest if you have a compass instrument)
- Measure out 27 inches of hardware cloth with the tape measure. Find the lateral piece of wire that runs closest to 27 inches and cut out that section of cloth. You’ll want to cut it so the edge of the cut out section is smooth (see image below). This section will be 24x27 inches. You may want a rock or heavy object to weigh down the side of the cloth you’re not cutting.
- Zip tie the two ends of the trap together to form a cylinder. Overlap two wire rows. Be sure to zip it so the tops of the ties come off the top, as pictured, otherwise the next steps won’t work as well. We recommend zipped the two ends together first so the cylinder stays together as you zip. Zip every 6 rows.
- Snip off the ends of the zip ties as close as you can to the nub.
- Roll out a bit more hardware cloth. Take your half-moon template, align it with the bottom of the cloth, and with a sharpie, trace along the outside edges. Don’t forget to put something underneath, otherwise your floor might get marked up a bit! Do this on the top and the bottom to make two tracings. Be sure to save the chunk that’s left in the middle; we’ll save that for later.
- Cut out both tracings on the outside of the sharpie line so you get two half-circles that look like this:
- Zip the straight edges of the half-moon to fold it into a cone. Then zip shut, starting on the two outside edges first. This may be easier if someone helps you hold it. Zip every 5 rows without overlapping the cloth. Make sure the ends of the zip ties end up on the outside edge. Snip off the ends of the ties when done.
- Place your new cone inside one end of the cylinder, lining up the edges. This is going to be the permanent end of the trap. Zip the cone in the four cardinal directions first, then continue zipping every 6 rows. Snip off the edges of the ties when done.
- Measure out another 27 inch section of hardware cloth in between your two half moons. Cut out a long rectangle, using the two tallest points of your tracings as outer boundaries. It will be about 6x27 inches. Make sure you have the smooth ends of the wire on the side you’re making the trap with; you don’t want any wires to poke you while you’re building or handling the trap. This is going to be the collar for the removable end of the trap.
- Now we’re going to test the size of the collar to be sure it’s easy to insert and remove in the open side of the cylinder. This will form the removable end of the trap. Tack it on both ends first so you can test the size; remove these ties and add new ones as needed until it’s easy to slip the collar in and out of the trap. This will help if the collar is tapered; tack it with a 3 square overlap on one end and a 5 square overlap on the other. Put the 5-square end inside the cylinder to test the size. Once you feel like you have a snug fit, move on to the next step.
- Zip the collar closed. Put the ends of the zip ties on the inside so when you’re taking this piece in and out, they don’t catch on the rest of the trap. Zip every 4 squares. Cut off the ends of the zip ties when done.
- Make the second cone using the same directions from the first one. Instead of attaching this cone to the trap, we’re going to attach it to the circular collar we just made. Insert the cone into the collar, connecting it first in the four cardinal directions, then continuing to attach it the same way you attached the other one. When you’re done, you’ll have a cone inside of the collar. You should be able to slip the cone and collar into the other end of the trap relatively easily, as pictured below:
- Next we’re going to make the zip tie fingers that keep the crawfish in the trap after they’ve been caught. Without the fingers, the crawfish will be able to easily escape when they sense nothing from keeping them inside the trap. Use three zip ties and attach them to the inside of the cone, pointing them in the direction of the inside of the trap. Do not remove the ends this time; instead, thread them through a square so they slightly cover up the entrance.
- Congratulations, the main part of your trap is now complete! Now we’re going to build the bait holder. Please note that if you don’t want to build the bait box, your trap is now complete. You can use other things to hold baid; an old sock, some thin netting, a different box, etc. Just note that the crawfish will be able to grab food through the bottom of the trap if it’s not in a bait holder, and they won’t actually enter the trap. Don’t forget to attach a length of rope and use the binder clip to keep it shut. If you need a bait box, keep reading! They’re very easy to make.
- Cut out the box lid from your wire scraps. It should be 8x10 wire cells.
- Cut out the box body. It should be 32x16x8 cells (see the math we did there?). It’ll be an L-shape; check out the box and lid guideline below.
- Fold your box every 8 squares, as pictured. You’ll want a straight edge of some sort to fold on, it just makes it easier. Note it’ll only be 5 sides since the lid is a separate piece. Zip the sides together where needed and clip off the ends of the ties.
- Fold over one row on the short side of the lid. It should have sides that are one square wide and be 8x8 in the middle.
- Attach the lid to the box with the rubber band. It should be on there pretty tight.
- Bend the end of the springs to form hooks with the needle nose pliers.
- Hook the springs to the center of the trap. Hook the other end through the bait box, including the lid. It should be held in the center of the crawfish trap like this:
- Tie on your rope or p-cord to the center of the trap.
- Use the binder clip to keep the trap shut on the removable end. And you’re done! Don’t forget to attach a tag that states your name and CID number (if you’re in Colorado). Check your state’s requirements to see how you need to label your new trap. We named this one the Mardi Craw!
You’ve made your trap, you’re ready for a crawfish boil, or maybe you’re hoping to catch some fish bait. Perfect! Catching crawfish is easier than you would think. Here’s some general tactics:
- Bait your bait box. I used dog food and frozen lake trout chunks. The oilier the fish, the better; its smell will spread throughout the water, calling in the hungry crawfish.
- Set your trap. Hopefully, you’ve already found a spot where crawfish like to hang out before this point. If you’re in a river, you’ll want the cylinder to run lengthwise in the river, the same way the water’s flowing. Check out the image below; the creek was running from left to right, so I placed my trap in the same direction. Once placed, tie off the rope so it doesn’t drift away. I set mine in the evening and checked it around 8 the next morning. Check your state’s laws; usually, you’re required to check your traplines once in the morning and once at night.
- Check your trap in the morning (and bring a bucket). I had 25 crawfish in there 12 hours after setting my trap and all my bait was gone! This is why you need to check your traps often; if you don’t, the crawfish may die. Out of respect for the resource (and by law), it’s your duty to ethically maintain your traplines, no matter what you’re catching.
- If you’re ready to pull in your trap at this point, reel it in via the rope you tied off nearby. Grab the bucket and put some water in there. Place your trap on the ground, closed side down, removable side up. Unclip the binder clip, pull out the collar and cylinder, and dump the crawfish into the bucket. You’ll have to shake the trap quite a bit to get them to come out; watch out for the claws!
- Here’s where you get to be selective; unlike hunting, you can pick and choose which crawfish you want to take home. If you want to grow the population, you can put back all the females. If you want to shrink it, select for only females. Both males and females taste great. In the image below, the crawfish on the left is a female; notice the opening near her abdomen, above the last pair of legs? That’s what you’re looking for. The male on the right doesn’t have it, just legs.
- Pull your trap, put that and the bucket of crawdads in the truck, make sure you didn’t leave any waste behind, and you’re all set! You officially have a mess of crawfish. Plan to use them as fish bait? Great! You’re good to go. Want to cook them up? Keep reading to learn how to do a basic crawfish boil.
Cook Those Crawfish
Now you’ve retrieved your traps, and you have 100 crawfish in a bucket on your porch. What now? If you have a giant pot and a stovetop or outdoor range, you’re ready for a crawfish boil. This recipe is quite basic; there are many others out there on Google, but this will at least get you some simple and delicious boiled crawfish. Here’s what we did:
- Assemble the supplies. Here’s our setup:
- Boil water. A lot of water. We filled up this nearly 2 foot tall pot halfway full with water. By doing this, you help the water retain its high temperature when you dump in the cool crawfish.
- Dump about a half a cup of salt and half a cup of sugar into the water. This’ll make a brine that will add to the flavor of the crawfish. Don’t put spices in at this point; they won’t stick to the crawfish or permeate through the shell.
- Once your water’s boiling, dump in the crawfish. They’ll die instantly. Put the lid on and wait for the water to begin a rolling boil again (it won’t take long).
- Boil the crawfish for 4 minutes.
- Strain out the crawfish. We did this in the grass in the backyard with a large strainer. You could use the lid to strain this as well, but it might be more difficult.
- Put the crawfish on a cookie sheet. Season heavily with seasonings of your choice (I like Old Bay). Cover with a lid or foil and let them steam for 10 minutes.
- Put the crawfish on a platter and they’re ready to enjoy! Serve with any sides you like; we had garden veggies, watermelon, and homemade slaw. We recommend keeping the dirty cookie sheet around so you can toss all of the crawfish shells onto it, making it easy to dump them in the trash or compost.