Catching Crawfish for Catfish Bait

Although crawfish or crawdads are not a go-to for many catfishermen, they can be very effective for catching blues, flathead and channel catfish.  They are easily gathered by several different means and are available almost anywhere.  Some bait shops even carry them but, catching them can save you some bucks in the long run and, it can be alot of fun.

Crayfish are a relatively small freshwater crustacean, and a cousin to saltwater’s lobster.  They breath through feather like gills and are carnivorous.  They feed on underwater plants as well as just about any animal, live or dead, that may fall into their waters.  Crawdads between 5-8 inches in length are commonly found across the country and are a great bait for many species including catfish.  For many years, lure manufacturers have been making lures to mimic their appearance and movements, and crawfish scented fish attractants for a good reason: they catch fish.

Before catching crawfish, be sure to check your state’s department of wildlife to check the regulations on catching and using crawdads for bait.

Where to find crawdads

Crawfish can be caught in nearly any body of water in the US (and abroad). Just about every lake, river, and pond has some species of crayfish inhabiting its waters.  Don’t over look very small streams, creeks, and even drainage ditches in the city.  One of my best crawfishing spots is a tiny overflow from a pond right behind a McDonalds!    Crawfish are usually found in shallow water with a rocky or muddy bottom.  Rocks about fist size make perfect homes for crawfish and offer a refuge from predators.  Mud bottoms are easy for them to dig a den and offer a large amount of plant matter for food.  Look for shallow, relatively clean water to start your search.  Often times you will see them scurry when you walk up to the bank.  They are not commonly found out in open water so, try to focus on areas close to the bank.  Nearly anything can be used for bait: dog food, bacon, cut fish, liver, and just about any leftovers in the fridge are great for catching crawdads.

Methods for catching crawdads

Hand method – This is the good old fashioned, fun option that is great for shallow, clear water.  Simply put on some old shoes and jump in the water!  All you need is some sort of container or small dip net.  Walk upstream, so the mud trail in the water does not cloud the water, and begin turning rocks.  The crawfish can be guided into your container with your hands and/or feet.  Although it is not great for catching large numbers with little effort, it is an absolute blast.  Great way to entertain the kids for an afternoon!

Rod and reel – I remember stopping at the BBQ joint for some fries on my bike, pole in hand, headed to the creek.  My buddy and I would take all the bacon out of the fridge and sit on the bridge yanking em outta the water all afternoon.   A light-weight rod with 10lb line and a #4 treble hook, is perfect for catching crawdads.   Bacon makes a great bait for rod and reel fishing.    Its fat areas break down in warm water and the crawdads’ pincers get stuck in it, making them easy to pull in without dropping the hook.  Another great idea is to wrap your baits in cheese cloth.  Like the bacon fat, cheese cloth will tangle in their claws so, they cant let go.
Bass Pro Shops® Bait Cast Net - 3.5' Radius - Nylon - 3/8
Netting crawdads – Netting crawdads with a cast net or seine is a very efficient way to catch good numbers.  Cast nets can be a little troublesome for crawdads since they primarily reside on the bottom.  Letting a castnet sink to the bottom is a sure way to loose it or damage it.  If you are going to use a cast net, be sure that there are no objects on the bottom that may snag your net.

Frabill Minnow Seine - 4x8

Seine netting, if you have a partner, can yield great numbers of crawdads in a very short period of time.  Seines are very inexpensive and using one is alot of fun.  Seine nets are a rectangular shaped net with floats on one long side and weights on the other.  On the short sides there are poles, usually made of wood, where each person will hold the net.  Each person takes a pole, stretches out the net, and begins walking pushing the net through the water.  When you are ready, just flip the bottom of the net out of the water and see what you caught.
Frabill® Crawfish Trap
Trapping crawdads – Trapping crawdads is definitely my favorite method.  This is a great option for the time-constrained fisherman since a trap can be set for a few hours and checked at a convenient time.  There are many different options for crawfish traps.  They can be round or square, metal or cloth, with one or more openings, and even collapsible.  Crawfish traps are also easy and fun to build yourself.  Keep in mind when baiting a trap, the bait must be in a bait holder of some sort.  If  the bait is loose in the trap, they will just pick at it from the outside.  Many traps have a built-in bait box but, if the one you are using does not, you can easily make one or use a mesh bag to put your bait in.  Bait your traps up with fish parts, dog food, or some sort of meat from the fridge.  Find a spot in 12-24″ of water and drop your trap in.  Try not to leave them out more than a few hours at a time because, if they get their fill, they will start to look for a way out of your trap!

Catching crawdads is a great way to have fresh bait for your next trip and a great way to just pass the time with family and friends.  If you dont use them all for bait, you can eat the rest!  In an upcoming article, I will show you how to build your own trap for around 10 bucks!  All you need is some tin snips, hardware cloth, and twine or zip ties.

Do you use crawdads for bait?  Do you catch them yourself?

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9 Responses to “Catching Crawfish for Catfish Bait”

  1. Stephen
    August 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    hey! do you guys think i can use the crawfish live on a hook??

    • Catfishadmin
      August 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

      Sure you can. Hook it towards the back of the tail, from the bottom up through the shell.

      • d hib
        July 2, 2012 at 3:17 am #

        do the crawdads have to be soft

        • Catfishadmin
          July 8, 2012 at 10:44 am #

          No, any type of craws should work.

          • erick
            March 25, 2013 at 11:08 am #

            what bait do you put in live traps or whats the best to draw them in

          • Catfishadmin
            March 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

            Eric, I usually use the absolute cheapest “fish” flavored canned cat food. Any cat or dog food, bacon, chicken, cut fish, just about anything with some protien or smell about it will usually produce. Cat or dog food is my favorite for craws and bait fish.

          • erick
            March 25, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

            thanks boss ill let you know how i fare florida crawdas are picky so far thanks erick

  2. Jeff Mitchell
    December 26, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    I am going to start doing a little bit of trapping next year and this is some pretty useful stuff. I caught a few back in the summer using a cup and a stick and it was NOT the funnest way. 30 minutes and about 4 dads…lol




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