If fish love crayfish, so should you

June 29, 2003|by BILL ANDERSON / Staff Correspondent

One of the skills that is consistent with really good fishermen is that they understand the fish they are after and the environment of fish.

They know, for example, that river smallmouths feed heavily on aquatic insects in the summer and that spring-creek trout feed on cress bugs and shrimp throughout the year.

The most basic aspect of fishing is that big fish eat little fish. Just about all of the lures you see at the tackle shop imitate small fish, and minnows are a universal bait for taking gamefish from crappies to catfish.

There are, however, other food sources that are just as important as minnows and are often overlooked by anglers. The one that many fishermen overlook are crayfish. Crayfish are a staple in most water systems and will sometimes catch more and bigger fish than minnows or lures that imitate minnows.


Crayfish are universal bait because all of the major gamefish found in our waters feed on them throughout the season. I have also found that crayfish and crayfish lures, including flies, will often take some of the bigger fish in a given water system.

Live crayfish are a great bait for smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish and carp. Crayfish are also fairly easy to obtain and are tough on the hook. Most fishermen like to hook the bait through the end segment of the tail.

You can fish a live crayfish bait in many ways, but the most productive I've seen is to fish them under a sliding bobber and let them drift naturally with the current. This is a great presentation for river smallmouths, channel cats and walleyes.

Another interesting use of crayfish as a bait is to peel the tail like you would a steamer shrimp and fish them on the bottom. I first saw this approach on the Potomac River for smallmouth bass and catfish but later saw the same crayfish-tail bait used for rainbow trout in lakes in Montana and steelhead in Washington.

If you fish artificial lures, there are a number of lures that successfully imitate crayfish. Some look almost exactly like a crayfish and others are suggestive. I have always thought that the popular tube lures and jig-and-pig type lures are taken by fish as crayfish.

This, of course, is impossible to confirm until someone figures out how to interview a smallmouth bass.

Fly fishermen can get into the act as well. Crayfish flies are very effective when fished like a nymph with an upstream cast and natural drift through holding waters. Two of the most effective crayfish patterns are the Clouser Crayfish and Dave Whitlock's NearNuff Crayfish pattern. The crayfish flies have been used successfully on just about every freshwater species.

The importance of crayfish to nearly every species of gamefish is well documented. Factoring crayfish lures and baits into your fishing approach will make you a more successful angler - no matter the species you are after, or your favorite method of fishing.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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