It’s summer time! Vacations are near; school’s out; and the days are pleasant and long. If you’re searching for a fun and unique activity to do close to home and after work — try fishing for crawfish at our very own Strawberry Reservoir.
rCrawfish boils have long been a time-honored tradition throughout the South but over the years they have become quite popular here in land-locked Utah. Some people would say that these little crustaceans are just as delicious as lobster; some say they’re better. Most agree that they are definitely more fun to catch — well at least for those of us who don’t live by an ocean.
If you’ve never heard of a crawfish maybe you know them by another name; crawdad, crayfish, craydid, mud bug, a yabby, or a freshwater lobster, mountain lobster, or rock lobster. Yes, the star of the song that launched the band B-52’s career was none other than a crawfish a.k.a. Rock Lobster! While the term you use for these small critters is largely dependent upon where you live — they are all the same animal. And, although they look like the mini-me version of their larger cousins — crawfish are not lobsters (or fish). There are more than 500 species of crawfish that live in North America and these patriotic crustaceans can be found in red, white, and blue! (Red is common; blue is rare; white is more rare; and yet they all taste the same, and when cooked the blue crawfish turn a bright red.)
These modest rock lobsters feature in more than just songs; they can be found in soups, butters, pastas, salads, and Cajun cuisine — pretty much any dish that calls for shrimp, crab, or lobster, can be substituted with this miniature mud bug. Perhaps the most common, or well known, way to serve them is boiled and tossed on a table covered with newspapers, along with corn cobbettes, new potatoes, quartered onions and lemons, and garlic butter sauce. (If you want to get creative you can toss in a smoked Andouille sausage or two.)
The best part of a crawfish boil? Catching the clingy-clawed-crustaceans!
In Utah crawfish are found at elevations of 8,000 and below and like to hang out in clear, fresh water, with a rocky habitat at depths less than 20 feet. You can find crawfish in most Utah lakes; however, in recent years Strawberry Reservoir has become a favorite for many seeking to fill their buckets with some good ole mountain lobster. (Yes, I am trying to use each name. Why? Because — you have to admit — they’re just fun.) Speaking of fun…let’s get down to it — how does one go about catching a yabby.
First, you need to have a current Utah fishing license; children under age 12 do not need a license. According to The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,
“…there is no limit to the number of crayfish you can legally catch or possess.” However, “…live crayfish cannot be transported away from the water where they were caught.” Once you have a license and are aware of the rules; you’re good to go.
There are about as many ways to catch crawdads as there are creative ideas — I mean the things cling to just about anything! I spoke with a long-time crawfisher named Jay, who shared his evolution from beginner to expert in the hopes of helping save some time for newbies like me. He shared, “I started as a little kid. We’d go to all the lakes and give it a try. We did it the old way, where you put a piece of raw chicken on a string and drop it out in the lake, and then you slowly drag it in and drop the crayfish in a bucket. We’d do it from the pier or wherever we could as kids.” He continued, “We weren’t very successful and when we cooked them they weren’t very desirable. They didn’t taste good at all — we didn’t know what we were doing. We lacked the expertise.” All of that changed years later when he met his sweetheart. Jay explained, “…when Jit came into my life it turned into more of a family type situation. It turned out to be a pretty good time and pretty good eatin’ too.”
When asked what changed he shared that Jit, who is from the Philippines, knew how to clean and cook them! “When I was little they tasted like mud and I thought I’d have to tolerate that kind of taste. She taught me different,” he laughs. “At first we used the same method I did when I was young — then we saw people using dome traps. We decided to try them out and took our Kayak out about 30 feet; put a raw chicken leg in to attract them, lowered it down between the two kayaks; and fished while we waited. We’d pull the trap up after a while and they’d usually be full. Then we’d dump them in a bucket and do it again.” Jay warned not to pull the trap out sideways as it could unload the trap and “you don’t want to lose ‘em.” He also shared that the crawfish will be all over the trap both on the inside and the outside. “We used nets, and vent screens on buckets, because they really don’t swim off, you can pull up that screen and they don’t want to get out they want to head down and not up. One time we used a bicycle basket that was made out of mesh and that turned out to work very very well.”
For a while it was trial and error; figuring out which traps they liked best; what spots were their favorites, and over time family members and friends joined them, all with their own traps. Now, they have a system and know what works best for them. Jay says that like all other ‘hobbies’ or ‘sports’ some people like to share and help beginners while others are a little more territorial and keep to themselves. Jay and Jit have their secrets too but if you ask they’ll share, because for them it’s about the experience and being with friends and family.
Jay & Jit’s Tips:
- “Smells attract crawfish so we use both raw chicken legs and chicken liver.
- Keep them occupied with eating; have something they want, that’s the way you keep them in whatever you are putting them in.
- Lay your traps closer to the beach; about 15 feet out. That’s where you’ll find the big ones! If they are less than four inches the DWR wants you to throw them back in, unless you are using them for game bait.
- Remember that crawfish go in spurts — they do like a bloom — and it depends on the time of year.
- You can go crawfishing year round — day or night.
- We like to use barrel traps — they have worked the best for us but there are a lot to choose from so use what you like best.
- If you’re in a canoe or kayak — hang your traps off the sides — and have your bucket on the kayak, when it’s full, go to shore, dump them in the cooler and go back out until you have however many you want.
- Twilight is the best time!
- Our favorite way of harvesting crawfish with our kids is giving them tongs and a bucket, then letting them go explore the rocks and see how many they can find. Be aware of high and low water levels.
- A nip from these guys can be painful! They can’t reach you if you pick them up firmly between thumb and forefinger just behind the claws. You can wear gloves until you get the hang of it.
- Once we catch them we put them in coolers full of lake water to let them naturally flush themselves out as we keep changing the muddy water to clean water. Remember some are small enough to fit through larger cooler drains. We use multiple coolers to switch back and forth — it’s a little more work but it cleans them out well.
- One of our secrets is that we boil them in Sprite, garlic, and a little salt. We just cut up a couple of garlic cloves and put them in with whatever seasoning you want. We also add a little water and butter. We boil them right there on the beach on our camp stove. We use butane because it gets a little hotter than propane. After we cook them we eat them with all sorts of stuff — what we don’t eat we put in baggies and freeze as soon as we are home.
- If you have kids — get them involved — we’ve noticed that the kids love catching the crawfish even if they don’t enjoy eating them.
- Don’t get in a hurry. Enjoy it. We take plenty of shade just like you would for any other trip to the beach or outdoor sport; make sure you have the time to enjoy it.”
After sharing their fun tips, Jay stated, “The most important thing for us is that it’s a family and friends thing. Everyone can be involved and have fun. We picked Strawberry because it’s got good fishing and we’re not just there for the crawfish — there’s trout too. For me it’s to be out and away and I love it.”
Well…what are you waiting for? Get out and catch yourself some delicious crawfish!
Things to BRING
Proper clothing for weather – don’t forget your wellies! • Fishing License • Tongs • Traps • Coolers • Gloves • Raw chicken legs & liver • String & five gallon bucket • Cook stove (butane or propane) • Large pots & pans • Headlamp/Flashlight – if going out at twilight • Fresh water & Sprite • Garlic, Lemon, Cajun spices, additional food to cook if eating on the beach • Plastic table cloth • Firewood – know the rules before you go • Wipes & paper towels • Plastic baggies and ice if you plan on bringing your cooked critters home