Let me begin by saying I love me some crawfish. I once stayed with a family in Louisiana while practicing for the Bassmaster Classic. While I was there, I was treated to some of the best homemade crawfish etouffee ever. Ever since, I look for it on the menus at certain restaurants. On other occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of attending some massive crawfish boils hosted by the owners of Tony Chachere’s. They literally filled up a small wooden canoe (called a pirogue) with the finest boiled crawfish. One of my former baseball teammates and his family joined me since Steph and Gaige couldn’t make the trip. His wife is a Cajun girl who must have felt sorry for me, watching me struggle to peel them, and offered to help. I reluctantly agreed, and in what seemed like less than a minute, I had a pile of freshly peeled crawfish tails on my plate ready to eat. She was like a magician.
Since my first taste of crawfish, I understood the affinity bass have for them. Many anglers, in their quest to target bass, realize the importance crawfish play in the diets of nearly all species of black bass. Even stripers will feed on them from time to time. I imagine catfish and panfish enjoy them as well, when the opportunity presents itself.
I can’t pretend to know everything about the different species of craws and their habits. There are 97 species of crawfish documented in Alabama alone – more than any other state. I have researched them from time to time over the years, but good old time on the water has been the best reference so far when applied to angling. On Lake Martin, I start catching fish that have been feeding on craws in October, and the bite picks up as the water continues to cool into fall and winter. It’s hard to deny when you catch a fish, and as you remove the hook, there are two pinchers sticking up from the most recent meal. Often, I have caught fish on shad imitating baits and noticed the bass is spitting up pieces of crawfish. A quick adjustment in color or bait altogether put me on a much stronger bite and bigger fish.
So over time, I’ve noticed a few things that seem to accelerate the crawfish bite. I assume they become more active, feeding along the bottom or whatever crawfish do in their spare time. Here’s a list of some conditions that might help to predict when the bass could be looking harder for crawfish than other forage:
• Low Light – I think the crawfish are more active early in the morning, late in the evening and under cloudy skies. Perhaps they are sneaky, for lack of a better term, as they move around and feed while concealed by darkness. That doesn’t mean a crawfish bait isn’t productive at other times, even on bright bluebird days, but it does seem to be a time when the fish are more dialed in on the craws.
• Post Rain – I know from experience with my previous occupation that any small creek in Alabama is full of crawfish. A good rain can create some heavy runoff and must wash some craws into the lake. More importantly, crawfish are scavengers, and the rain probably washes into the lake all kinds of goodies on which the resident lake crawfish like to feed.
• Mild Water Temps – I assume that since many crawfish burrow or hide under rocks, they use these places for refuge when the water is very cold or very hot. It seems that some crawfish live in very deep water during the summer as well. In the winter, they are likely to be shallow but underneath rocks that have absorbed heat from the sun during the day. When the water temperatures range from 75 degrees to 55 degrees, the craws seem more active in the shallows and mid-depths because that’s the range where I realized the bass were feeding on them more.
• Dirty Water – The anglers’ term, ‘dirty water,’ means water that is heavily stained from runoff. This is more common in late fall to early spring. Lake drawdown allows falling rain to land directly on the exposed lake bottom and wash sediment into the shallows. Also, there is less greenery on the surrounding terrain to prevent sediment from washing into the lake. The result is a staining of the water in areas of heaviest flow, like the backs of larger creek arms and, especially, the upper portions of reservoirs. Visibility is low in these areas that get heavy stains, which could actually lead to good fishing. Crawfish seem to like the low-vis situation, and the bass also see it as an opportunity to conceal their presence.
• Full Moon – This is a tricky one. Many species of fish are known by anglers to be more active at full moons. It definitely has something to do with their spawning process. It seems that the crawfish bite picks up on full moons in the fall and winter, as does the bream bite in summer months. This may be related to reproduction or feeding, but whatever the case, watch the moon phase and know that the craw bite could pick up in the days surrounding the full moon.
Next, consider the best baits and presentations to catch the crawfish. The first choice would be a crankbait. In the fall and winter, the best crawfish crankbaits run anywhere from 2 feet to 10 feet deep. The idea is to bump the bait into any kind of hard cover. Rocks are the most obvious choice, as many of the lake’s resident craws hide underneath them. As the bait deflects through and off of these rocks, it mimics a crawfish making an escape effort and could trigger a bite. The best colors have combinations of green, brown, orange, black, red, gold and even blue. Since Alabama has so many species of craws, it’s hard to mimic just one, but most all of them have some combination of these colors.
The second choice would be jigs and trailers. Jigs are great at mimicking all sorts of forage, but they best resemble crawfish. Picture the skirt of the jig looking like the tucked tail and legs of a fleeing crawfish. The soft plastic trailer looks like claws waving as a craw glides through the water and then sticking up in an upright defense posture. The bass know this game well, and that’s why the bite often occurs as the jig lands. The bass pins the bait to the bottom as if it were an unlucky craw.
Two finesse options that work are either a shaky head worm or a Ned rig. Although both are essentially worm rigs, the action of the baits must say ‘craw!’ to the bass. With each rig, the small straight worm stands up as the jig head lands on the bottom. That action triggers a lot of bites with a shaky head, and it’s even more pronounced with the newer Ned rig.
This fall and winter, know that crawfish season is on under the water, and you’re likely to catch a big one.
Some information for this article came from OutdoorAlabama.com.
Greg Vinson is a fulltime professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.