Crawfish Class

Go back to school for mudbug lessons that will help you catch more bass.

Chris Ginn

March 24, 2005 at 12:02 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Some of the soft plastic crawfish lures sold today are so realistic they could fool a Cajun just as easily as they fool a bass.
Some of the soft plastic crawfish lures sold today are so realistic they could fool a Cajun just as easily as they fool a bass.
Photo by CHRIS GINN
Did you spend more time running your hand through the Bunsen burner flame in high school science than listening to your teacher? If you did, you probably missed lots of important stuff. I was playing too, so I don’t really know.

However, if you did spend your time listening rather than playing, you probably don’t remember too many lessons covering crawfish outside the token section about crustaceans. That’s a shame, really, because if crawfish biology were covered in-depth, and assuming you were paying attention, you could have learned lots of things that could help you with what’s really important in life — catching bass.

Crawfish are probably the least studied of the crustaceans. Their life cycle, mating habits and behavior are intently studied by crawfish farmers, but outside this circle people don’t want to learn about them. They just want to eat them.

Our primary instructor for this class is a Louisiana crawfish farmer, who also happens to be a national Nitro Boats team member. Dennis Tietje of Roanoke owns and operates Dennis Tietje Farms. When he isn’t busy hauling in over 200,000 pounds of crawfish, he’s out on the lake trying to turn his crawfish knowledge into heavy sacks of bass.

Our other instructor is Sid Havard of Simsboro. While Havard isn’t a crawfish farmer, he has spent enough time on the water learning crawfish behavior and how it translates to bass-fishing success. Havard proved his words bear weight by finishing in the top 20 of all the Wal-Mart BFL tournaments in the Cowboy division last season.

While learning the biology of crawfish might turn off those of us who enjoy them surrounded by potatoes, corn and garlic, the opposite is true for those who want to catch more bass with them.

Learning crawfish culture and how it relates to bass fishing will help you catch more fish. So, turn off those Bunsen burners, sit up straight and pay attention — crawfish class is about to begin.

Tietje’s Take No. 1: Crawfish Need High-Quality H20

Tietje says he’s seen a remarkable sight at his farm enough times for him to pay attention to water quality when on the lake.

“If the water quality in one pond is better than the others, the crawfish will actually cross the road to get to the better pond,” he said. “It’s pretty simple: They either move or die.”

A river with several oxbow lakes is a great place to examine the effects of oxygen levels on bass. Oxbow lakes tend to offer better fishing when there is lots or rain, high water and current moving through. Yet, when the water falls out and the backwaters get stagnant, the best fishing is found on the main river, where current and oxygen are present.

Havard understands that crawfish need good water to survive, but he believes that crawfish are a lot tougher than most people realize.

“They’re going to move from that stagnant water,” he said, “but I think the reason they move from bad water is that there isn’t anything left there for them to eat. Their food sources are gone, so they’re either going to leave or burrow up.”

Whether they leave from lack of oxygen or lack of food, Tietje says that if you’re fishing crawfish baits in stagnant water you’re basically wasting your time.

“As a crawfish farmer,” he said “I have to continually move water through a staggered levee system to keep my crawfish alive. They’ve got to have good levels of oxygen to live.”

The lesson here for bass anglers is to move as soon as you realize the oxygen levels are down in your previously productive hole. Signs to look far are a film on the surface of the water and crawfish mounds on the bank.

“Crawfish can do several things when the oxygen drops,” said Tietje, “but I think the main movement is to the bank where they will burrow.”

Tietje’s Take No. 2: Mud and Night Spur Crawfish Activity

Crawfish have to feel safe before they venture out into the open. Two factors that provide them a security blanket are muddy water and darkness. The clearer the water, the more active the crawfish are at night. Muddy water provides enough security for crawfish to remain active during the day.

“I’ve seen it time and time again when running traps,” said Tietje. “If you put a trap out in clear water and come back an hour later, you won’t have any crawfish. Come back in five hours and you may have a couple. Yet, you come back the next morning, and you’ll have a pound or so.

“But when you set that trap in muddy water, you can come back in an hour and have 1 or 2 pounds.”

Havard agrees that muddy water makes crawfish feel more secure.

“It’s been my experience that crawfish do venture out more in muddy water,” he said. “And, to me, that means lures that kick up a little commotion on the bottom are just right for muddy water.

“One thing that really works in here is to overpower a crankbait. For example, try fishing a Mud Bug or a DD14 in 3 feet of water. The resulting commotion on the bottom can often trigger fish that are feeding on crawfish in muddy water.”

This concept is also the reason that clear-water lakes are the best night fishing lakes. Tietje says the clearer the water is the better the night fishing is.

“That’s why people do so well at night at clear lakes,” he said. “The crawfish are on the move, and the bass are on the move with them.”

The lesson here is that when fishing clear-water lakes during the day, stick primarily with baits that mimic something other than crawfish, or fish at night. If you’re fishing muddy lakes during the day, make sure to try locations where crawfish can be found — like rocks and grass — using crawfish-imitating baits.

Tietje’s Take No. 3: Crawfish Color Changes with Maturity and Background

The debate over whether crawfish change colors with the moon, temperature and season is widely debated. Scientists generally conclude that crawfish color doesn’t vary much and that base colors are genetically predetermined. However, crawfish can change color as they progress through their life cycle, and the chromatophores in their shell do expand and contract, allowing for some color variation based on their surroundings.

“Young crawfish that are growing are typically a green pumpkin color,” said Tietje. “As they grow, they’ll take on a watermelon seed look and eventually take on some orange tint from about February through April. I’ve also noticed that crawfish tend to have gold-colored gill plates during March and April. That’s probably why that spring craw Trap is so good during those months.”

The rate at which a crawfish grows can also influence its color. Tietje believes the faster a crawfish grows the lighter its color stays. “That’s because it’s shedding its shell so much,” he said. “When that crawfish stops growing, the shell gets dark real fast. This usually happens from May to July.”

Tietje has also noticed lakes that have different types of vegetation can have different-colored crawfish.

“Crawfish growing in a rice field take on the light pumpkin color of the rice straw,” he said, “whereas crawfish around native grass are more of a dark green color.”

Havard believes that while the base color of the crawfish in a particular lake tends to remain the same, it is the pinchers that vary enough to make a difference. And, he believes that pincher color can change throughout a lake.

“You can catch a crawfish in the rocks by the D’Arbonne dam, and it might be green with blue pinchers,” he said. “But move to the Highway 33 bridge, and the crawfish might be green with orange pinchers. That’s why I always try a different-colored jig trailer if I move to a new area and stop getting bit after stroking them somewhere else.”

The lesson on color is clear. Turn over rocks or try to catch crawfish in your home lake to determine the predominant size and color. Use baits that match what you find, and you’ll be more successful.

“Off the wall colors can work,” said Tietje, “but when it comes down to it, you’ll be more consistent if you match the hatch.”

Tietje’s Take No. 4: Crawfish are on the Move after a Storm

Many old-timers believe poor crawfish seasons are due to a lack of storms with lots of thunder. They think the crawfish don’t even come out of the ground if there isn’t any thunder.

“I don’t know what to believe about that,” said Tietje. “But I have noticed that the days after a good storm often see some of the highest levels of crawfish activity. So I guess there may be some truth to what the old guys say. I don’t know if it scares them, or it vibrates the ground and kind of triggers them to move out, or it’s the heavy rain filling up their holes. Whatever it is, crawfish are more active after a storm, and the most immediate impact is in shallow water.”

“I’ve seen it a hundred times or more,” said Havard. “They do move after a storm, but I believe it’s because of the rising water that comes after the storm. If you set a trap in a stable creek you’ll catch a few, but let it rain hard for three or four hours, and you can set that trap and fill it within an hour or two.”

Havard has seen crawfish flowing out of a ditch or culvert get hammered by waiting bass.

“That happened to me on the BFL Regional tournament on the Tombigbee just last year,” he said. “I heard water flowing, and looked behind the bush line I was fishing, and found a little culvert. I nosed in there and pitched into the culvert, and let it wash back to the lake. I caught two 3-pound fish in two casts. Those fish will set up right where the water is entering the lake. You’ve got to get right on it because the bass try to eat them before they have time to disperse in the lake.”

The lesson for anglers is to fish shallow water and drains — areas most impacted by the storm — immediately after the storm passes. Nose right up to the drain, as bass will try to eat crawfish as soon as they wash through.

Tietje’s Take #5: Crawfish are Slow Movers, Especially in Winter

Crawfish like to get around heavy cover when it’s cold because it’s their only insulation. According to Tietje, they’ll be found more around heavy vegetation, rocks and cypress trees when it’s cold.

“And they don’t move much either,” he added. “When they do move, though, they move very slowly.”

Havard’s No. 1 bait is a jig, and he says you can’t work a jig with violent hops in cold water.

“I tell people they have to just crawl it over the bottom much like you would a Carolina rig,” he said. “I remember one day fishing a winter tournament at Lake Bruin. I made a cast out to deep water and got a backlash. By the time I picked it out, a fish had picked up my bait. I started fishing deeper, and just barely moved the jig, and wound up catching 18 pounds with the jig hardly moving at all.”

In fact, Tietje says anglers trying to mimic a crawfish would be better served if they fished slowly all the time.

“If you want to catch more fish on crawfish baits, you’ve got to make it look more like one,” he said. “Don’t swim it very far at one time. If crawfish aren’t threatened, they just crawl across the bottom. I’ve also noticed by observing fish in aquariums that lots of times a bass won’t mess with a crawfish that’s moving. They tend to single out those that are just sitting still.”

Tietje added that crawfish that are moving fast but wind up bumping into something, don’t continue to swim away. When they hit something, they will just stop and fall to the bottom.

“They don’t keep swimming around the cover,” he said.

The lesson here is obvious. When fishing crawfish imitating baits, fish slow — no matter the time of year. And if your lure hits something underwater, don’t pop it over and pull it away. Let it fall down into the cover, and into the waiting mouths of bass below.

Class dismissed.






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