Crawfish Boil for Bass

Our largemouth prey love these little mudbugs even more than we do.

Louisiana waters are some of the most diverse in all of North America. The entire southeastern U.S. ecosystem has been heralded for its diversity of life, even to the point of being called an “evolutionary laboratory.” Thousands of fish, insects, amphibians, vegetation and mammalian species rely on it and call it home.One species in particular that makes up a significant portion of it is crawfish. In the southeastern U.S. alone are 300 species of crawfish. Louisiana itself hosts over 30 different species, and each provides a grand feast for fish, birds and humans alike.

They are an abundant, natural food source, and their arrival on restaurant tables, seasoned and boiled to perfection, signals the time anglers should start sorting through their inventory of mudbug impersonators.

Bass love crawfish, and spring marks the time when they start to hunt for crawfish specials themselves.

Crawfish are a cultural icon in the Bayou State. But their grasp on the fishing industry is also well known.

For example, Rat-L-Traps come in 14 different crawfish patterns and colors, and Rebel’s Crawfish line has five lifelike styles.

Soft-plastic designs seem to mirror the natural thing best with lines like Berkley’s Power Craw, YUM’s Wooly Hawg Craw and Mad Man’s Craw Tube and Crawfish Worm.

So what is it about crawfish that drives bass crazy?

First and foremost, they are not that fast, and they are a good source of protein. A bass would rather hunt for them than a speeding school of shad.

Secondly, they come in an assortment of colors right at the moment when water clarity in Louisiana begins to change due to the increased spring melt and silt coming into this area.

Third, they have hard exoskeletons that make sounds when they move against each other and objects found in swamps.

And finally, they move and feed in highly vegetated areas and structure that, of course, hold fish as well.

Easy to catch, visible and audible — a perfect recipe for anglers wanting to dish something up for springtime bass.

“Bass go through three stages of feeding,” said YUM’s Cliff Soward. “There’s the pre-spawn pattern, spawn and post-spawn. Crawfish are the filet mignon for fish.

“During the pre-spawn, fish start to feed heavily because they’ll need a lot of energy. During the spawning time, the male and female slow down but will protect the nest from robbers like crawfish. Finally there’s the post-spawn where they try to bulk back up.”

A bass that is in need of feeding in the pre-spawn or protecting the nest and eggs during the spawn phase will be hard pressed to pass a slow-moving crawfish. Carolina-, Texas- and Florida-rigged soft plastics seem to work well in the spring because they are fished slower and look like crawfish.

“Imagine the weight in the silt and the soft plastic on a leader a couple of feet behind the weight,” said Soward speaking of his preferred Carolina rigs. “When you drag the rig — and I mean drag not bump — the weight stirs up the bottom.

“Now, when the weight stirs up the silt and moves forward, the soft plastic will drop close to the bottom and enter the cloud of silt. When the weight stops moving, the soft plastic is then in the cloud and two important things happen: The silt starts to settle, which has already gotten the attention of any fish in the area, and the lure pops out of the settling cloud and presents itself like a crawfish emerging from the silt it has stirred up.”

Carolina rigs are also great for the sound they produce.

“I get rid of the lead and use the new tungsten weights,” Soward said. “They are harder, so they will give a louder noise when tapped. Use glass beads and not plastic beads too. Glass is harder, and the sound is louder. I also like to add brass collar rings, which are not easy to find anymore but are still out there. I put all these above a ball-bearing swivel. The lesson is the harder the material, the louder the sound.”

Tungsten is the new weight of choice for many professional anglers. Excalibur’s TG Tungsten Barrel Weights make a load of sound, and they are 29 percent smaller than a lead sinker of the same weight.

Brass weights also work well for making sound. Some lure companies like Top Brass (www.topbrasstackle.com) make brass weights, collars called the Carolina Ticker and glass beads in numerous colors. They also make a Carolina Ready Rig, which is already fixed on a stout wire and ready to fish.

When sound is not as critical as getting the bait into the deepest, nastiest trash, crimp a grip sinker above a hook and plastic craw. The grip sinker works like a split shot, but its sleek shape gets it through water and cover with ease without the swivels, slipping weights, beads and collars hanging up in the branches.

Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, knows a thing or two about Louisiana water and crawfish-imitating soft plastics. Jones finished seventh in the 2003 CITGO Bassmasters Classic on the Louisiana Delta. The eight-time Classic contender loves crawfish baits for their realism.

“I like the most-natural looking baits I can find,” he said coming off another successful finish at the CITGO BASS tournament at Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes.

“When there is some water clarity, I go with a YUM Craw Bug, and when it’s dingy or when I’m penetrating cover, I like the YUM Big Claw. In dirty water, I go to a black bait with neon-chartreuse pinchers. The fish can really see those pinchers, and they look natural.

“Another bait I like to throw is the new Booyah jig with a YUM Craw Bug as a trailer. Not many people use that technique. I like the green pumpkin with green pumpkin jig trailer and a weight of ¾ or 1 ounce. I want it to bust through the cover. When a jig falls fast, it looks like a crawfish and triggers a strike.”

Conversely, a late winter blast might call for a slower fall, and that is when a Booyah Baby Boo Jig with a YUM Craw Bug would also work. The slower, smaller presentation resembles the real cold-weather action of a live crawfish.

“Another thing I like to use,” added Jones, “is a real light weight like a TG Tungsten on a Texas rig so that it falls slow and stays in the strike zone longer. I throw it right at the water line by weeds or stumps, and hold it for about three or four seconds and let the crawfish bait flutter. I use the Texas rig most of the time with a 4/0 hook because I like the way it holds.

“One last thing I like to do in the spring is hook a Craw Bug but with no weight. Then I throw it over some matted grass, a real slop. I’ve followed guys who were throwing rats and grass frogs over the stuff and didn’t catch anything. I came through and landed some nice fish. The reason is because that’s where crawfish are, up in the weeds, and that bait skitters like the real thing. It has a natural look. But that’s a big-fish bait, and you need heavy line. Fish don’t just slap at that, they annihilate it.”

Pre-spawn and post-spawn periods are purely about feeding. Bass will go on the hunt for something that will beef them back up. Crankbaits are great coverage baits that trigger a bass’s hunting instincts.

“Crankbaits are good, but they’re for feeding fish on the hunt,” Soward said.

Spring is also when the colors of crawfish and the colors that lure manufacturers can create become really important.

“Crawfish colors vary so much,” Soward said. “The best way is not to worry about the crawfish color stages, but to consider the water’s color. Water color, I feel, is 95 percent of it. Crawfish are red, but remember that red is high on the spectrum of good colors. I have seen blue, purplish, greenish and orange crawfish in nature. I saw one species in Oregon fishing the Columbia River that actually looked like it had an orange and blue racing stripe down its side. Red and orange are always good colors but think about the water.”

In places like the Atchafalaya Basin or Toledo Bend, water clarity in the spring is something of a misnomer. High-visibility colors like the oranges, reds and chartreuses will be seen better by hunting bass.

Later, when water clarity does improve, detailed crawfish designs might add realism to an already proven lure color. Still, style matters most when cranking.

“The spring is usually wet, and the rain run-off makes the water dingy and stained,” said Soward. “This is a red-orange condition with any lure. Stay with water clarity rules, and it will usually be more productive than trying to match-the-hatch.”

Soward will “throw a crankbait into the thickest things I can other than grass. Stumps, laydowns, brush, tree tops, anything that will allow the lure to work while bouncing off structure. Grass will grab, but limbs, stumps and rocks will allow the lure to bounce and roll.

“Crankbaits are not as real as you might think, but remember the fish you are usually catching (with crankbaits) are on the hunt anyway.

I always do better using the bump-and-run. When you hit something with your crankbait, it gets their attention. Again too, technique — stop-and-go. Varying the retrieve plays a big part in catching fish on a crankbait. I have caught a lot of fish that I know ran into the lure when I stopped it. I don’t think I have ever seen a crawfish swim 30 feet or more in one movement, non-stop.”

So while a Louisiana Saturday night crawfish boil reigns supreme through the spring, take advantage of pitching their plastic cousins anywhere in bass waters. While they are served up to hungry humans at tables across the state, hungry bass crave them too, making them king in this year’s warming spring season.

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About Marty Cannon 21 Articles
Marty Cannon is a teacher and varsity football coach in Iberia Parish. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family and friends.

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