Water temperatures (at last!) above 65 degrees mean that wild, swamp crawfish are finally hungry again. With a few folding nets and a few pounds of “crawfish melt” (beef spleen, sold frozen as crawfish bait in butcher shops, bait shops, and some grocery stores), all you need is a patch of shallow, muddy fresh water. Crawfish avoid clear water, probably to avoid being seen & eaten by wading birds and other predators. Drainage ditches adjoining swamps, roadside canals, flooded woodlots, or the shallow, muddy edges of the swamp are ideal crawfish habitat. I’ve been watching recreational crawfishers for weeks now along US 90, the edges of I-310, Airline Highway between New Orleans & Baton Rouge, and other wet-around-the-edges rural roads.
We found a honey hole overflowing with crawfish this weekend, at the edge of the Atchafalaya basin near Bayou Sorrell, adjacent to a flooded borrow pit used for the Atchafalaya spillway’s levee construction. After just a few minutes in the water, the set nets overflowed with fat, red crawfish. Red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkii) tend to be larger, thicker-shelled, darker in color, and “swampier” tasting than pond-raised crawfish, though the two are the same species. Slightly different is the so-called Belle River crawfish (more a marketing term than a description of geographic origin), which lives in deeper, faster-moving water and belongs to the species Procambarus actus actus. While these two species are important as food sources, several hundred species live in the southeastern U.S., and crawfish occupy an incredibly diverse set of freshwater habitats. Some, like the red swamp crawfish, can survive droughts as long as 4 months!