By Bill Monroe
Some decades ago, I spent a pleasant spring morning with the late Bob Toman on the Clackamas River.
We caught a couple of fish and returned to the shoreline below his home to clean the catch, saving some leftovers for “Hank,” a blue heron smart enough to realize Bob was his meal ticket. He was even “potty trained;” while he often perched on the outboard of Bob’s vacant boat, he never pooped on it.
But as Hank warily approached for his share of the bounty, it wasn’t the heron that caught my eye.
Bob also discarded some fish parts in the shallow water next to the boat and as I watched, several brown “rocks” began to move in the slight current below the fish parts.
Slowly, as if starring a science-fiction movie, half a dozen or so crayfish made their way up-current, not in the least as hesitant as Hank to come close for their lunch.
It wasn’t quite enough for a legitimate crawdad boil, but I definitely yearned for a couple of my baited traps.
Few of Oregon’s wide variety of fish are as accommodating as signal crayfish, the state’s native species.
They’re easy to catch, a favorite with kids, keep well and, especially, are totally tasty morsels even if it takes more than a handful to make a meal.
Before I was married, as a post-war GI student at Oregon State living in a simple apartment (couldn’t afford to turn on the heat until November…Brr…), I actually had a pet crayfish.
“George,” was his name and he lived in a fish tank in my small kitchen. It had an aerator, gravel bottom and some structures for him (him? Didn’t know for sure) to hide in. I fed him pieces of fish I’d caught and he/she lasted for more than a year.
Then one day George was MIA…Not in the tank…not in the sink or anywhere.
I eventually emptied the tank, got over the loss, oh, and got married.
When we moved to another somewhat-larger student apartment, we found George…considerably desiccated beneath the refrigerator.
Bottom line on crayfish?
Fun for families. They’re interesting critters, delicious and, for anglers, great bait. Best of all, they don’t cost an arm and a claw to catch…From boat or bank.
Crawdads (the more common nickname) are found in most Oregon waters.
The native species is a “signal” crayfish, named for a small white spot at the base of each claw.
We have some interlopers, however, seen here along with the native signal for comparison:
Fortunately, all four species have edible meat in their tails, a mini version of lobsters, to which they’re related.
That same flesh, by the way, extracted from its exoskeleton and used raw, makes a great summer steelhead bait. Whole crawdads can also be used for other fishing (bass, walleye, etc.) but not as live bait.
Crawdads can be taken without an angling or shellfish license in Oregon and there is no season or closed water, although a Warm Springs Reservation permit may be required on Lake Billy Chinook.
Several methods are legal, but not hook and line. Most use either simple inexpensive crawdad pots baited, set and left, or nets while wading in shallow water over cobble.
There is a daily limit, but the 100-per day ceiling is somewhat optimistic, even in the most productive waters. Still, that could make more than enough of a satisfying meal as a good old-fashioned crawdad boil.
Some lakes are better than others. Timothy Lake gets a lot of attention, for example.
My own preference is clean water with current, which provides an automatic scent trail for crawdads to follow. The Willamette, Columbia, Sandy, Clackamas, Tualatin and Molalla rivers all have crawdads.
Almost any fish parts work as bait (salmon, obviously, but other carcasses too), as do hot dogs, chicken and chicken livers and even some dog food, among other things. Get creative.
Pots can be set by boat and marked with a float on a light line or launched from shore and tied off to a large rock, tree or bush.
They live for quite awhile out of water (but not as long as George hoped) and get pretty defensive when threatened, so try to avoid those sharp claws.
…Although, as with most recipes, a pinch or two seems to make a crawdad boil taste much better.