Crawfish are everywhere, ditches, frequently flooded agricultural fields, almost all ponds and, of course your favorite impoundment or river. There’s not a state in the contiguous 48 that doesn’t have billions of them swimming around feeding the local bass populous.
The answers to turning your catch rates from a lucky reactionary strike to a planned big day come from understanding behavior. Keep in mind the parameters, times and conditions vary from water to water, subspecies to subspecies and latitude to latitude.
Like all wildlife, crawfish are determined to mate, eat and protect themselves from predators. Understanding the timing of these events is key to consistently taking bass on crawfish imitations.
Love on the Rocks
Based on geographic location, the first major period when crawfish activity is at its height is February through May, depending on the latitude. When the water temperature reaches approximately 50 degrees, the crawfish emerge from rock crevices into the great wide open and get “on the hunt” for receptive females.
Many of the emerging crawfish males and females are still sexually active from the previous fall. What’s significant about this spring two to three week period, (depending on raising water temperature), is that it’s one of the few times males walk on top of rocks exposing themselves to bass.
Trapping studies have revealed that below 45 degrees crayfish have little to no activity while buried in mud burrows or rock crevices. But when the water raises to 50 degrees, it’s a whole new ball game.
The best habitat has the highest concentration of exposed crawfish, which in turn translates to the greatest numbers of feeding bass.
Substrate rocks are where your baits need to be. Prime cover in most bass watersheds combines 50-degree average water temperature, with rocks clean of silt or mud. Unlike bass that clean their spawning ground with their tails, crawfish rely on current or wave action to do their housework. The rocks must be clean to open up caves that can create endless lattices of spawning habitat. That may be at three feet of water on a wind swept point or at 30 feet on a small hump in the middle of the lake.
Depending on the species, crawfish can and will spawn in mud, however they rarely do so if rocky, cleaner habitat is available.
One of the ways bass locate crawfish is sound. A crawfish moving on a rock makes a tapping/clicking noise. Bass use this sound to locate crawfish.
Crawfish are also light sensitive. If the prime habitat happens to be in shallower water or is more exposed to direct sunlight, low light or cloudy days are often better fishing than sunny.
The Naked Truth
After mating, the females burrow into a cave and fertilize their eggs with the sperm that has been deposited on them by the males. The males then molt losing their calcified sexual organs and are already hidden or quickly find a place to disappear. “The molt” as its is often referred to, is supposed to be the time that bass gorge on crawfish. This may not be the case. Many anglers associate intense bass activity with crawfish baits in the spring as molting are probably experiencing crawfish mating.
After the molt, males go back to a regular pattern and are not as available to bass as they were when they were mating. They will feed in their cave burrows if possible and only expose themselves in the evening or in low light conditions.
The molt will dramatically change the color of the crawfish from a camouflage olive/brown color to a bright orange or red cast making them an easy visual target for bass. Meanwhile, the females are hatching their eggs in around 30 days (depending on water temperatures). The hatchlings stay attached to the female and molt every two to seven days depending on species.
After the third molt when they reach approximately a half-inch in length they fall off of their mother. The females quickly molt and go into a quiet summer lowlight-feeding pattern, staying in the rock crevices as much as possible.
The little crawfish fall into the rocks where they molt, eat, and molt and eat multiple times until the fall when most become adults depending on the length of the growing season. During their early summer growth period the juvenile crawfish greatest threat from predators are chubs and bottom feeders, not bass.
Remember the Fall
When fall arrives and you’re throwing a shad, revisit the rocks you fished in the spring and summer with a crawdad bait. The fall mating cycle is actually the most intense and often is completely ignored by bass anglers. The entire process starts again in the same pattern as the spring and can be especially intense in the mid and southern latitudes. The fall mating period is made up of all the adult crawfish that are sexually mature.
Fish the fall the same way you fished the spring and you’ll find the fall mating cycle is a bonanza.
Crawfish live on the bottom, even in rivers they are rarely swept away floating in current. That’s not to say you can’t catch a bass in the open in a lake or river with a crawfish bait. But a live crawfish will not leave the rocks unless they’re forced to.
During the summer bass feeding patterns move to low light or cruising at night for crawfish. Again, bouncing prime habitat in day can result in a bass that is keyed into the pattern waiting for a mid day meal, but during the dog days move to deeper, darker rock substrate for a more consistent bite.
One of the best ways to fish crawfish baits, crank or soft, is to work them parallel to rocky banks changing depths until you find fish. If you fish from boat to shore on a deep drop-off you must be exceedingly careful with your angle of attack or the bait will not cover a significant length of the lake bottom.
When you’re in a prime spring or fall period look for clean rocks. Consider carrying a thermometer that you sink to bottom on a tethered cord. Make sure your bait can make a clicking sound with lead, brass, steel or a rattle and cover the ideal ground thoroughly staying locked on the bottom. Follow the rules of science and you’ll be catching bass on crawfish baits because of knowledge, not just luck.
Cutting Edge Soft Bait
Ken Huddleston’s attention to detail and assurance of perfect action, has created an almost cult-like demand for the few anglers in the know. The Huddleston Deluxe Bait Company makes a very life like crawfish bait called The Huddle-Bug that can only be purchased at a select handful of shops in California. You can buy them on the web direct at Ken’s site for about $6.00 for a pack of five. www.huddlestondeluxe.com<!—[if !supportNestedAnchors]—><!—[endif]—>