How to Use a Crawfish Trap

How to Use a Crawfish Trap

Crawfish are found in many different regions of the United States and look like a very small lobster, to which they are related. They are eaten boiled or steam. These crustaceans live in freshwater and have a similar taste to lobster, crab, and shrimp. Approximately 95% of the crawfish consumed are harvested from Louisiana. Most of them can be found crawling around rivers, swamps, and lakes.

They are also referred to by other names depending on what region of the United States where they are found. Some of the names include:

  • Crayfish
  • Yabbies
  • Crawdads
  • Mudbugs

When you cook crawfish, the most popular way to do so is to boil them. Once the water is boiling, you put the crawfish into a cooking basket, lower it to the water and let them cook for fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for another fifteen minutes. As mentioned, they have a combination taste of lobster, crab, and shrimp but the meat is sweeter and less salinity. It is a low-calorie food that is high in protein and low in fat. There are over 500 species of crayfish but most that are eaten are the white river crawfish and the red swamp crawfish.

Before you can sit down to enjoy the great taste of crawfish with friends and family, you need to learn how to use a crawfish trap to catch them and what bait to use.

Best Bait to Catch Crawfish

Although the type of bait to be used is different for everyone, the best bait is fish. You can also use chicken wings and necks. One important thing to remember is that any bait used to catch crawfish has to be fresh. They do not like bait that is sour, smelly, or spoiled. The more bait you put in the trap, the more crawfish you will catch. The reason is, that as soon as they have eaten all the bait, they start to look for a way out of the trap so more bait, the longer they will stay in the trap.

Where to Set a Crawfish Trap

It is a known fact that crawfish are frightened and will scurry away at the sight of a predator so you have to be very careful how you deal with crawfish. They are generally found from small rivers to lakes and even eddies of water in pools. Once you have the right bait and your trap ready, find the water to put the trap in. Fishing for crawfish is more trial and error so if your spot is not producing crawfish, then you need to move the trap. You can also ask some of the fishermen in the area if they can advise you on the best spots are. Look for shallow pools of water, whether it is a river, stream, or lake.

crawfish trap

Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans so you will not find them in the sea. Crawfish are considered scavenger fish so you will usually find then scurrying around under rocks or on the floor of any body of water that has been mentioned. 

How to Fish for Crawfish

To use a crawfish trap, there are a lot of factors that need to coincide so you have to make sure that everything is perfectly lined up. It includes the right bait up to the best time to use your crawfish trap to catch them. 

  • Where and when to go – as with most fish, they are more active during certain times of the year at certain temperatures. Generally, you want to trap crawfish during the warmer times of the year, from April until October. You can find them during the colder months but the yield will probably not as high. As mention, look in lakes, streams, and ponds for their nesting grounds and even around bedrock and smaller pools of water. Crawfish are attracted to rocks. Because crawfish are so small, they have to be around slow-moving or still waters. Otherwise, they could get washed away by water currents. 

They are also nocturnal so this means that you should set your traps at night, leave, and then return in the morning. Make sure that you know where you set the traps and mark them so you can find them in the morning when you go check them.

During the winter months, it is prohibited by law to trap crawfish because females normally carry their eggs from late fall till early spring. You can check with your local Fish and Wildlife to find the current season dates for trapping crawfish.

  • Right bait and properly use it – setting crawfish bait is not easy as there are certain foods they gravitate to while others they will steer clear of. They like bait like herring, trout, salmon, carp, etc as long as it is fresh. Bait like squid, eels, sardines, clams will not attract them. You can also use chicken and pork. Some say that fish-based cat food will attract them. When putting bait in your crawfish traps, you want to make sure that it is secured tightly on your reel lines or traps. If not, one wiggle or smallest bite could cause you to lose the bait.

Since crawfish are only attracted to fresh bait, there are ways in which you can keep it fresh and useful for longer hours. This is especially true if you are leaving your crawfish traps overnight. One way to do this is to use a bait box. A bait box will attract a lot of crawfish plus will allow the scent of the bait to spread. It will also take the crawfish longer to finish the bait so they will stick around longer. Another thing you can use is bait jars, which are more efficient as the scent of the bait can spread out faster.

Fill up the bait box and then let it rest in the middle of the trap. This will make sure that the crawfish will have to get fully inside the trap to get the food. The same thing happens with bait bags and bait jars.

Characteristics of Crawfish Traps

When you try to catch crawfish, you want to make sure that you do not harm them when catching them. To ensure that you have the perfect trap, there are some things that you need to make sure is correct about the trap.

  • Shape – before you decide on the shape of the trap, you need to know the lay of the land where you are going to put your crawfish trap. You want to make sure that you are not using a box or square type of trap if you are trapping in a water body with a rugged surface. This type of trap will get caught up on the surface. You would need to use the round or conical shaped trap. The box or square trap is great to use if the ground is flat.
  • Type – if you are traveling to a special place to use your crawfish trap, you should have a collapsible fishing trap. If you are catching them near where you live, you can use one that is not portable. If you are planning to leave your trap in the water overnight you want to make sure that it has a crawl-in entrance. If you are just going for the day, you want a trap that is designed for lifting. This type of trap work like fishing poles. Once it is in the water, you wait till you feel pressure, then you pull it up to see if there are any crawfish inside.
  • Turgidity and tensile strength – the strength of the trap is important. This includes the tensile strength in regards to the netting to the actual trap’s rigidity. The trap needs to be strong enough so that it does not give way to the current of the water or the pressure of the fish. Knowing the tensile strength of the netting will let you relax knowing that the trap can handle the crawfish that bombards the trap. The trap needs to be strong enough to stay still and not move and spook the crawfish when they get inside to feed or get near it.
  • Efficiency – the design of the opening will tell you how effective the trap will be. The capacity of the mainframe will also let you know the efficiency of the crawfish trap. The openings should be as small as possible because crawfish are generally no more than five inches, but they also need to be big enough for them to get inside easily. They can be elusive so the smallest setback can stop them from entering the trap. The capacity of the trap needs to be large so a lot of crawfish can get inside. The main reason to use a trap is so you can capture a lot of crawfish at one time.
  • Appearance – it does not matter how fancy or good looking the trap appears; what matters is what it looks like when it is underwater. This is very important when you are trying to catch crawfish. A trap cannot look out of place in the water because if it does, the crawfish will avoid it. The crawfish trap needs to be able to blend with the land, water, and surrounding area. 

Most crawfish traps that people use are a wire basket with two sides that cone inwards so the crawfish can get in easy but it is hard for them to get out. An important thing to remember is that you make sure that the entrance is less than 9.5 centimeters, as this small it is a safety precaution to prevent other animals such as otters, from getting in the trap and drowning.

Different Ways to Trap a Crawfish

Some like to capture crawfish with their hands, a net, a string and bait, or use a small plastic cup instead of a professional trap. 

The small plastic cup is a type of crawfish trap. If you are not accustomed to catching crawfish or handling them, then stick to a professional trap. The reason is that they are fast and do claw and bite. To use the plastic cup crawfish trap, you wait until you see a crawfish. Then you submerge the cup in the water behind the cup slowly moving it toward the crawfish. Use a stick to scare the crawfish so that it will back up into the cup. Once it is in the cup, pull it out of the water. This is a very slow way of using a crawfish trap as you can only catch them one at a time.

You can also use a net, which is less expensive than buying a professional trap. It also requires less manual labor than using a plastic cup. It is a good go-between option between a professional trap and a plastic cup. When using a net, most will use a regular fishnet but there is the possibility that you can hurt the crawfish if their limbs get caught in the net. Even if you are going to kill it, you do not want it to suffer unnecessarily.

If you are going to use your hand as a net, make sure that you wear protective gloves. To find crawfish, you will have to wade in a flowing rocky creek and lift the rocks and stones found there to look for crawfish. Since they prefer to move more at night, you may have to use a flashlight to shine in the water to find them. When you find them, make sure that you are moving slowly as they can pick up on vibrations in the water.  Move your hand slowly and do not try to grab it quickly as it will move away from you. When you are using your hand for a crawfish trap, try to pick it up by the midsection using two fingers. When you have two fingers around the hard shell midsection, it is hard for them to fight back.

Another type of homemade crawfish trap is using string and bait. Attach the bait to a fishing hook and lower it into the water. Jiggle it one to two inches from the bottom until you feel a tug on the line. Move the bait and crawfish as close to the shore as you can before you pull it out of the water. You can use a net to scoop up the crawfish when you pull it in or use your hands to take it off the hook.

Fun facts about Crawfish

  • They walk forward on their legs but to escape any danger they swim faster going backward
  • There are some types of crawfish that have gills to breathe on the inside of their body. They can survive out of the water for a little bit before they need to be put back into the water.
  • There are many colors of crawfish, including blue, white, and red. Red is the most common color with white being the least common color.
  • In Louisiana, there are crawfish farms where they are raised as annual crops to support the demand for crawfish in other countries where there are no crawfish to trap.
  • In many states, it is illegal to transport live crawfish so you will generally need to kill it shortly after you trap them.
  • To tell if you have caught a male or female crawfish, look at the front claws because the male has the larger claws. The female should be released so they can breed.
  • Learn more Crawfish facts here


Before you use a crawfish trap, make sure that you check the state’s regulations on whether you need to have a license or not. If the state regulations do not give you this information, you can check with the state’s Department of Natural Resources website or call their office. For crawfish, Louisiana’s Wildlife & Fisheries website may be the best.

If you realize that after catching crawfish you have too many do not release them back into the water. You should give them to someone that might also be trapping crawfish or kill them and take them home to freeze to use for later. They can also be used as bait for fishing. The reason is that some states feel crawfish are a pest and want to reduce their number. Putting them back into the water would not accomplish what the state might be trying to do.

As you can see, there are many different ways in which to use a crawfish trap whether it is a traditional one down to using your hands as a trap. Whichever works best for the person doing the crawfish trapping is fine as long as it is done right and the crawfish are treated humanely when trapping them. 

If you are trapping crawfish using a traditional trap and you pull it up to check for crawfish, make sure that if you are going to reset it, that you use fresh bait.  Crawfish trapping is a great fun activity for the entire family and gives you something great to eat.

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