While fishing is a popular pastime in Rim Country, consider fishing for another aquatic species the next time you are out.
Known as crawdads, mudbugs, ditchbugs, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, and in Australia yabbies, there are plenty of crayfish to be found in local waters.
This is the time of year for these tasty little lobsters. Anyone can catch them, they are easy to cook and honestly; they taste just like lobster.
To harvest crayfish in Arizona, you need a fishing license. There is no limit to how many you can catch and crawdad hunting is a wonderful activity during camping trips.
Crayfish are active at night so a flashlight and a quick hand will work. Grab them from behind as they escape. While they have claws, they are usually not big enough to hurt, but the pinch will get your attention. This is a great way to get those older kids away from electronics. Of course this can be daytime fun too. Put a piece of bacon on a string, use a dip net or lightweight fishing tackle. Crayfish will grab PowerBait, worms, even spinners and flies. Reel slowly and they will hang on. Drop the critters in a bucket and boil them up in camp for a feast.
Hard core “craysters” go for big numbers. I have taken more than 1,500 crawfish out of one pool on the East Verde in June. Almost anything with an odor will work for bait. I have found that little cans of cat food work well. Just crack the lid and toss it in the trap.
I leave my traps out overnight so I usually trap during the week and I avoid popular swimming holes. I have had lots of luck in the East Verde above the 87 bridge. Tonto Creek is also a great place to find them. Rocky places in the Rim lakes work too.
Under Arizona rules, a minnow trap cannot be more than 1 foot high or 2 feet long. Each unattended trap needs to have a tag with name, address and fishing license. Waterproof luggage tags work well. It is unlawful to transport live crayfish, so pack those little dudes in ice until you get to where you are going to cook them. Remember, crayfish are invasive and they are also little escape artists. We don’t want to infest new waters.
There are more recipes than names for these lobster-like crustaceans. In the Deep South, crawfish are big business. The boiled crawdads are typically served alongside red potatoes, spicy sausage and corn on the cob. This is the traditional and most popular way to prepare them.
The recipe that I have developed is not so traditional. Once my iced crayfish are home, I rinse them off while a pot of garlic and Italian seasoned water boils. I put my craws in a seafood boil net and hose them off. I drop them in the boiling water for about 10 minutes. They will float and turn red when cooked. I leave them in the water but take the pot off the burner and let them soak for another 20 minutes; most will sink. I drain in a colander and at this point, they can be frozen whole for later use or shelled to get the “lobster” tails.
To eat, separate the head and the tail by twisting and then lightly squeezing the tail until you hear a crack. Rock the tail fan back and forth and the meat will slide out. I take an extra step and run my finger down the center and remove the mud vein. I am not going to lie, this process is super tedious. So opt to take them apart and suck the meat out, even the heads. I did it once, and I didn’t die, it was too much for me. At camp we dip the tails in melted butter.
I like to make a simple pasta sauce out of butter, garlic and white wine. I then add some fresh tomatoes, scallions or whatever veggie is on hand. Saute in about a quarter cup of butter. Add seven minced garlic cloves (to taste) and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Turn up the heat but don’t burn the garlic. Add the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle some garlic powder into the sauce and turn the heat to low. In the meantime, boil the pasta and save some of the water. This is the really important part so pay attention if you are going to use this recipe. Add the crayfish tails to the sauce at the last minute. They are already cooked and will turn rubbery if overcooked. Put the pasta, a little of the pasta water directly into the saucepan. Mix it up and enjoy.
Crayfish hunting is a great way to get the family out and experience the accomplishment of catching your dinner.
Crayfish are not native to our state and they eat everything including each other. They are an ecological nightmare for Arizona so let’s do what we can to help out our mountain streams and lakes. It is a win for your belly and a win for Arizona.
For further information: Consider joining the Facebook page Crayster’s Arizona.
Check out page 37 in the Arizona Game and Fish Department 2021 & 2022 Fishing Regulations booklet for more crawfish law.