Outdoors: Find the crayfish, find the fish

Ray Gildow with a 21-inch smallmouth bass caught on a crayfish reef. (Photo submitted)
Ray Gildow with a 21-inch smallmouth bass caught on a crayfish reef. (Photo submitted)

By Ray Gildow

Contributing Writer

A great way to locate fish in midsummer is to find crayfish. Just about every kind of fish likes to chew on crayfish, especially young crayfish before they get too big and their outside skeleton gets too hard. Bass, walleye, pike and even big panfish like to munch down crayfish.  

Crayfish are common in streams and lakes and really like to hang out in areas where they can hide during the daylight hours and sneak out to feed at night. They feed on snails, algae, insect larvae, worms, tadpoles and some kinds of vegetation. Research shows that older crayfish are most active at dusk and continue to feed until daybreak. It is the young crayfish that are most likely to be out feeding during the daylight hours and this also makes them much more vulnerable to predation. They live short lives, usually less than two years. Crayfish are very productive, with egg carrying females carrying as many as 800 eggs at a time.

It is very easy to tell when fish are eating young crayfish because they often spit them up when caught. On Leech Lake and other lakes with the invasive Rusty Crayfish the distinctive color being spit out when caught is a red orange.  Native crayfish adapt to the water color of the lake they inhabit. If using artificial crayfish as bait, it is a good idea to try to match the color of the bait to the actual color of the crayfish in the lake being fished.

Crayfish need places to hide so on big lakes looking around gravel bars and rocky areas is a very good bet. They also like to hide around wood and aquatic vegetation. I have a number of areas marked on my favorite lakes where I know the crayfish are hanging out and fish come to hunt. I have found that when cleaning fish in July, August and September crayfish are a common site in the bellies of walleye and bass. I have been amazed at the size of the crayfish in some of the smaller fish I have caught.

I have had my best luck fishing for bass when using artificial crayfish bait. The walleyes will take the bait too, but seem to be able to tell the fake from the real deal easier than bass. Areas with rocks and gravel are some of the best spots for fishing for small mouth bass. On the days when smallmouth don’t like to chomp on the artificial crayfish, I just switch to other baits to catch them, but I know the crayfish are the reason they are in the area.

So, whether your fishing for bass, walleyes, or even alligators look for areas that have populations of crayfish. Yes, alligators love them too!

And if you are fishing on a lake with Rusty Crayfish you might want to consider catching a bunch of them to eat yourself. They are delicious and the fish know that already!