My memories of crawfishing are families getting together and heading to a swamp to catch the tasty mudbugs using set nets.
This week finds me headed down south to the Spillway (Atchafalaya Basin) to spend a morning with an old friend, Jimmy (Bean) Blanchard from Pierre Part. Our destination is the Basin swamp to run some of his 1000 crawfish traps to catch some Spillway crawfish.
My memories of crawfishing are families getting together and heading to a swamp to catch the tasty mudbugs using set nets. These nets are about a 14” square, and a piece of bait (usually melt) is attached in the center then placed in shallow water. Usually a dozen or two nets would be enough. A long pole or stick was used to pick up the net and the crawfish were dumped into a bucket.
This method entailed lots of walking through the swamp that usually meant trudging through the mud. If you were fortunate enough to get a sack full, a crawfish boil would be in store. If less were caught, mama would cook a stew.
Not everybody could afford to buy crawfish back then, but they were available. The crawfish industry in the southern United States can be dated back to at least the late 1800s, though there is some evidence to suggest that commercial trade in crawfish existed during the early 1800s as well.
The only place this happened at that time was the Atchafalaya Basin, as it is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States and is a combination of wetlands and river delta. This is very conducive for crawfish to reproduce and thrive, thus harvested for sale.
In its heyday, wild caught crawfish (mostly in the basin) accounted for over 60 million pounds of mudbugs for sale in the early 90's. Farm (pond) raised crawfish in rice fields for home consumption took place in the late 40’s and early 50’s and the commercial farming for the sale of crawfish soon followed.
The wild crawfish production steadily began a downturn from 1995 to 2000. It’s been holding around 10 million lbs since. In the last stats available for the year 2014 the wild harvest was up to 17.1 million, and the farm harvest was 127.5 million lbs.
The basin is still an awesome place to be as it contains about 70 percent forest habitat and about 30 percent marsh and open water. It contains the largest contiguous block of forested wetlands remaining (about 35 percent) in the lower Mississippi River valley and the largest block of floodplain forest in the United States. Best known for its iconic cypress-tupelo swamps, at 260,000 acres, this block of forest represents the largest remaining contiguous tract of coastal cypress in the United States.
The Atchafalaya Basin is also the nation's largest river swamp, containing almost one million acres of America's most significant bottomland hardwoods, swamps, bayous, and backwater lakes.
Some of the other things that make it cool are that it is larger than the Florida Everglades. It’s five times more productive than any other river basin in North America. About 65 species of reptiles and amphibians inhabit the Basin. Over 250 known species of birds fly in the Basin. Other species of animals found in the area include black bear, nutria, fox, muskrat, beaver, otter and raccoon. The Basin is home to the largest nesting concentration of bald eagles in the south central United States, and there are more than 100 different species of fish and aquatic life in the Basin.
Our morning started out with getting our bait that is obtained at Duffy’s, a long-time market to buy bait and sell your crawfish. Ownership of the establishment is none other than the Troy Landry family of the infamous “Swamp People” reality TV series.
The next stop is the public launch where the hustle and bustle of crawfishermen and anglers trying their luck for bass, bream and other panfish is at its highest levels due to the water falling in the basin.
Just like most things evolve from where they started to more advanced methods, crawfishing has changed over the years a well. The traps used back in the day were made of galvanized chicken coop wire with 3/4” or 5/8” holes in the wire. You’d be fortunate for them to last two years.
Then along came black, plastic coated wire that lasts a very long time. The traps were 36” long that were set on the bottom and baited with fish of some sort. Shad was the preferred species. A strip of surveyor’s tape was hung on a low branch to mark the spot. A long pole with a hook was used to find the trap and pull it up.
I’m sure some forward thinking crawfisherman wanting to save time came up with the idea of tying a string from a low branch to the trap that reduced the time element considerably. Then the trap size evolved from 3’ to 4’ and now 6’ in length is pretty common. The tall nets allow for the trap to be above the water line if the oxygen content gets bad so the crawfish can get to the surface for breathing.
Bait has changed over the years as well. Fish were used exclusively until the arrival of an artificial bait (called dog food by the locals). It is a recipe that is pressed into a log in small pieces. It is added to the fish as the fish attracts the ravenous crawdads into the trap while the dog food holds them in after the fish runs out.
The latest addition to the trap is corn on the cob. Feed corn left on the cob is placed into a drum of water until the kernels soften enough for the crawfish to eat it and it lasts a long time in the trap. I’m sure as time goes on more new ideas will change the way things are done to some degree.
It’s the end of the season as the water in the Basin is falling and the crawfish will return into the ground until the process starts again next season in early winter. Bean has been in the swamp crawfishing for over 45 years and has gained expertise so his haul that day was 35 sacks of Spillway crawfish to bring to the buyers; a very successful day with a lot of hard work.
So just how serious are Cajuns about their crawfish? I have friends and family that have had them shipped as far north as Alaska to put on a real South Louisiana crawfish boil.
Gonzales’ Gerald Spohrer Takes 4th at Elite Event in Mississippi River, Louisiana Anglers Represent as Well
For the second event in a row on the Bassmaster Elite series, Gonzales and Louisiana represented us very well. This event was held on the Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.
Gerald Spohrer from Gonzales put together the most consistent, four-day performance in the Elite field for this event. Spohrer tallied 62 pounds for a 4th place finish, along with a $14,000 check and most of all 107 points toward the Angler of the Year competition that fills the Bassmaster Classic roster at the end of the season.
Those 107 points gives him a total of 451 points earning a 12th place spot in the race for the 2018 title. If Spohrer finishes in the top 52 spots, that will put him in the Bassmaster Classic competition in early 2019 on the Tennessee River in Knoxville.
On the first day of competition Spohrer held 5th place with a 16-07 limit. On day 2 a 16-06 limit hit the scales to advance to the 3rd place spot. On day three he sacked 16-05 more and fell one spot to 4th and that’s where he finished with a 14-14 limit.
Pierre Part’s Cliff Crochet put together a three-day total of 43-07 to take the 21st spot and a $10,000 check. Caleb Sumrall put 39-05 on the scales to take 48th place that earned him a $10,000 check as well.
Remember to take out the slack and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God Truly bless you.
Lyle Johnson is President of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association.