A Beginner’s Guide to Fishing with Crayfish

Gerry Bethge Avatar

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Question: “I’ve been told soft crayfish are excellent fish bait. Is this true? Can you tell me where, when, and how to catch them, and the best method of fishing with them?” –Kim parrott, via

My Answer: As with most things fishing, you’re not likely to ever find two anglers who will agree on the effectiveness of soft-shell crayfish over hard-shell crayfish. Each has its proponents.

First, a bit of biology. Crayfish (aka crawfish, crawdads, crawls, ditch lobsters, and mud bugs) are common in streams and lakes throughout the country and live a rather short life–usually less than two years. They have a hard exoskeleton, which is great for protection but must be shed in order for the crayfish to grow. This shell is molted up to 10 times each growing season, with May through August being prime times, depending on where you live. It takes a couple of days for the new shell to harden.

Although soft-shell crayfish are sometimes sold at a premium by bait shops, I’ve found little difference in their fish-catching effectiveness. However, I do find hard-shell crays more resilient on the hook.

I prefer a fish-gut-baited minnow trap to catch crayfish, and I hook them through the tail when fishing.