Crawfish as Bait
When you started fishing with crawfish you could usually depend on the average size of the fish you were catching on shrimp to increase. Sometimes you caught more also, but they were always somewhat bigger and that was a welcome thing after what was probably a meager winter of tightline fishing.
Russell Daigle shares his thoughts about the significance of crawfish versus the use of shrimp in the spring.
“Crawfish is a different bait from shrimp. …crawfish catch bigger fish. Oh yeah, all the time. Everywhere you go. If you catchin a pound fish on shrimp, you put crawfish on you gone catch two and three pound fish. It’s different. For some reason or another, I don’t know what causes it, but it makes a difference.
And as to the size to use, he adds this:
RD: I like small crawfish, something like that. [inch and a half]. Yeah. They get too big, you have to start bustin the head on em and that’s hard on the hands. Well, when they get big, the fish don’t like em anyway.
JD: And I never saw you break the tail much on em…just fish with the tail?
RD: No. Don’t work. You put that on a line, it gone stay right there.
In the days when people didn’t always have access to just the right equipment, the decision was usually made to make do with what you had. Rubber boots, taken for granted today, were a scarce item in the Basin, and if you had some the chances were that they leaked. Neg Sauce didn’t hesitate to put up with cold water if he needed to dip small crawfish. And they didn’t seem to suffer much from sickness, such as pneumonia, related to this either.
“Yeah, by time we had boots. I seen me have leaky boots too. Tete used to say to Ida she couldn’t see how I could stand [it], I walk in that ice…with shoes on. Go in the water…I have water up to my knees like that. And, uh, in water…I dip lil crawfish. In ice water. Ice water, like you mix today…cold. [laughs] We was just tough, Jim! We was just tough and the good Lord up above was with us. The only thing, God had to be with us.”
You might run into more than crawfish when you waded around in the shallow waters where the they would hide. Sometimes it paid to be careful. Edward and Lena Mae related an incident that might have been a problem.
LC: I remember the last time he went back of Bayou Sale back there to dip. He like to got snakebit in the face.
EC: By myself back there. He was on a limb, and I bent down there to go underneath that limb…and I was lookin at that sucker about like that [gestures]. If I’d a went another six inches I’d a hit him with my face. Lil black one, lil black congos? Cottonmouth?
Other things do use the warm, shallow waters to hide in. Water beetles, salamanders, small snakes, leeches and other animals would often come up in the nets when you would drag across the vegetation. One of the things that was caught sometimes was the madtom catfish. These fish grow to no more than a couple inches and look like miniature bullhead catfish – brown or black. But they pack a venom that is dangerously debilitating. Picking through a net of squirming crawfish and other things, it is easy to puncture a finger on a spine of one of these small catfishes. The result is immediately very painful, usually progressing to immobilization of the arm that is affected. The numbness may last several hours. It is not something to disregard, and care is taken that it doesn’t happen twice.
So crawfish are good bait for the line fisherman as long as there are small ones to be caught. As the water recedes in the late spring or early summer, the season for them comes to an end when all the small ones have become big ones and are therefore no longer useful as bait. At this time shrimp become the main bait and remain so until the summer low water calls for the use of cut bait, or shrimp baited at night.
The river is at 7.2 feet right now on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling to 6.5 feet by the end of the week. A real up and down period we’re going through. The Ohio and Mississippi are both rising strongly way up north so we should keep going with the rising water overall.
Rise and Shine, Jim