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Crawdads (mini lobsters) are fun to catch, great to eat

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Some people call the little critters crawdads; others call them crayfish or mudbugs. In reality, it’s a little freshwater mini lobster.

Some people use live crawdads for bait. The rest of us? We’ll cook a big pot of them, stack them on a plate and have a fabulous meal.

They’re found virtually everywhere in the north state, including the Sacramento and American rivers. They thrive in low-elevation lakes, high-elevation trout lakes and even streams throughout the Sierra.

Cleaning trout I catch in the Truckee River, I’d fling the innards into the water. Within minutes, the area was swarming with feasting crawdads.

Rice is a major commodity crop in Northern California. The fields need to be flooded pretty much until the rice matures. Rice fields hold billions of crawdads.

When farmers drain the fields before harvesting, crawdads head for the diminishing residual puddles and can be taken in massive quantities with little effort.

Some people question the quality of crawdads from rice fields because of chemicals farmers may use to effectively grow rice. What I’ve found is by the time the fields are drained, any chemicals that may have been used early in the growing season have pretty much disappeared and burned out.

I caught my first crawdad while ice fishing at Boca Reservoir during mid-winter. It was, for a crawdad, huge. I flipped it into the ice chest, and it sat in there for three days. I always heard they were good eating, but I was apprehensive.

I finally dropped the critter into a pot of boiling water and let it cook for about five minutes. When I removed the tail, peeled off the shell and ate the meat, I was so surprised. It was absolutely wonderful. I was immediately hooked on eating crawdads.

Just about every sporting goods outlet carries crawdad traps, a round wire basket with holes on each end that somewhat appear as a funnel. Crawdads can get in but not out.

The unit is hinged in the center so you can open it to bait the unit and remove crawdads you’ve captured.

Bait the trap with unwanted fish parts or even a can of cat or dog food. Be sure to have a rope attached that’s somewhat longer than the depth of water where you plan to drop it in, and be sure you have a buoy attached to that rope.

Drop it into the water in the early morning, and by late afternoon, you should have enough crawdads for a small feast.

They need to be hard boiled for five to 10 minutes. Most people boil them whole while others snap off the tails and boil just the tail section. Add whatever spices sound good. Bay leaves, garlic powder and a variety of wines are good.

You can peel the tail shell and eat them plain or dip them in butter. You can sprinkle any excess into a salad, as you would shrimp. Add a few crawdad tails to scrambled eggs. There are so many ways to use crawdad meat, and they are all wonderful.

There are almost no restrictions to their take. You’re required to have a sport fishing license in possession. There are some streams in the state where their take is prohibited, so check the sport fishing regulations booklet.

If you plan to stock up on a freezer load, just know you have considerable work ahead. One time, with a lot of help in the kitchen, we pretty much filled three 30-gallon garbage cans with crawdads from local rice fields. We were cooking pot loads of crawdads all day long and peeling tails for what seemed an eternity.

But, oh boy, what great eating.

Current fishing

The storm doors opened and slammed the north state nicely for a few days. The storms put a temporary hold on many fishing activities but didn’t put too big of a damper on visitors at the International Sportsmen’s Expo.

There is fresh snow in the mountains, enough to finally close roads to some lakes, but the storm doors again are closing, and the weather is warming. Take advantage before it changes again.

Folsom Lake: It’s still awfully tough fishing, but finding a bait ball and jigging, spooning or drop-shotting should get you bit. Let the boat’s movement do much of the work, and let your offering drag along and near the bottom.

Lake Amador: They’re planting up to 1,000 pounds of their homegrown Donaldson strain of cutthroat-rainbow hybrids a week, and the catching is fantastic. The trout enjoy their newfound freedom from tank to lake, and they cruise around the shoreline exploring their new environment. When fishing from shore, keep your bait shallow, in the top 10 feet, held up with a bobber or cast-a-bubble. Eggs and Power Bait are best. Cast-retrieving a variety of lures and spoons works, and a white crappie jig also is a killer.

Collins Lake: The lake is receiving plants from the DFG, but the private, trophy plants won’t start for another month. Those getting into the early plants, though, are being rewarded whether trolling or working the shore. The lower end of the lake is the top area for shore casters, around the dam and the beach region of the campground, where limits are common. Trollers are hauling flashers with a threaded crawler in the top 15 feet of water around the dam to find their limits.

Caples Lake: The ice is thick enough to sustain your weight so anglers are venturing out around the spillway and dam, boring a hole through ice eight inches thick and dropping eggs, Power Bait or a crawler, hitting the lake bottom and following with a couple cranks up to get directly off the bottom.

Topaz Lake: The water opened to fishing Jan. 1, and the action has been fairly good. Even shore anglers can expect up to three ’bows a day using Power Bait or a crawler. Trollers are working the south end. Not many big fish, however, with most running around 15 inches.

Contact George deVilbiss at GeorgesColumn@aol.com.