Outdoor Articles

Crawfish & Their Behavior

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in Freshwater Fishing

The imitation soft plastic crawfish or hard plastic crawfish crankbait can be one of the most powerful baits you can throw, depending on the time of the year and how it’s presented. Many anglers today use these imitations and do not really understand why they are using them and quite possibly how to use them properly. Imitations come in all shapes, sizes, materials and colors. We will take a look at the selection process and determine when the best time to throw imitations would be as well as explain why and how you should use them. Once you understand the mating and molting rituals of crawfish, you will definitely have the upper hand when using these imitation baits.

There are plastic imitations starting in the ½” range all the way up to 6″. Some have multiple legs and pinchers, while many are very authentic and they can differ greatly between models and brands. As a matter of fact, there are companies that have taken actual crawfish and made molds of the creature and reproduced an exact replica in soft plastic. Some of the most popular brands of plastic crawfish are: Gambler Worms, Magic Worms, Zoom, Nichols, Mad Man, Strike King, Tiki Sticks, Storm, Culprit, Lake Fork, Berkley and Gary Yamamoto just to name a few. My personal choice is the Gambler Crawdaddy in the 4″ model. I have tried many different types and brands and the Crawdaddy consistently produces the most strikes for me, When it comes to hard crankbaits (molded hard plastic or wood) there are many companies out there making crawfish patterns as well. A few that come to mind would be Rapala, Storm, Bomber, Yo-Zuri, Mann’s, Rebel, Smithwick, Rat-L-Trap, Cotton Cordell, Berkley and Daiwa.

I think to truly understand when the best time to use a crawfish type bait, you must first understand why bass eat them and when they find this type of forage the most appetizing. Crawfish are located just about everywhere: from flooded areas to agricultural fields to muddy ditches and of course ponds, lakes and reservoirs. There is not a state in the contiguous 48 that doesn’t have millions of crawfish swimming around and providing a nice feast for the local bass populations. The more knowledge you possess about crawfish, the higher catch rate you’ll enjoy after practice and proper usage. I think it’s time we go back to science class and educate everyone about this awesome little beasty. Like any creature on our planet, crawfish are bound and determined to eat, mate and protect themselves from predators. You must understand how this process works to maximize your catch, while using imitation lures.

Late March through May is the first major period of crawfish activity. Now, this may change one month forward or reverse depending on what State you live in and other details such as water temperature and conditions. Crawfish usually start to come out when the water reaches 50 degrees. This is the time in which they are in the wide-open areas looking for receptive females for mating purposes. Most importantly, this is the first time that the males are out walking around on the rocks, exposing themselves to feeding bass. When the crawfish walk on the rocks, they make a clicking noise, which is intended to attract females, but it will also attract bass. Keep in mind rocks are the #1 place that crawfish get picked off by bass. Look for rocks that are fairly clean and free of foreign debris, as crawfish do not have the ability to clean off the rock like a bass can using its tail to sweep a spawning bed nice and clean. Crawfish rely of currents and wave action to sweep the rocks clean for them. Crawfish are also very light sensitive. If the water is shallow, your chances of catching bass are much better in low-light conditions such as early morning or late evening. If the crawfish are walking around on rocks in 30 feet of water, you can fish for them about any time of the day.


After the mating process takes place, the females will disappear back into their little holes and caves to fertilize their eggs with the sperm that has been deposited on them by the males. The male crawfish will then molt and their calcified sexual organs will fall off. (Ouch!) When this happens, the males will try and hide. This is the time that many anglers think that bass will gorge themselves with crawfish. This is true to an extent, but not for the reasons you might assume! After the molt, the males start to retreat and are less accessible to the predator bass. The crawfish will spend most of their time in their caves and holes trying to find enough to eat without coming out into open water. They will however come out of hiding during low light conditions and when this happens, the chance of getting picked off by fish is much greater. During the molt process, the color of the crawfish will change dramatically. They will usually go from a camouflage brown/olive color to a bright red or orange color. This color change will make them much more visible to hungry fish cruising along and this explains why the bass tend to feast on crawfish during this stage.

Depending on the water temperatures, the females will begin to hatch their eggs, usually in about 30 days. The hatchlings will stay attached to the female and depending on the crawfish species, the hatchlings will molt every 2 to 7 days. They will then fall off their mother after the third molt and will be approximately ½” long. The females will then molt and go into a low light feeding process and stay in their caves and crevices as much as possible. The little crawfish will molt several times and crawl around in the cracks and crevices and feed as much as possible until fall. During this period, the small crawfish are more susceptible to bottom feeders rather than bass. When fall arrives and you are throwing craw pattern crankbaits, be sure to revisit the same rocks you fished earlier during the year. Often ignored by most anglers, the fall mating season or cycle is the most intense. Fish your fall craw imitations the same way you fish your spring craws and you will produce dramatic results.
I think the best way to fish either hard plastic or soft plastic imitations is to work them parallel to rocky banks. Try different depths and always remember to bounce, hop, jig, bump and run your bait over rocks as this is the area the bass will be keying in on looking for crawfish. In other words, always keep contact with the rock structures! If you are using a soft plastic craw with a bullet type weight, be sure to tap and clack that weight against the rocks, as this will definitely imitate the clicking sounds that the crawfish makes. When using plastic or wood crankbaits, use models that contain a rattle device, as this is an excellent imitation as well. If you are very serious about “matching the hatch”, try my method. I will go down to the shoreline the day before I am going to fish a body of water and dip a crawfish trap in the water. Wait a while until you catch several crawfish. You can then study these creatures and when you get home, you are able to take your soft plastics and match the colors of the present live crawfish. This might require that you purchase a few jars of soft plastic paint or several colors or fingernail polish, and touch up the claw tips and various parts to get an exact match.

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