This is a slight departure from my normal articles but I thought it might be an idea to write a comprehensive article on catching crayfish. There isn’t a huge amount of information out there so I thought it might be an idea to write a piece on how to do it, license requirements and bait etc. This won’t be the most exciting of articles but I’m hoping it will be informative and clear up a few murky issues such as licensing.
First things first, what are they? Crayfish are essentially small freshwater lobsters of which there are two main kinds in the UK. The native White Clawed Crayfish and the invasive American Signal Crayfish.
Native White Clawed are much smaller than their American cousins. Critically endangered they are limited to a few tiny clusters in the south and some larger areas in the north of the UK. Catching one of these proctected species of these will land you in some seriously hot water. The Environment Agency are very unlikely to grant you a license in any areas where they still exist.
American Signal Crayfish are the ones we want to eat. They are causing untold chaos in our waterways. They eat and out compete most our native crayfish and fish and cause huge damage by burrowing into the banks. They are also a vector for the ‘Crayfish Plague’, they are immune to this disease but it proves fatal when spread to our natives. Fortunately these utter bastards taste fantastic and are great to eat.
Below you can see a map with their locations across the UK. Another technique is just searching for ‘river kennet crayfish’ or the name of the river in question. Normally news articles or forum posts come up.
Signal Crayfish Distribution
Do you need a license?
Yes. The license is completely free (link below) and you should receive it in less than a fortnight. It’s important to apply for a license to make sure that you aren’t trapping the last of our White Clawed Crayfish or in an area with breeding otters/water voles. Just fill in the form with your trap dimensions and where you want to catch them. Within a couple of weeks you will receive some tags for each of your traps, attach these and then you are good to go!
How do I catch them?
The easiest way is traps, these are easily purchased on the internet or you can make them yourself. If you do buy a trap on the internet make sure that entrances are less than 9.5 cm. Traps with bigger entrances can be modified. I can’t stress how important this is, these measures are put in place to stop otters from entering your trap and drowning.
Other methods include some bacon tied onto a piece of string or drop nets (read how to make one here)
Once you have finished crayfishing ensure that you have cleaned all your traps and dried them in the sunshine to stop the spread of crayfish plague.
What bait should I use?
Fish heads, bacon and chicken carcasses are all work well and can be sourced very easily. Another slightly unusual bait is a tin of cat food with a few holes punched in. The benefit of using cat food is that the crayfish can’t actually get to it through the can so it should last the night.
Leave the trap overnight and fingers crossed you should have some crayfish the next morning!
Before you cook them
Crayfish don’t taste fantastic when they have been first caught and need some time to ‘purge’. At the very least leave them for 12 hours but leave a day or two if you can. Crayfish can suffocate if left in a small amount of water, if you plan to leave them in a bucket/bin make sure you keep changing the water so that they can breathe. When possible I leave mine to sit in a bath for a few hours at a time.
Crayfish trying to escape up the shower hose
Leaving them to purge removes a slight muddy taste that they can sometimes have, it also empties their intestines or ‘vein’. If you don’t leave them long enough and they still have some food in them you can remove the vein yourself. This can be left in and removed after cooking or you can use a nifty trick to remove it before. The video below shows a quick easy way to do this.
If you dispatch them with a knife to the head you can then twist the back/middle flap on the tail and then pull the flap. If all goes to plan it should take out most of the vein with it at the same time.
Cook them for around three minutes in boiling water (or court bouillon for extra flavour). Hopefully some more recipes to follow!
Also once home please don’t forget to wash down your traps and let them dry off in the sun. If you don’t do this you can spread crayfish plague to other areas and wipe out the last of your native crayfish.