Minnesota has an abundant crayfishing resource, yet very few “crayfishers.” This must change, because crayfish can be a very fun and delicious activity that we can enjoy for six months out of the year.
Because the Minnesota angling guide includes very little information about crayfishing (also known as crawfishing down south) I have collected this information from various sources, and where possible I will reference the law in Minnesota code.
Crayfishing is good for Minnesota. By using rough fish for bait (which is permitted), crayfishing helps to make use of this underutilized resource. In addition, crayfish are good eatin’! They are a delicacy in the deep south, where crayfish aquaculture is big business, and trapping is a serious sport. In areas where crayfish are abundant or invasive, crayfishing can help to control the population.
Season: The open season for taking crayfish is April 1 through November 30. (6259.0100 sub1). You’ll need a Minnesota angling license (unless you are a resident under the age of 16).
Size Restrictions: Crayfish less than one inch in length from tip of rostrum to tip of tail must be returned unharmed to the water. That’s too small for eating anyway, so toss them back. (6259.0100 sub1)
Trap Requirements: Crayfish may be harvested with gear allowed for rough fish and minnows (minnow traps). Mesh size for crayfish traps may not be less than one-half inch, stretch measure (6259.0100 2.B).
Minnesota law requires that you tag your trap with your name and address. This can be done by cutting out a 1” by 3” piece of plastic from a used plastic milk container, and writing on with a sharpie pen. Attach your tag to your Crayfish traps with a piece of wire. Be sure your tag is “legible.” (6259.0100 2.A) If you attach floats to your traps, they must not be more than 4” square or 4” in diameter (6259.0100 2.C), which is about the size of a regular bobber. It seems a bit small to me, but there you go.
Traps can be checked from sunrise to sunset, but DNR doesn’t want you lifting traps at night. Nighttime is when crayfish are most active.
I found no restrictions on the number of traps that an angler can set.
Bait: Minnesota allows the use of rough fish for bait, which is very effective for catching crayfish (6259.0100 2.D). I’ve found carp and bullhead to be easy to catch and very good bait. If you don’t like the mess of rough fish, you can bait your traps with inexpensive cans of cat food (tuna flavor works well). Puncture the cans with a screw driver and place them in your traps. I’ve found that a single can will attract crayfish for up to four days.
You can use the crayfish you catch as fishing bait, but only the body of water where they were caught. You’ll discover that bass, northern pike and even muskie love crayfish!
The Minnesota DNR is concerned about invasive crayfish species like the Rusty Crayfish. It is not lawful to transport crayfish from one body of water to another or to release them into the wild.
A licensed angler (or a Minnesota resident under the age of 16) can have up to 25 pounds of crayfish for personal use.
Of course the best use for them is food, because they are delicious when boiled up with some crab mix.
If you are catching crayfish for bait, you can only use them in the body of water where you caught them. If you want to move them from one lake to another, harvest them commercially, or sell them, you will need to obtain a permit from DNR.
Getting started is easy. Go buy a minnow trap at your favorite bait shop, and a can of cat food at the grocery store, tie a rope to it, and drop it in the water.
Finding a good hole will require a bit of trial and error. You never know where you will find crayfish. Don’t overlook the boat marina, or even the golf pond.
Generally on lakes, you can find crayfish along the shoreline, particularly a rocky shoreline. I have trapped them in one foot to ten feet of water, but not much deeper than ten feet. Shallow ponds may contain crayfish. On rivers, look for eddies and places where water moves slowly.
Click here for more information on the species of crayfish available in Minnesota. All of them can make a good meal for you! In my area, calico and northern clear water crayfish are abundant.
The Rusty Crayfish is a large clawed invasive crayfish species that outmuscles Minnesota’s native crayfish, and its spreading. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Rusty is good eating, with meaty claws! Concentrating your trapping the Rusty while using rough fish for bait would have the triple benefit of providing you with a delicious meaty catch, reducing the rusty population and reducing the rough fish population. Visit the DNR website to find information about lakes infested with the edible rusty crayfish.
Five pounds of boiled crawfish (or crayfish) will make a very nice meal.
In the southern U.S., crawfish are a delicacy. In Minnesota, there is absolutely no reason why our crayfish should not be a delicacy, except that culturally we haven’t discovered the joys of crayfish.
Before boiling your crayfish, place them in a cooler filled with cold clean water and leave set for several hours or overnight. This will help purge the dirt in their digestive track. All crayfish will turn red after they are boiled.
There is no shortage of advice on the internet about how to cook and eat crayfish. Crayfish can be boiled in a crab boil seasoning. Their meat can also be added to any dish of your choice (try them in a chili, a gumbo, or with a wild rice dish!).