A reader watched an older episode of “Hooked on Utah” in which I took part in trapping and cooking several thousand crayfish (crawdads) for a multi-family feast.
His question, after seeing the program, was this: “Where can you find crayfish in Utah and how do you catch them?”
According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), crayfish are found in ponds, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs across the state. Here is a list: “The Virgin, Price, Bear Duchesne, Weber, and Green River basins and in Glen Canyon (Lake Powell), Flaming Gorge, Deer Creek, Starvation, Lost Creek, Sandwash, Gunlock, Newcastle, Huntington North, Scofield, East Canyon, Strawberry/Soldier Creek, and Willard reservoirs.”
I have fished for and trapped crayfish in Deer Creek, Flaming Gorge, Lake Powell, and of course, Strawberry/Soldier Creek.
For me, summertime is the best time to find and catch the tasty critters.
As a family, we booked a group site each year on the Soldier Creek side of Strawberry for sometime in mid-to-late July or even into August. We caught thousands of crayfish, enough to feed the masses (between 75 and 100 people), including several family groups, neighbors, and friends.
We planned the event months in advance and I took charge of catching the bulk of the crayfish starting early in the morning of the day of the event.
I had nine crayfish traps accumulated over the years and, along with the remnants of a few buckets of fried chicken wings and bones, a few of us began setting traps in fairly shallow water in an area about 300 to 400 long around rocky points and submerged islands.
Most of the time, we baited the traps with fried chicken bones or even raw chicken legs, and connected the traps to cords with floats attached with my name written in permanent marker. Our “sets” soaked for an hour or so, and then we pulled the traps, removed the crayfish, baited the traps again, and repeated the process. Ice chests held the crayfish and since we were going to cook them within a few hundred yards of the water, we simply carried the ice chests full of crayfish right to the boiling pot.
Towards mid-afternoon, while our group made its way up to the reservoir for dinner, we tied string to raw chicken legs and had them ready for the children and adults in the group to use near the shore to help bolster our numbers for the crawdad boil.
They tossed their chicken bones into shallow water and then, when the crayfish swarmed the meat and hooked their pinchers into the flesh, the anglers would slowly pull the chicken leg into shore and the crayfish held fast to the chicken and as the chicken was lifted from the water, a small fishing net held by someone else would pass under the chicken to catch the crayfish hanging onto the chicken.
In an hour or two of this, we added several hundred more crayfish to the ice. This got everyone involved in the “catching” as well as the “eating.”
We used Cajun seasoning, a huge crawdad boiling pot, corn on the cob, sausage (for those who didn’t want to eat crayfish) and new potatoes. Watermelon was the perfect dessert.
All told, it was a very long day but one that left everyone happy and wanting to repeat it again soon.
At Strawberry, crayfish are all over the reservoir. They like rocky points but really any kind of rock from gravel to boulders and in water so diverse as from Renegade through the Narrows and from The Ladders to most of Strawberry Bay.
We tried not to kept crayfish under 4 inches in length and even tried to catch as many 5 to 6 inchers as possible.
If you haven’t considered catching and eating crayfish (crawdads), you really need to give it a try. They are tasty, easy to handle, and with a good Cajun spice mix, can make you feel like you are in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.