At one time or another I’ve hunted and fished for most of the available species on this continent. Not all successfully, you understand, but I’ve done my best and enjoyed almost every encounter. Trying to extract rattlesnakes from gopher tortoise holes in Florida and put them alive and wriggling into burlap sacks was a notable exception.
All were exciting in their own way, but only one involved the entire family, only one was fun from beginning to end. The kind of fun that brings children older than five and younger than 90 together in a laughing, splashing, cheering, derisive, explosive festival of noise and raucous hilarity that remarkably, ends with a fine big batch of mouth-watering food.
You know what it is, right? You know I’m not talking about hunting—too skill-dependent; or fishing—too uncertain; certainly not clamming—too quiet; and not crabbing—too much work.
No, of course you know this most egalitarian of outdoor activities, requiring only a clear, free-flowing river, a thirst for adventure…and a hunger for a moist, tender meat that puts Maine lobster to shame, no matter what all those people from the small eastern states might claim.
Of course, you know all about our crawdads, those little orange crustaceans (they turn red when cooked) found in most Oregon streams, rivers and lakes, including those in our immediate vicinity. You’ve probably caught thousands of them over the years and boiled them up right on the streambank in river water and a few tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning.
Author’s note: I say crawdads, you might say crayfish. You’re not wrong…not exactly. You may also say ‘creek,’ while my lips will not form the ‘ee’ sound, preferring the more sophisticated ‘crick’ pronunciation. In my mind, ‘crayfish’ refers to the southeastern variety, raised by the millions in cultivated swampland for food. Crayfish are the semi-domesticated branch of the family, big, sluggish and dopey, living communally in dull, warm-watered harmony until some human comes along and carts them off to a restaurant.
Our crawdads are warriors, rugged individuals who come together for mating only, although there are rumors of chaste cotillions during the autumnal equinox. They fight at a moment’s notice and individuals going through the molt must hide lest their softened exoskeleton allow their enemies to kill and eat them. This aggressiveness has always been the limiting factor in commercial use of northwestern crawdads. When kept in close living conditions, they eat each other, severely limiting the profits.
Just in case you’ve not yet taken part in crawdadding, here are the basic requirements, in addition to bathing suit and river shoes. You’ll need a container—this can be either a bucket or a cloth sack you can carry with you. In many ways the sack is better but you’ll need to keep it submerged most of the time. If you use a bucket, change the water regularly. Like all shellfish, crawdads should be kept alive until they are cooked. A trout net, small mesh. Even good-sized crawdads can scoot through relatively small holes in the net. A stick to move the crawdad into your net. It’s helpful if the stick is big enough to lean on, but all you really need is something to get the crawdads’ attention and convince them to scoot backwards (they always scoot backwards) into your cleverly placed net.
Serious crawdadders often use mask and snorkel to dive into deeper holes and grab larger crawdads by hand but of course they miss the screams and laughter of the children charging through the shallower water.
Here’s the best part: no license is required for crawdads and the limit is 100 per day per person. And the best time to go crawdadding is RIGHT NOW! What are you waiting for?