It is crawdad time in Lake Washington, and many others lakes and streams throughout Washington.
The crayfish season opened on May 4 and goes through Oct. 31, and their population remains abundant.
People refer to the mini-crustaceans by various names, and all are equally accepted.
Crawfish. Crayfish. Crawdad. Crawdab. Even mud bugs. Whatever you call them, they’re cousins of lobster, shrimp and crab.
According to state Fish and Wildlife research, the term “crayfish’ probably arose from a misunderstanding of an old word crevis, which is related to the German Krebs or “crab.” English speakers heard the last syllable as “fish” and so it went on from there.
Sport fishermen are allowed to set two pots per person, and no license is required. The daily limit is 10 pounds in the shell with a minimum size limit of 3¼ inches from the tip of the rostrum (nose) to the tip of the tail. All females with eggs or young attached must be released.
Marking-pot rules are similar to crab and shrimp, and details can be found in the state Fish and Wildlife regulation pamphlet.
Unlike crab and shrimp, no colored buoys are required by sport fishermen, but they need to be marked on the surface by some type of flotation device.
The signal crawfish found in Washington are not the same as those found in other parts of the country or world. The ones found around here are large compared to those found elsewhere, including the red swamp and white river crawfish in Louisiana.
Signal crawfish are also slower in growing to adult size. It takes about two to three years to reach the minimum legal size of 3¼ inches, but they can grow as big as 6 inches or more in five to six years.
Crawfish prefer fresh animal food, but also eat a wide range of aquatic plants.
Salmon chunks work well and they also seem to prefer oily fish. People use everything from chicken necks to gizzards, and punching a can of cat food.
Juvenile crawfish prefer shallow, weedy areas where they can find protection from predators — and each other, because they are cannibalistic — and the large adults prefer deeper water to avoid birds and land mammals.
Crawfish like underwater structure and murky, muddy areas that has some hard bottom away from shore. Look for places with overhanging brush and knocked-down tress along the shorelines.
The common depth to fish is 15 to 30 feet or so, but not much deeper than 40 feet. Overnight soaks or longer usually provide the best catches.
Besides Lake Washington, other places to find crawfish are in the Grays and North rivers down south, in the mid-Columbia River by the Tri-Cities area, near the John Day Dam in the Columbia River, Lake Cavanaugh, Clear Lake and Lake McMurray in Skagit County, Moses Lake in Grant County and Duck Lake near Ocean Shores.
(Photos by Mark Yuasa)