Hatches Made Easy:

Crayfish:

05/27/08

Order: Decopoda
The Crayfish, sometimes called crawdads, resemble their marine relatives, the
lobster. I am sure that any of you that have fished the streams of the Smokies
very much have seen plenty of them.
Crayfish have ten legs including their front two that are used to gather food and
probably to defend themselves. There are over five-hundred species in North
America. I am not certain how many there are in the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park but it is not important except possibly for color purposes and I
have noticed little variation in the color of them.
Although they average a much smaller size, they can be found up to five or six
inches long. Until I started to catch aquatic insects in my kick nets, I used to think
most of them were large or at least two or three inches long. Of course I knew
that had to be small early in their life. When we started photographing samples
of the aquatic insects, we found our nets would often be full of small crayfish
from one-half inch to two inches or so. This was especially true in the early
spring. What was amazing to me was the number of them. Of course it varied
depending on where the sample was taken but in most places there were usually
a lot of them - as many as twenty or thirty in a two foot wide net. It seemed
completely out of proportion to what you observe looking in the water fishing. My
off hand guess is that they are good at hiding under the rocks on the stream
bottom.
Crayfish grow by molting or shedding their skins. When they do molt they must
hide to protect themselves until their new shells harden. They usually hide under
rocks during the day, hard or soft, and come out at night or very low light
conditions to feed and move about.
Now this is purely speculation, but I have begin to believe that large trout,
especially the brown trout, feed on them much more than is generally thought
Mention crayfish and most anglers will think smallmouth bass. It is certainly true
the smallmouth will eat them but I also believe the brown trout do too, much more
than they are thought too.
Now I am not going to catch and open the stomachs of any of the browns to see
but in my unverified thinking at the time, that this is one reason the brown trout
in the Smokies can grow to such a large size. Certainly they eat other things
such as minnows, sculphin and probably many other game and baitfish. I feel
sure they also eat the stonefly nymphs, especially the large stonefly nymphs
when their metabolism is in high gear.
There are some very good commercially available imitations of small crayfish.
Some of the best are Shane Scalcup patterns. He has a pattern just for the small
crayfish.
Crayfish swim backwards and can move very swiftly when they are disturbed.
That is what most imitations are designed to imitate. I have fished his large and
small patterns and caught some brown trout on them but I have very little
experience doing so and only during mid day hours. One of my planned projects
is to intensionally fish a crawfish pattern in the low light conditions of early
morning and as late in the day as the park rules permit.
I would like to hear from any of you who has experience using crawfish patterns
in the park. I am just going on the availability of the food and that I have verified.
Crawfish are extremely plentiful in the streams of the park.

Coming Up Next:
Sculphin

Copyright 2008 James Marsh