Crayfish, also known as crawfish or crawdads, are common throughout much of the US, Canada, and much of Europe and Asia. Most of the over 500 species found in North America live in rivers and streams, but some also live in lakes, ponds, sloughs, and a few species even live on land. They can be recognized because they look somewhat like a small lobster.
Catching these crustaceans is a lot easier than most people might think, and it can be a great fun, though you must vary your techniques with the area they are living in. For instance, landforms generally live in burrows under the moist ground and come out at night to feed. These can be caught will little more than a flashlight, a bucket and a small amount of patience.
For lakes and deep rivers, crayfish traps can be purchased that look somewhat like a tube of metal hardware cloth with an inverted cone on each end, that is open to the interior. The crayfish can get into the traps easily, but it is very difficult for them to get out. The bait is usually dead fish, fish parts, chicken or other meat, which will nearly always attract them in droves if they are present, since most water species are both predators and scanvengers.
In shallower rivers and streams, it is often more easy and time effective to catch crayfish by hand, though a fine fish net can also be used. One of the favorite techniques is to use both of the hands, one hand in front and one behind the crayfish. Movement from the hand in front of the animal will usually cause the crayfish to scuttle backward, and this is something they can do very rapidly and suddenly, so it is best to be prepared for the sudden movement. When the crayfish gets close to the hand in the rear, they can be pinned and picked up.
This may beg a question by anyone who has seen a crayfish. These crustaceans look like miniature lobsters, complete with imposing pincers. Small ones are not much of a concern, but larger ones are quite capable of giving a hard pinch.
There is a way to do it, though, which is easy to master. Grasp the crawdad between the thumb and forefinger, with these immediately behind the front legs which have the pincers. The crayfish will generally raise the claws and may even wave them menacingly, but because of where they are being held, they are unable to get to the skin to give the pinch. They can then be put in either the bucket or the pot, whichever is the most convenient.
The late Euell Gibbons recounted in detail, catching crayfish out of a cornfield in one of his books. Most people probably won't have the phenomenal success he had, quickly filling several buckets with fresh crawdads. Still, the effort is well worth it, as these creatures are both abundant and tasty.
It isn't hard to catch crayfish, and it can be fun, especially on hotter days when it will be a relief to get wet. The cost is minimal, particularly when compared to the amount that it would cost to purchase an equivalent number of crawdads from the store. It is even more worthwhile when they are cooked and consumed.
As good as crayfish taste, they taste even better when prepared fresh right there on the banks of a river or lake. If there is also a mess of fish to cook up, there is the makings for a wonderful feast. They can even be better, served with some corn on the cob or in a green salad. Still, they are overlooked too often. Catch some and create the feast. It takes little but some time, and not even much of that.