by Todd Walker
If you never experienced an angry creek lobster clamped to the end of your finger as a young creek-walker, you missed a childhood rite of passage. If the crawfish was of sufficient size, bleeding would soon follow. But that taste, oh, that wonderful, heavenly tail meat, boiled up in your tin can hobo stove by the creek side, made the pain a distant memory.
My brother and I were well acquainted with these woodland decapods (ten-footed crustaceans). Craig and I would catch them by hand, mostly. A cane pole with a hunk of blue gill or tadpole hooked at the end of the line would be employed to coax larger mud bug from hideouts when neither of us were brave enough to go in bare-handed. Clamped to the bait, a greedy crawfish will usually hang on until you drag him slowly out of the water and into your tin can.
Another successful method came in the form of a “scavenged” window screen. Sorry about that one, Daddy. But it worked. Tie strings to the corners of the slightly bent frame and knot them a few feet above the center. Tie bait to the middle of the screen and lower it in the creek. Pull the trap out when you see crawfish on top of the trap. You’ll lose a few but will catch enough.
You may never run across a window screen or hardware cloth in the woods but hollow logs are plentiful…
Hollow Log Trap
While collecting resources in the woods last month for my river cane fish trap, I ran across a hollow log. Mr. Steve Watts shared a diagram of a simple fish trap crafted from a hollow log in his book, Practicing Primitive. If it worked for fish, it could be modified to catch crawfish, I thought. Even in his recent passing, his legacy and influence lives on.
I chopped a section of the log and hauled it back to base camp. It sat there for a few weeks as I conjured a way to catch mud bugs in a hollow log. Here’s my adaptation of Steve’s simple trap design…
- Hollow log section with an opening just larger than the size of my fist
- Vines and sticks to craft an entrance funnel
- Rock or stick to plug the opposite end – or weave two funnels for both ends
- A rock large enough to keep the log submerged
Weave a Funnel
I have an abundance of wild grape vine near my shelter. The honeysuckle patch was further away but would also be well suited for the task. Any flexible vine or material would work. With little effort, I found several young vines stretching up a nearby tree.
On larger diameter grape vines you’ll often find long, stringy tendrils hanging down from the main vine. Not sure what their proper name or function is, but you’ll recognize them when you see them. They remind me of hippy beads hanging from the doorways in my past. I used a few of these in the weaving.
Take and odd number of sticks (5 to 9) about eight inches long and shove them into the ground at an angle to form a one to two-inch circle at the base. This allows you to weave vines between the ribs which will save you large amounts of frustration. I used split river cane for my ribs which were left over from my recent fish trap project.
Begin weaving vines at ground level alternating between the uprights. Continue this weaving pattern until the funnel is large enough to cover the log opening.
Insert the funnel into the opening of the log. For this test, I closed the smaller end by driving a wrist-size stick into the opposite opening.
You’ll want to secure the funnel(s) to the log. On my first test, I used a few long vines as cordage to wrap and secure the funnel to the log. This method was not as secure as using commercial cordage but did work better than a friction fit only.
Bait the Trap
As for bait choices, I’ve found crawfish prefer fresh bait and lots of it. Fish heads, frogs (not toads), fresh entrails, chicken liver or gizzard work. They also seem to love bacon! Who doesn’t, right?
Before closing the trap ends, place your preferred bait inside the log. I cut a chunk of my homemade, dry cured bacon and tossed it into the hollow log, secured the trap ends, and set the trap in the creek.
Set the Trap
Find a spot near the edge of a creek or pond you can easily reach. For creek or stream use, a weak current or eddy current is preferred. The water needs to be deep enough to completely submerge the trap.
Most wood is less dense than water and therefore floats. To sink the log tarp, I leaned a heavy, flat rock on top to keep it submerged. I then went about my day working on some fire craft skills at base camp. An hour later I had two creek lobsters in my pot.
This type trap has limitations. Unlike commercial traps, you’d have a difficult time submerging a wooden trap in deeper lake water. My main purpose was to craft a trap from items found in the woods. But make no mistake, the hollow log trap is more than a novelty item. It will catch a delicious woodland delicacy!
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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