Known as “mountain lobster” or crayfish, these tiny crustaceans are a Utah delicacy.
Ask someone if it’s possible to catch fresh shellfish here in Utah, and they’d likely answer, “You’re crazy! What kind of shellfish could possibly be found in our land-locked high desert?”
But what about the humble crawfish? You might have heard them called by other names such as crayfish, mudbugs, crawdads, crawdaddies, mountain lobster, freshwater lobster or even yabbies. It really doesn’t matter what you call them. To borrow from the Bard: “A crawfish by any other name would taste as sweet.”
Many who’ve heard of these tasty morsels associate them exclusively with New Orleans, but I am here to tell you that many Utah lakes abound with crawfish. What? You’ve never tasted them before? You want to know exactly how something with an unappealing nickname such as “mudbug” living in a freshwater mountain lake is considered seafood? Well, these little critters are like a mix between lobster, crab and shrimp. They taste like lobster, are not quite as sweet as crab and are slightly chewier than shrimp. Not only are they easy to catch and delicious to eat, but crawfish fishing makes for a great time outdoors enjoying our pristine scenery, too!
Where, when & how much
The optimal time of year to catch crawdads in Utah is August through October, though you can catch them other times of the year. As to where, check with the Division of Wildlife Resources, agricultural extension agents, fishing supply stores or even Google, but my favorite is Strawberry Reservoir. An entrance fee is charged but it includes established cleaning stations, running water and campsites with fire rings (some free, some you’ll pay extra for).
Fishing licenses are required for any fisher 12 or over. If you don’t need a year-long pass, adults can buy a three-day license for $16. There is currently no limit on the number of crawfish you can catch or possess.
Here is a short list of what you will need:
bait (cooked chicken)
long-handled net (with small mesh to prevent escape)
ice chest and ice
towels to keep captured crawfish from harming one another
How to catch crawfish
The best location along the shore to set your baits are open areas with rocky, sandy or muddy bottoms. Avoid weedy areas (it makes catching them harder).
You can buy traps made just for crawfish, or you can go with a more hands-on setup (which I think is much more fun, especially if you brought the kids along for the adventure).
Tightly tie one end of ordinary fishing line to the bone of a piece of cooked chicken. Tie the other end of the fishing line to a rock or a stake that you can drive into the ground (so you don’t lose your line).
Toss the chicken about 5 feet out into the water, or as far as your net can reach.
You can catch your fill more quickly by repeating this setup with a couple of more lines, keeping each bait set at least 20 feet apart on the shoreline (to avoid cloudy water reducing visibility).
Check each set of bait. If the bait has gathered crawfish, catch them using the net in a quick sweeping motion. It’s best to bring the net in from behind them as they will scatter if you approach them from the front. You will probably sweep up the bait as well, and that’s OK. Just throw it back into the water after you empty the net.
Grabbing crawfish is easy. Approach them from the rear and pick them up just behind the head and claws. It will be impossible for them to pinch you. If you do get pinched, don’t worry, it won’t hurt too much. It’s more of a surprise than any kind of injury.
Return crawfish under 2 inches back into the water and store the keepers (around 4 inches long) in your ice chest. Keep them cool and dry (open the drain in your ice chest to prevent melted ice from pooling). Create layers using towels or gunnysacks to keep them from harming each other. Also, place ice in between the cloth layers so it doesn’t touch the crawfish.
Where to cook
Utah law prohibits transporting live crawfish. I find it best to cook them on site and thus avoid the hassle and time needed to dispatch each crawfish individually prior to transporting them.
However, once cooked, you can transport them as desired (but let’s be honest, if you do things right, you probably won’t have any leftovers).
Before cooking, wash and rinse the crawfish at least four times in fresh water, thoroughly scrubbing grit and mud with nylon-bristled brush. Pinch, twist and pull off the top middle fin on the tail to de-vein crawfish.
Crawfish Boil Recipe
Fill a large pot with about 5 gallons of water (for 35 pounds of crawfish). Allow about 25 crawfish per person.
Add to water
2 ½ cups Kosher salt
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons black pepper
4 tablespoons cayenne
3 tablespoons Italian dried herbs
2 tablespoons paprika
1.5 tablespoons dill seeds whole
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds whole
1 tablespoon dry thyme
1 tablespoon dry mustard
Cover & bring to a boil.
Place the following into strainer basket
3 pounds small red potatoes (cut larger ones in half)
2 large white onions, halved & sliced ½ inch thick
2 garlic bulbs, unpeeled and broken out of bulb
4 ears of corn, shucked and cut into thirds
5 Andouille sausages, cut into 1 inch pieces
Place strainer basket with ingredients into the water, cover and boil for 10 minutes.
Quickly add clean, rinsed and de-veined live crawfish (25 per person)
Stir to quickly and mercifully kill crawfish
Cover and cook for 3 minutes
Remove pot from heat and wait 10 minutes.
Remove strainer insert and drain fully.
Pour contents onto table covered in butcher paper.
Squeeze juice of 1 fresh lemon over top and dig in.