Commercial Crayfishing at
Lake Billy Chinook

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The best years of my life were spent on Lake Billy Chinook near Madras, Oregon. The giant reservoir was fed by three rivers and created 356 miles of shoreline. Millions of years before the dam was in place the three rivers cut deep canyons into the flat plain above. From every angle the lake was breathtaking.  Crayfish Traps, Rim view picture of Lake Billy Chinook
Crayfish Traps, Early April picture of marina

The largest section of the lake had a very modern marina with several hundred boat slips. 

Here is a picture of the boat moorage at the beginning of the crayfish season before all the vacationers filled the harbor up with their pleasure boats.

Another picture from my boat  as I was heading up one of the river arms. The three arms seemed to go on for ever even when you were moving out at 45 MPH on good water. One definitely had to carry a lot of gas to get to the good fishing ground. The MONSTER crayfish were always at the head waters of the lake. Often we would catch crayfish which exceeded 9 inches from horns to end of tail. The crayfish we were after was the Pacifasticus which is a rather rare and most sought after crayfish only found in the Pacific Northwest. Crayfish Traps, A look back at one of the river arms to Lake Billy Chinook as we head up to pick Crayfish traps.
Crayfish Traps, My custom crayfish boat has finally arrived. It was designed to haul 150 crayfish traps and hold 2 tons of crayfish

Catching crayfish sure became easier once my boat was completed!

Here is a picture of my new boat ready to go to work. It's 18 foot long and 8 foot across. I designed this boat specifically for catching crayfish and hauling heavy loads quickly over a long distance. If you look closely you can see the drum winch on the forward section. The drum head stands a good 2 feet above the gunnels and the entire frame is actually mounted on the decking. The drum holds 4500 feet of 3/8 inch poly rope. Our ground lines were 1400 feet with 50 pots each.

 

By the 1980s my father, wife, brother, and two very good friends were much involved in crayfish fishing as well. Crayfish Traps, Picture of my father who was always there for support!

My father never actually did any crayfish fishing but he was always there for me with plenty of advise and always had the correct way to do anything. Even to this day I remember the daily lectures I use to get from him at a very early age and not once have I found him ever to be wrong.

My brother and very good friend Andy Holt both had boats of their own. Both however did not have winches to pull their ground lines.  At the time I was the only one that I knew of who didn't pull their trap lines by hand.

Crayfish Traps, Picture of my brother getting ready to pick up crayfish traps My brother's boat to the left.
Andy's boat to the right. Crayfish Traps, A picture of my good friend, Andy, boat. He did it the hard way.
Crayfish Traps, My friend Ron and myself waiting for the season's start. Crayfish traps and holding bins in the background. I'm the big guy on the right. Ron, another friend of mine from the Reef Netting days brought his Crab boat down for a few months one year before salmon fishing started. It was a good thing he did to because that year he saved my life. 
Ron and I holding his boat up before season start. Notice both pickups are loaded high with holding bins. It would be a nice paycheck to have all of those bins filled!!
My always supportive wife was my first mate, sorter, pot puller, and boss behind the scenes. Crayfish Traps, Picture of my wife Rikki pulling crayfish traps with winch. The new boat and winch made work so much easier!
It was amazing how fast she could sort crayfish.  All crayfish under 3 3/4 went back into the water. In some areas the small crayfish averaged 80 percent of the over all catch. Other areas produced 90 percent keepers. Crayfish were always on the move migrating by size. Not every time was it possible to judge where the big crayfish might be that day.
Sorting crayfish was always a chore and it's not something we looked forward to but it had to be done.
To the right is me sorting a pot full of crayfish during the beginning of the season. I had already pulled my gear and was helping Ron finish his set. 
Crayfish Traps, Picture of me grading the contents of a crayfish trap. It's still early in the season and had only about 8 pounds in that trap
Crayfish Traps, Picture of Ron & myself grading a very full crayfish trap full Ron emptied another pot on the table to sort and figured he better help me catch up.
Crayfish Traps, Finally finished grading the string of crayfish traps and Ron dared me to eat one live. I should have bet him a 20 on the dare The start of the season the weather is still very cold and it's pretty darn difficult to move quickly in near freezing weather. After several  hours of sorting crayfish and you have been pinched and mauled by those little mudbugs, a person gets a little testy with them. This Picture show me ready to take a bite out one and Ron has a hammer ready to smash the critter to bits. Ron dared me to really eat the crawfish live. Well, I'd be darned if I could pass up a dare especially coming from Ron. Actually it wasn't to bad, I was surprised. Once you got past all the shell crunching and the very idea you were eating a raw live crayfish, it was quite tasty. Word of course got around about me eating a live crawfish, but when anyone gave me a hard time about it I always replied that your not a true crawfisher unit you eat them live.
The picture with the wire cylinder half way full is how we held our legal sized crayfish. Each holding bin held about 125 pounds of crayfish were suspended from the dock until the buyers arrived to pick them up. I have build many different types of holding bins and this design proved to be the most successful design for handling, holding large amounts with the lowest percentage of death loss. Crayfish Traps, Ron bringing additional holding bins for the morning catch. Good catch for so early in the year.

 

 

This picture was taken on the opening day. I was surprised to get this many crayfish in a single pot on April 1st, all were keepers too.
Crayfish Traps, It looks like a good year ahead. Opening day picture of one crayfish traps catch, best year ever.

 

2 Pictures of Ron pulling his lines from the road above.
Crayfish Traps, Picture from road looking down as Ron pulls his crayfish traps  Crayfish Traps, Picture of Ron setting out is line of crayfish traps

Far off picture of my brother heading back to the marina from the headwaters of the Dechutes arm of the lake. Another 20 miles he'll be back. I bet he is wishing he had a bigger motor then!
Crayfish Traps, Picture of my brother heading back to the marina after running his crayfish traps

This page sure brings back some fond memories. If you have never fished crayfish to make money, it is something definitely to consider. I have never experienced such freedom and peace of mind in anything I have ever done.

If you do decide to start crayfishing for fun and profit, be sure to read my very long history page and see all that I went through before you begin. If you decide to design your own pots, good luck to you and keep the faith because it doesn't come cheaply or quickly. Much like Crab Pots used on the west coast, pots need to be balanced in order for them to be successful. Many Crab Fishers have purchased large numbers of Crab Pots which refuse to catch Crabs in any amount to be profitable. As I mentioned on my History page I employ a large number of trade secrets in the building of my pots that make them extremely fishable and I won't tell anyone what they are. Ask my brother and friends if I shared that information with them. All of us have been competitive all our lives and crayfishing was one thing I truly excelled at!


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Crayfish Traps, Link to no frames site map for both metal detecting and crayfish traps

 

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