Here is the Reason Why My Crawfish Traps are the Best in the
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Crayfish Trap Design & Crayfish Fishing History
I first started commercial fishing in 1962 for salmon along Lummi Island in Puget Sound located in the Pacific Northwest. This unique method of fishing for salmon required the use of two anchored 40 foot boats with a large black fishing net spanning 50 feet between each boat where the fish were captured and recovered from. A cleverly constructed artificial reef was attached to front end of each boat. The reef was designed to fool the salmon into rising from the depths until they were visible by the people standing in the forward towers. The salmon upon seeing the black net between the boats were draw instinctively to what may be a safe haven, an illusion created by the net. Once the school of salmon swam past the last reef line and into the net, the net was raised capturing the salmon. Patience, soon you'll understand the connection between my salmon fishing and crawfish trap design.
This is the first year that I had ever heard of fishing for crayfish commercially in Washington State. One of the fish companies had a crawfish buying station setup along one of our bigger lakes. They were paying $1.00 a pound live and they had to be 3 3/4" in length. That was big money back then especially when all you had to do is bait a trap, put it in the water, then haul in the money. 1970 was definitely a year to remember but not one to be remembered as a high production year. It was one of trial and error, it was a good thing I didn't quit my day job!
I started out that first year with 20 traps I bought from a local fisherman who decided catching crawfish wasn't for him. I had a old wooden boat which would fit in my 1953 Ford panel truck and still had room left for the traps. Add some rope, oars, bait, and I was ready to make the big bucks! I didn't give much thought to the traps I was using, after all one would think all you had to do is put in bait and the crawdads would be scrambling to get in the trap, right? The traps I bought were a square wood frame with chicken wire for sides. The ends had a wood ramp were the crawfish were suppose to crawl up after the bait and drop into the trap. Also the traps WERE HEAVY!
never forget the first time I ran my crayfish traps! After I finished my day job
I drove in excitement to the lake with high hopes of a big catch. The
first trap I tried to pull was stuck to something on the bottom of the lake. No
matter how hard I tried I could not break it free, so I left it and rowed on to
the next trap. The next trap was empty and it looked like something could have
ate a little bit of the bait. Finally on the third trap I actually caught my
first crawdad and my second as well. There were two keepers in it. I don't
remember how the rest of traps went other than I lost one more trap and I ended
up with a total of 3 or 4 pounds of keepers. When I when to the sell my daily
catch another fisherman was just docking his boat. I watched him
haul in five, 5 gallon buckets, of crayfish totaling almost a 100 pounds. When I
asked him where he caught that many he told me, "Down the lake a
piece.". Yep, that sure told me a lot. Then I asked him how many pots was
he fishing and his answer was "About that many". In other words he
just wasn't saying anything.
I did find out from the buyer, the other fisherman was fishing about 150 traps. He was using a trap called a 'Swedish Pot'. Basically it was a coil of round wire with netting surrounding the wire. The netting was extended past the wire coil and pulled back inside forming a crude tunnel on each end. Both ends of the netting were tied together through the inside with twine which held the netting tight over the coil. The center of the outside of the netting had a slice in it which was tied together with another piece of twine, this acted as a door to the pot. The pot could also be squeezed together compressing the coils of wire and collapsing the net. The idea of course was for easy storage but didn't do much for everything becoming quite tangled. The buyer sold the Swedish Pots and I bought 10 of them with high hopes of catching those freshwater shellfish.
It was a good thing I bought the Swedish Pots too! Within a week I had lost all but 4 of the original box traps. It was clear after spending nearly $300.00 for 10 Swedish Pots that I must make my own traps in order to afford any amount of them. Plus I wasn't at all happy with the number of crayfish I was catching in them either. I could tell the crayfish were escaping after they had a meal at my expense just by the amount of bait that was left, if there was any bait left as well.
Thankfully I had not quit my DAY JOB! The season in Washington State was from April 1st to October 31st, 7 months. I spent nearly the last six months of the season experimenting with new designs of crawfish traps. I tried every shape and size, multiple entrances and mesh sizes, self-grading, you name it I tried it. Most of the traps I made were square or rectangle and ALL fished poorly. Finally I tried a round wire trap 36 inches in length and about 14 inches in diameter. I formed a cone to use as entrances at both ends and suspended the bait in the center of the trap. The wire mesh was hardware clothe, 1/2 by 1/2 in mesh size.
I had purchased quite a bit of the wire and made 10 of the round pots before trying them. The first time I pulled them I knew I had a winner, I had at least 400 percent more crayfish in each one and the number of crayfish per pot was Consistent. Another thing I noticed right away that these pots didn't hang up on the bottom as much. Another plus because I had lost over 70 traps so far this year alone.
The season was drawing to a close for the year I had one week left. I took the week off from work as a paid vacation and made up another 15 pots giving me a total of 25 of the new pots. I had heard of a small lake just south of me that was suppose to be loaded with crayfish. I decided to spend a couple of nights at the lake and see if there were really crayfish there. It was a good thing I took all my wet locks (waxed cardboard boxes) with me, little did I know I would need every one.
When I arrived at the lake in the morning I proceeded to set out all my traps. The lake was not very deep and extremely clear. I had one trap left and I decided to place it close to the shore in shallow water where I could observe it just to see if there was any crayfish close by. Besides, I didn't have anything else to do, I remember I forgot to bring a fishing pole or even a book to read. So I tied the boat off from the bank and dropped the pot over the side then enjoyed the sun while I watched the pot. What a great life and it would be even better if I could make some money at crayfishing.
I wasn't very long until I spotted a crawdad working it's way toward the pot. Boy was I excited. The crawdad headed straight to the center of the pot and was quickly joined by several more. Soon there was at least 20 of them on each side of the pot right at the center where the bait was. I was shocked the crayfish didn't just walk up the tunnel and go after the bait. Soon the crayfish were walking up and down along the sides of the pot yet Never Once did they ever crawl on top or the sides of the pot. At this time, to me that was very odd behavior for these mudbugs. Finally after about an hour had passed, there were at least 50 crayfish around the pot and several had walked around to one of the tunnels but refused to climb the tunnel and into the pot. They would pause at the wire tunnel and even step on it but would not go in. Many of the first to arrive crayfish had wondered away, I guess they gave up on the scent of the bait. Many more crayfish arrived at the Pot from areas unknown. I believe I sat in the boat watching the procession of crayfish for 4 or 5 hours and I remember estimating there was at least 500 to 600 crayfish which were drawn in by the bait. Out of all those crayfish to visit the pot, Only two of them climbed the tunnel and actually entered the pot. I was taken back at what I had discovered to say the least. But, what I discovered did not ring a bell until later that winter. All the deep secrets of catching crayfish presented themselves to me that day even though I didn't realize them at the time. I often think back to that day and wondered what kind of dummy I could have been. Well, if we are going to get anywhere in life all of us do have to pay our dues to do so, and I surely did so that first year of fishing crayfish.
the big problems I had with the new pots is that the hardware cloth would tear
where I had the rope tied to it. I also had trouble with the wire tearing in
other locations when the pot got hung up on the bottom as they occasionally do
at times. All hardware cloth is only lead soldered at the joints, these soldered
joints can and do pull apart easily.
This was a major problem and during the winter I went to our local commercial fishing supplier to see what I could find to connect the rope to the pot which wouldn't tear the wire.
browsing the shelves I spotted some black netting with a very small mesh
size. Lightening struck me right then and there. All the pieces suddenly fit
together on how to construct a crayfish which solved all the problems, well at
least nearly so. Still the basis of the design I have today stems from that
moment in the store.
Remember the lead in to this story on reef netting for salmon and the black fishing net? It had suddenly dawned on me upon seeing the black netting in the store, the safety of the black net might very well apply to crayfish as it did the salmon. Using wire as a tunnel made the crayfish instinctively avoid it unless they were desperately hungry. It doesn't take much genius to see where wire may appear to a crayfish as unstable footing and The Biggie, making the crayfish appear exposed to all their predators. I can't believe that I had been so foolish not to have thought of that before. NO CRAYFISH would expose themselves to be eaten by standing on a near invisible wire tunnel, no wonder the crayfish would not go in the tunnel when I was watching them from the boat! The black netting on the other hand gave the crayfish cover as they made their way to the bait and into the pot.
I had the hardware cloth problem. My traps would only last about a month before
they were beyond repair because of the breaking of the soldered joints. I had
been asking around for a solution to my problem and one store owner suggested I
try welded wire. I told him I would try it but not to much because it was a lot
more expensive then the simple hardware cloth. Now that I was actually Thinking
about building crayfish traps and not Just Doing, I believed a shorter pot would
also allow the crawfish find the tunnel entrance faster than longer pot. My
reasoning was because the crayfish always headed directly to bait first then
sought a less direct route if it had to. Crab or crayfish will always follow the
scent of the bait to it's source in a straight line rather than detouring first
to the tunnel. So it stood to reason that a crayfish would find it's way faster
to the bait in a 24 inch trap then a 36 inch trap. I couldn't have been more
After I build a number of traps with the new shorter and welded wire plus the Black Net tunnels, I decided to give new pots a test run. It was winter time and I didn't expect to catch any crayfish but I simply wanted to see how they handled. I ran out a ground line of perhaps 10 baited pots and picked it up the next afternoon. To my surprise I caught nearly 50 pounds of crayfish! It wasn't until I returned home that I realized I wasn't suppose to capture that many pounds of crayfish or use that many pots during off season. Of course it was to late by then because the crayfish were all ready boiling! Also, I was just to excited because I had finally designed a trap for crayfish that would beat all the others in capture and durability!
During the winter I built all the crayfish traps I could afford. I started the season off with 125 of the new pots, my old wooden boat and oars. I quit my Day Job after the first day of the new season. My first pull netted me almost 300 pounds of sellable crayfish. I made more money in my first pull then I did in 6 work days! I continued to average that poundage for next two weeks without losing a single pot.
I still had some very big problems, only it was not the pots this time. My boat was way to small and I was hand pulling the lines. My hands had blisters on blisters and they were far to sore to make new pots even if had a big enough boat to handle additional pots. My problems were soon to be solved thanks to my Father.
Father suggested that I use a gas driven drum winch to bring in my ground lines.
That would work alright but I did need a big enough boat to carry the weight of
the winch and everything else. A friend of my father, Clyde Freeman, was a
master fabricator and he had build hundreds of drum winches for commercial
gillnetters and purseseiners in past years.
The crayfish buyer, Andy Vitaljic, also was a fairly large fish processor and had been so for years. He happened to have a 16 foot wide beam boat and outboard motor which would fit the bill perfectly. I was Andy's main supplier of crayfish beating everyone else by nearly 300 percent, so to keep me happy Andy let me use the boat, motor, and trailer. My father helped with the cost of the winch, it was expensive to say the least.
In short order I had all the equipment put together that I needed and it was time it was time for the maiden voyage. Everybody turned out to see my performance with the new gear. Andy for some reason could not see the potential in what I had put together and was quite reserved. In my mind I knew just exactly how each step would take place and when I started pulling my pots it was like I had been using the new equipment for years. From the start to the finish of pulling my pots it took me only 1.5 hours. This time included not only just pulling the pots but rebaiting them, setting them back out, and grading the crayfish for size. I had caught over 450 pounds on that pull. Andy was beside himself in excitement, he couldn't believe the smoothness and ease of the pull. I always wondered how much money made off each pound of crayfish, apparently it was a lot more than what I was making!
In mid June crayfish were discovered in Lake Billy Chinook, Oregon. Just like the gold rush in the old days I was off to greener pastures 550 miles away. It was reported there were zillions of crayfish in that huge lake, and there were. It was said that if a person were to drown in the lake they would have to be recovered within 8 hours or else the crayfish would have them completely consumed. That was also true as I was to learn later.
My home base in commercial fishing for crayfish remained at Lake Billy Chinook until 1983 when I had to return back to Bellingham, WA. to raise my three children that my ex-wife could not find the time to do. During that long stay at Lake Billy Chinook it continued to amaze me how that single lake could support such a huge population of crayfish. I designed and had built a specialized, 18 foot heavy gauge aluminum crayfish boat, that allowed me to travel the 356 shoreline miles of the lake and be able to haul large amounts of crayfish pots along with heavy catches in all weather.
I continued to fine tune the design of my crayfish pot and it's attributes as the time went by and have yet to find another crayfish pot or trap which would even come close to out fishing it. One time I even won a $1000.00 dollar bet on who's trap could catch the most in the shortest period of time. I won't mention any names, one day a fellow who put together a minnow trap, (he is still marketing it today), came down to the lake's resort and claimed he had invented a minnow/crayfish pot which would out catch any current pot being used today. At that time I already had my new boat and was pulling 600 pots twice a day. It was well known by all for number of years that I was the high lead crayfisher on the West Coast. So, it was very apparent the reason the fellow came to the lake, he was looking for me to make a challenge to prove his pot was the best.
I don't believe the fellow came to the lake to bet any money on who could catch the most. I'm sure the money bet was instigated by me, it was my way back then. I was very confident in my pot design, not only in the catch results it provided for me but throughout the years dozens of new fisherman tried their luck at the lake. I believe I saw every possible method and design that could ever be dreamed up for catching crayfish. Only a couple of the fisherman were able catch enough to support themselves and still their catch was a fraction of mine.
The Bet was for both of us to run a string of 10 pots, 1 pot every 25 feet of the ground line, using the same bait. Both strings were run parallel with a distance of 10 feet between them. The pots would soak for 2 hours then both strings would pulled at the same time and the total poundage would be weighed in. Nearly 100 people attended the event and I remember being quite nervous when it came time to pull the pots. All 10 of my pots came up tunnel level full of crayfish. Not once had I looked to see how the other guy was doing, I was happy to see my pots full but I was more worried about losing face then losing the $1000.00! I guess the other guy didn't look at me either because he was the first one to weigh in and he smiled big when it was announced the weight was 10 pounds of crayfish. Well, I guess he felt that was a good catch! I then carried over my two nearly full garbage cans of crayfish and weighed in at 158 pounds of crayfish. I'll never ever forget the look on that fellows face for as long as I live. Without a word the guy handed me the $1000.00, never shook my hand or said anything. He turned and walked up to the parking lot and drove his pickup down and loaded up his pot. He got back in his truck and drove away. Everyone was watching him in silence and never once did he look at anyone, say anything, or change his facial expression. I was classified as a local by that time and soon everyone shaking my hand and patting me on the back and laughing at the poor sportsmanship of the city dude.
I could easily write a book, and I almost have here, about everything I did to design the perfect crayfish trap/pot, plus the adventures I had while crayfishing. Crayfishing was the most enjoyable and peaceful part of my life! If you have already checked out the metal detecting side of my site you'll see where I've become a computer programmer since crayfishing. Programming computer software is just another method of experimenting and figuring out the best method to write computer software. So is it any wonder why I would devote so much time to designing and experimenting to build the perfect crayfish pot? It's the nature of the beast.
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