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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

Crayfishing: Catching and Preparing Crayfish using Pots and Traps

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

In this post I want to tell you a little about catching crayfish, using pots or traps. Since moving to Suffolk I now have access to a river that is packed with crayfish (the Stour) and I am doing my very small bit to try and keep numbers down, one delicious mouthful at a time. I also want to talk about preparing them for the pot and how to despatch your crayfish quickly.

Want to know more? Learn more about the Where to find the American Signal Crayfish here.

How to catch crayfish in the UK
The American Signal Crayfish

Crayfish are relatively easy to catch, I remember fishing for crabs using old butchers bones on a string as a kid and you can pretty much use that technique for crayfishing too. However, to catch enough crayfish for a satisfying meal you'll need to scale up a little and invest in some Crayfish Pots and Traps. Crayfish pots and traps are relatively inexpensive and can be used time and time again. Consider them a small down payment on the many delicious meals to come.

Crayfishing using Pots or Traps

As I said above, since moving to Suffolk I have found that the rivers here are full of the American signal crayfish. The river Stour in particular is loaded with these little crustaceans. To catch them I use a series of pots, I own 6 pots, the black wire mesh kind of crayfish pot. I have replaced the wire that holds the pots together with a strong carabiner and then tie some para cord around the carabiner. I like to have 5m or so of paracord per pot, I then attach this to a tent peg so I can peg the pots overnight. You want your knots to be strong, because sometimes in the summer, when the rivers are starting to fill up with weed, you will have to drag some of this weed with the pot you don't want your clip or knot giving up at this point.

Crayfish Trapping in the UK

In the UK, trapping crayfish is regulated due to concerns over the spread of invasive non-native species and the conservation of native crayfish populations. The trapping methods and regulations may vary depending on the region and the specific crayfish species involved. Here are some key points regarding crayfish trapping in the UK:

  1. Licenses and Permissions: Before trapping crayfish, it is important to check the local regulations and obtain the necessary licenses or permissions. Different regions may have specific rules and requirements for crayfish trapping, so it's crucial to comply with these regulations to avoid penalties.

  2. Non-Native Crayfish: The UK has several non-native crayfish species, such as the signal crayfish, which are invasive and pose a threat to native crayfish populations. In many areas, trapping efforts focus on controlling and eradicating these invasive crayfish to protect native species. Specific trapping methods and regulations may be in place to target non-native crayfish populations.

  3. Trapping Methods: The specific trapping methods allowed for crayfish can vary. Common methods include the use of crayfish traps, nets, or pots specifically designed for capturing crayfish. The traps are usually baited to attract crayfish and may have escape prevention mechanisms to retain the captured crayfish.

  4. Bait Restrictions: To minimise the risk of spreading invasive crayfish or diseases, there may be restrictions on the type of bait that can be used. It's important to use bait that is locally sourced and does not pose a threat to the environment or native species.

  5. Protected Species: The UK is home to native crayfish species, such as the white-clawed crayfish, which are protected due to their declining populations. It is generally prohibited to trap or disturb these protected crayfish species. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the local regulations and identify any protected species to avoid unintentional harm.

  6. Reporting and Record-Keeping: Some regions may require fishermen to report their trapping activities and keep records of the number of crayfish caught, the locations, and other relevant data. This helps authorities monitor crayfish populations and implement appropriate conservation measures.

To ensure responsible crayfish trapping in the UK, it is important to stay informed about the local regulations, obtain any required licenses or permissions, and adhere to the recommended trapping methods and guidelines. Engaging with local fisheries authorities or organisations can provide further guidance on crayfish trapping practices specific to your area.

Crayfish Bait

Catching Crayfish in a Pot or Trap
Wire Mesh Crayfish Pot or Trap

There are many types of bait that work when crayfishing. These hungry little scavengers are always busy, hunting for their next meal. Left to their own devices, crayfish will eat anything. From fish eggs to frog spawn, dead fish to larvae. However, I have used many things for bait. Including bones with meat on, or any left over fish carcass. I have even seen people using old crab lines baited with bacon. However, after much trial and error. For bait I simply buy tins of cheap cat food - the smell seems to draw them from far and wide. You only need a couple of tablespoons of bait in each pot.

Best Bait for Crayfishing

I have a local fishmonger, if you have one and are interested in trapping crayfish, get friendly with them. My absolute favourite bait, the best bait in my opinion is salmon heads. Now this may seem a little snobby, but salmon heads are practical. They are an oily fish, so there scent will travel far downstream. They are a fresh fish, so in my opinion, there is a predetermined familiarity for the crayfish. Most importantly they last a long time. Cat food is a great bait, but tends to get gobbled up. Salmon heads however last for a long time, even the hungriest crayfish can't polish one of those off. Additionally, you sometimes get to reset the trap with the same bait in. As I say, it is good to get in with your local fishmonger to get a steady supply of these in the spring and summer.

Setting your Traps

When you throw in the pot, you have to make sure that it is on the bottom. Sometimes I weight my pots, but its best to find clear areas of the river, where the water runs fast and you can see the bottom. The pots have to be on the bottom of the river to catch crayfish.

I like to stake or peg my pots to the river bank (using the paracord) and let them soak overnight. Returning the next day to check them. If you have a number of pots or traps its best to spread them out a little. Say throw in a pot every 10m or so. You can cover more ground this way and you have more chance of catching more Crayfish in each area.

Once you have let the pots soak, hopefully they will be full with crayfish. Note that it is illegal to put them back once you have caught them. I take along a bucket and empty the crayfish into the bucket. Usually resetting the traps.

Setting strings of Pots for Crayfish

Signal crayfish can exhibit territorial and aggressive behavior. They are known to defend their burrows and may engage in aggressive interactions with other crayfish. Utilising multiple traps in close proximity can capitalise on their territorial tendencies, increasing the likelihood of capturing crayfish. They can also allow you to cover larger areas or test varying depths when investigating a new crayfishing spot.

When setting strings of crayfish pots, there are several techniques you can employ to optimise your chances of catching crayfish. Here are some key techniques to consider:

Location Selection: Choose areas where crayfish are likely to be present. Look for bodies of water with suitable habitats, such as rivers, streams, or lakes, that offer cover, such as rocks, logs, or vegetation.

Spacing: Determine the appropriate spacing between pots along the string. This can depend on factors such as the size of the water body. Generally, spacing the pots a few metres apart allows for effective coverage while maintaining an achievable number of pots to manage.

Selecting Different Depths: Place the strings along a line of varying depth, potentially along the middle and edge of a river. You'll be able to gauge the depth of the water and optimise your pots to the depth where you catch the most.

Buoy or Float Placement: Use buoys or floats to mark the location of your pots (first or last), particulalry if you are fishing in deep water. This allows for easy identification and retrieval. Make sure the buoy is visible and secured properly to withstand currents or potential disturbances.

Optimisation and Repositioning: Regularly inspect the pots. If initial trapping results are unsatisfactory, consider repositioning the pots to areas with higher crayfish activity, changing depth or location or testing multiple bait types on shorter strings.

By employing these techniques, you can increase the effectiveness of your crayfish pot strings and enhance your chances of successfully catching delicious crayfish.

Creating a DIY Crayfish Trap (just for fun)

If you are taking the kids out and you are not serious about catching a feed of crayfish, you can create a simple DIY trap to catch crayfish using a plastic bottle. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

Materials you'll need:

Plastic bottle (2-litre or larger)

Utility knife or scissors

Bait (e.g., fish scraps, meat, cat food)

String or fishing line

Weight (such as a small stone or fishing sinker)

Optional: Wire mesh or netting


Prepare the plastic bottle: Remove any labels or stickers from the bottle. Clean and dry it thoroughly.

Cut the bottle: Using a utility knife or scissors, carefully cut off the top section of the bottle, just below the neck. This will create an opening for crayfish to enter.

Create entry funnels: On the cut edge of the bottle, make two diagonal cuts (about 1-2 inches long) across from each other. Bend the flaps inward to form entry funnels that guide crayfish into the trap.

Bait the trap: Place an enticing bait inside the bottle to attract the crayfish. Fish scraps, bacon, or cat food are commonly used as effective baits. Ensure the bait is secure and won't easily fall out.

Add a weight: Attach a small stone or fishing sinker to the bottom of the bottle. This helps the trap sink to the bottom of the water and stay in place.

Optional: Enhance the trap design (more advanced): To improve the trap's effectiveness, you can attach a piece of wire mesh or netting around the bottle opening, creating a cage-like structure. This allows crayfish to enter but makes it more challenging for them to escape, this will also allow you to increase the size of the hole.

Secure the trap: Tie a string or fishing line around the neck of the bottle, making sure it is tightly secured. Attach the other end of the string to a buoy, floating object, or secure it to the shore.

Deploy and retrieve the trap: Lower the trap into the water, ensuring it sinks to the bottom and check every 10 minutes or so.. This kind of trap is only any good for short term use, a fun fishing trap whilst you sit and enjoy the sunshine by the river. Its also a good way to get kids into crayfishing. Best used in areas where significant numbers of crayfish live.

Killing and Cleaning Crayfish

Regardless of when you are going to eat the crayfish it is humane to despatch them quickly after catching them. To hold a crayfish you pick them up with your thumb and forefinger by pinching them either side of the head. Get up close the pincers and push them forward with the edges of your fingers. This prevents the crayfish from reaching back and giving you a nasty nip.

Holding and preparing the American Signal Crayfish
Holding the American Signal Crayfish

You'll need a large sharp knife and a chopping board (put a tea towel under the chopping board to prevent it slipping). I like to rinse my crayfish with fresh clean water ahead of the next stage.

To despatch the crayfish point the knife vertically aiming for the back of the head (where the head meets the thorax). I am right handed so I hold the crayfish (with the pinching maneuver) with my left hand and the knife in my right hand. Then in a swift but safe movement I push the knife into the back of the head and then bring it down, splitting the head in two. This is the most humane and instant means to dispatch a crayfish. The first cut severs the spinal cord (killing it instantly), the second makes sure.

American Signal Crayfish Body
American Signal Crayfish Body

Now to clean the crayfish. There are two ways to do this.

a) Simply split the thorax down the middle and then remove the gut. The crayfishes gut is a thin black line, you'll want to take this out.

b) The second technique is to pinch the swimming appendages or tail fin and then snap it upwards. When you hear it release you can gently pull the whole gut out in one go. This technique is perfect for when you want the whole tails.

Despatch all of the crayfish and then you will have a plate or board of crayfish to cook up.

Summing Up:

Crayfish catching in the UK using pots and traps offers an effective and sustainable method for both recreational and commercial purposes. This method allows for the capture of crayfish while minimising negative impacts on the environment and other aquatic species.

Pots and traps provide a passive means of crayfishing, reducing the need for active pursuit or disturbance of their natural habitats. By placing these devices in suitable locations, such as rivers, lakes, or streams, crayfish can be attracted to the bait and enter the traps voluntarily. This approach minimises potential harm to the crayfish and their surroundings, ensuring the preservation of the delicate ecosystem.

Moreover, the use of pots and traps facilitates selective harvesting. Properly designed traps allow for the release of non-target species.

Crayfishing with pots and traps also presents an opportunity for public engagement and education. Recreational anglers can enjoy the thrill of trapping crayfish while gaining insights into the fascinating world of these freshwater crustaceans. Additionally, educational initiatives and outreach programs can promote awareness about the importance of conservation and responsible fishing practices, fostering a deeper understanding of aquatic ecosystems and their delicate balance.

However, it is crucial to highlight the importance of adhering to local regulations and guidelines when using pots and traps for crayfishing in the UK. These regulations often include restrictions on the type of traps, bait, and harvesting seasons to prevent the introduction or spread of invasive species and protect native crayfish populations.

Overall, crayfish catching with pots and traps in the UK offers an environmentally conscious, selective, and engaging method for both recreational and commercial purposes. By employing these techniques responsibly and in compliance with regulations, we can contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of our aquatic resources, ensuring the long-term health and diversity of our waterways.

Interested in trapping your own Crayfish? Visit our shop and get your own Crayfish Pots.


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