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Crayfish – Asset or Liability?

May through June is my favorite fishing season.  Bass are on voracious post-spawn feeding frenzies.  As I land each one, I check for pinchers or long whiskers protruding from their throat.  That signals it’s time to tie-on my favorite bait—a craw worm.

Bob and Dr. Richard O. Anderson shared valuable information about crayfish in an article published in Pond Boss with permission granted for reprint to www.bassresource.com.  Establishing these popular crustaceans in your lake can be a challenge.  If you have natural habitat, consider yourself fortunate.  If not, it can be a Catch 22.  Bass may consume them as fast as they’re stocked.  In some cases, introducing crayfish can result in loss of desired habitat and native plants.

In one research project, a small number of crayfish were placed in a shallow pond without fish and wall-to-wall vegetation.  The next summer, the pond looked murky.  Water clarity was reduced to a few inches and a plant-sampling device produced no vegetation.  Impact of the crayfish was extreme.

A second established pond had vegetation from the shoreline into deep water.  Fishing was impossible.  Crayfish were added.  The following spring, annoying vegetation was observed only in areas less than two feet deep.  Results vary with plant varieties.

Three crayfish species were highlighted in the article.  If you can find them, Orconectes might yield positive results on rooted vegetation extending into deep water.  Procambarus, or red swamp crayfish, are sold for human consumption.  Although readily available, this type unfortunately competes with the food chain of small fish.  It’s also a relative of the pesky Cambarus.   Procambarus and Cambarus have a reputation for burrowing.  Such habits may damage water control structures, dams, or levees.

What’s a pond owner’s option for something with limited ability to disperse, yet feeds primarily on plant material and increases forage production for fish?  A critter identified in this study was a freshwater prawn called glass shrimp.  They’re relatively small, about two-inches, and free swimming.

So—crayfish—asset or liability?  The best answer, it all depends.  One pond manager may stock them in a lake with poor habitat.  Bass will enjoy a forage windfall, but few crayfish survive to form a community.  His neighbor may have a low bass population.  Larger numbers of mudbugs survive to create future complications.

If you decide to stock crayfish, choose the correct species very carefully.  Don’t hastily add the burrowing variety that builds mounds large enough to damage your mower blade each time you brush hog the shoreline.

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