Crawfish Tales

Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association
This article received 1st Place in the Electronic Division of the 2015 LOWA Excellence in Craft Competition.

The actual siblings circa 1960sOnce upon a time, there were three siblings, two sisters and a brother, who lived in the city. Prone to adventure beyond what their concrete sidewalks and manicured lawns offered, they set out to find a mysterious pond of sorts that supposedly held unusual water creatures.  Quietly, they sneaked bacon from the refrigerator, found some twine and a bucket, and set off for the pond. They climbed over the back fence, shimmied down one side and scrambled up the other of the cement drainage ditch, wriggled through a barbed wire fence, and crossed a pasture to a place far from their suburban home. 

After they reached the odd pond, they wrapped the twine around the bacon and held it over the edge to lure out their first victim.  They squatted, holding the twine, waiting patiently and finally caught the first of many hard-shelled, dark red creatures.  Eventually they caught the biggest, which they respectfully dubbed the “King”. The King had a black diamond on its back and giant pincers. 

Once they got back home with their catch, the little brother reached into the bucket to grab the King, and it latched onto his finger with the strength of a vice grip, making the little boy scream in pain.

The big sister panicked and looked around for anything to make the mean monster release its grip on her brother’s finger.  She grabbed the closest thing–a baseball–and smashed the creature until it let go. Not knowing what else to do, she took her brother inside to confess to their mother exactly what they had been up to.

Well, that was many, many years ago, before anyone in the great metropolis of Bossier City knew that those things were good for anything other than fishing bait.  Some people called them “cray-fish”, others called them “craw-dads”, but now, we know them simply as crawfish.  

Long before anyone in north Louisiana thought about catching and boiling the crustaceans by the washtub full, Native Americans in south Louisiana had been enjoying them for years.  The Indians speared small pieces of venison on sticks, which they stuck in the mud. Once the crawfish came out to nibble on the bait, they quickly pulled the stick out of the ground and dumped the crawfish in a basket, placing the stick back in the ground until they caught enough for a meal–quite cheap and high in protein. 

After the immigration of the Acadians, the Native Americans shared their knowledge about this readily available delicacy.  By the 1950s, the flooding of fallow rice fields for the “farming” of crawfish began; and by the 1960s, about 10,000 acres in “Cajun Country” were dedicated to crawfish farming.  Today, there are more than 120,000 acres of crawfish farms in Louisiana, producing the lion’s share of all crawfish sold in the country.  By the 1970s, the secret was out, and the boiled crawfish craze swept the country, quickly becoming known as a Cajun tradition. 

Crawfish Haven, Kaplan, LAThe big sister in the story above finally partook in her first crawfish boil in 1978, after relocating to south Louisiana.  As she learned to peel the tails of this now mainstreamed crustacean, she smiled, remembering the time she had slain King Crawfish.  As she slurped the first juicy tail, she quietly wondered just how good the King would have tasted after a boiling bath in the salty, spicy water!

That girl was me, and now, some 40+ years later, a good crawfish boil has become the spring staple of many a family gathering, but the price of crawfish nowadays makes that sumptuous meal anything but cheap!

To bring the story full circle, The Captain, Miah, and I recently visited Crawfish Haven in Kaplan, LA, owned and operated by Barry Toups. After retiring from his job as maintenance supervisor for the school system, Barry purchased 28 acres and began crawfish farming.  Four years ago, he purchased a lovely old house from the estate of his grandmother figure, Mrs. Rose.  He decided to capitalize on his investment by turning the old home into a bed and breakfast and now offers crawfishing trips to the general public at a reasonable price.

Mrs. Rose's Bed & BreakfastWe arrived at Mrs. Rose’s Bed and Breakfast early in the morning, a Cajun flag waving proudly in the prairie breeze, where Barry welcomed us in his warm, soothing Cajun way. We then followed him across the highway to the crawfish ponds, where he told us we could experience catching crawfish two ways.  Crawfish Triangle Net

 

First way uses triangle nets, which he showed us how to bait with rotten pogie fish, using a clip attached to the middle of the net.

Barry then taught Miah to lower the baited nets into the pond, using a long pole made of PVC pipe.

Miah sets out the nets

 

After setting out about a dozen of the nets, we circled back to the starting point and lifted up each net, one by one, checking for crawfish.  If the net held any, we swung it over and shook the crawfish into a plastic basket called a “champagne”.  It was slow going, but The Captain and Miah hung in there, doing their best to bring home the bacon, or should I say mudbugs! Crawfishing BoatJust as our backs grew weary from the bending and lifting, it was our turn to get on the crawfish boat and learn how crawfish are harvested commercially in large quantities.  The square ponds are very shallow, and in the center of each grow stands of cattails. Around the perimeter, the boat navigates a little ditch dug just deep enough to accommodate the shallow-draft boat and its paddle wheel. The commercial traps, also baited with pogie, sit on the bottom, along the edges of the cattails.

Using foot pedals for steering, Barry eased the boat alongside one trap after another, pulling them up and dumping the contents into a metal table, which The Captain then shoved into a “crawfish sack” attached to the table. 

Thirty minutes later, Barry had emptied all the traps from that one pond, yielding about 20 pounds of The Captain and Miah with their catchthe dark crustaceans.  That was pretty good, considering he had just run the traps half an hour before with a couple of tourists from Ohio. Combined with what we caught in the triangle nets, we ended up with a 30-pound sack of beautiful mudbugs.

After removing the bait from all the triangle nets, we followed Barry and his Ohio guests back to the B&B, where he had the boiling pot ready to go for the sack of crawfish they had caught earlier that morning.  He invited us to stay and take part in the boil, but it was time for us to head out on our two-and-a-half-hour journey back home.  Customers who stay at the B&B can pay market price for him to boil up the delicacies or take them home to boil.  So, we took our live crawfish “to go”, and Barry sent us home with the 30-pound sack we helped catch.  

An award winning Cajun cook, Barry boils up a mean pot of crawfish, and I’m guessing that young couple from Ohio really enjoyed their first taste of boiled crawfish.  Once home, our youngest son did a fantastic job of boiling up the ones we brought home, and those were the freshest, best-tasting crawfish we’ve every hung a lip over.  With our bellies full, we sat around the table and peeled the leftovers for the etouffee`, my family’s favorite way to enjoy leftover crawfish. 

Termite's Boiled CrawfishIn south Louisiana, many folks give up eating meat during Lent, and that is great for the crawfish business! If you take a drive down the bayou during Holy Week, you will see long tables piled high with the bright red crustaceans and lots of happy folks sitting around, sucking the heads and pinching the tails.

So, why don’t you get you some?

If you want to know more about crawfish and how to cook them, then check out my  recipes for how to boil them, how to peel them, how to make crawfish stew and etouffee`, and how to make the side dip that we use for dipping the potatoes and crackers while eating them boiled. And yes, some people do dip the crawfish tails into the spicy sauce!  Ayeee!  (Or as the Native Americans probably said back in the day, “Chaw!”)Miah-approved crawfish

To see more of our crawfish adventure and Mrs. Rose’s B&B, please enjoy this photo gallery! 

Thank you, Barry, for a fantastic experience and wonderfully fresh crawfish! We wish you great success!

Happy Crawfish Season!

BW

PS  While we were there, Channel 3 from Lafayette was there, and Miah ended up in their report!

Epilogue:  While writing this post, I chatted with my sister about her memories. She later emailed me a map of the ponds, including our house. Turns out, it’s a good thing we didn’t eat those crawfish, because we were crawfishing in an oil field “impoundment” pond!  See my text inserted in yellow in the aerial image below …

Aerial view of where the siblings went crawfishing!

Aerial view of where the siblings went crawfishing!

And finally, the WINNER of the BlueFin Eyewear Giveaway chosen at Random.org from 20 comments is:   Number 13 – Brenda Phillips!!!  Congratulations, Brenda.  Contact me through one of the contact boxes on this blog or via email, and I will get your glasses right to you!

 

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Comments

Crawfish Tales — 22 Comments

  1. That’s the cutest picture of my three cousins. How loud did your Mom laugh after punishing y’all for sneaking out? Guessing she didn’t think it was too funny at the time.

    Thanks for sharing your adventure at Crawfish Haven. I love all the art and old pots. Looks like y’all had a ball!

    • Mama probably said something like, “What in the WORLD were you kids thinking?”

      Well, I went as a writing project and thought they would enjoy the outing. We learned that hefting that heavy PVC pole gets tiring pretty darned quick, so when it was our turn on the boat, we hopped right on!!! Nice place, nice man, and I was so intrigued with the inside, I forgot to take many pics of the rooms. But they can be seen on his website, which I link to in the story. Makes me ponder switching Camp Dularge to a B&B. Hmmm . . . . .

  2. I miss south LA so much it hurts-especially after reading a post like this one! I seriously want those needlepoints!

    • Monica, I know you do miss it. You spent most of your growing up years in Houma, right? And now that your mom’s not here, there’s not much reason to come–unless you come see me and church people and come to eat some good food!

  3. That is a beautiful B&B! I would love to go on a trip to catch my dinner too. I checked with our local grocery Tuesday to see if I could get some crawfish this year and yes!! They are $2.99 lb and the bags range from about 30 lbs to 35 lbs each. We are so ready for our annual boil but, our son who does the actual cooking (I furnish the yard, food and extras), is busy building a house for his son who graduates in June. And the days dry enough to have to cookout are the ones he needs for building.

  4. What a great story! I think this is one of your best posts! I really enjoyed hearing the story about crawfish in your childhood. When I grew up we used to go look for crayfish in the shallow part of a boundary lake – on the Canadian border. I never in my wildest imagination would have thought anyone would eat them. Then I moved to south LA and ate my first crawfish! I still love them. My last LA meal a few days ago was crawfish etouffee. It’s a favorite of mine!

    I heard while visiting that crawfish farms are having a hard time finding help to harvest the crawfish. As a result some farms are doing like produce farms do and have you “pick your own”. Have you heard this?

    • Kim, I had not heard that nor did Mr. Barry mention it; however, he does hire help to run the traps on the entire 28 acres for the commercial sales. I can try to verify this one way or the other. So glad you enjoyed the post–I enjoyed writing it!

  5. Wonderful story BW, Been there and done that. Fat meat and a string. Not the best but it works. Well we thought it was the best. My grandmother (Little Mama) always cooked what ever we caught. Yeah I have a tear in my eye. Dang I miss those happy days. Thanks. Bill Bradshaw

    • Yep yep I’m sure you have! Awww, I miss those happy days, too, but I’ve done my best to make sure my kids in this generation have some happy days and happy memories I always get choked up at Easter when I see the irises in bloom because my grandmother’s grew them in their flower beds, and we always hid eggs in there for the egg hunts. Again, great memories . . . . bless you, Bill!

  6. When I first started reading, I thought it was going to be crabbing! What a delightful trip for you, and what a lovely bed and breakfast. I was curious about our crawfish prices, but the two markets around here I trust both are showing “out of stock” just now and don’t have a price posted. I wonder if our Louisiana suppliers start holding on to them about now, with big festivals like Breaux Bridge coming up?

    In any event, it was great to see the photos, and get a better sense of how the harvesting happens. Now, I have a hankering for some etouffée!

    • I thought about you and our trip to the Courir and seeing all the crawfish ponds on the back roads and the boats sitting idle. It was a great experience, and his place is lovely with lots of reminders still in the house of his old friend, Mrs. Rose. Well, my friend, you can’t make etouffee` without the crawfish tails! Gotta find you some!

  7. This story brought back one of my best ever memories with Daddy, my younger brother and a neighbor crawfishing. No pvc for us though, we used a cane pole. No clips on the nets either. We used chicken necks that were tied to the nets. Brought home a lot of mud bugs, mud, and sunburnt skin!
    I’m glad y’all had a wonderful day. Wish I could have been at the boil. I haven’t had any this season. SOON!

    • So glad the story brought back fond memories of your own, sans the sunburn! Now that Easter has come and gone, the prices should be dropping. If you had known, you could’ve hauled a few grand kids over there during spring break and caught y’all a sack! They would love it! (Except the poles are really have. Bring your own cane poles, LOL!) Well, I hope you get some mudbugs soon!

  8. I sure am enjoying my pink camo shades–first thing I’ve ever won! Congrats on your win for this writing too. I am so proud of you. You could have been describing me and my two little brothers at the beginning of your story. We did the same thing at about the same age, only we weren’t quite sure what to do with our catch. I got a metal measuring cup (because plastic hadn’t been invented yet) and put oil in it and put it on the burner. My little brother handed me the meaty tail, I dropped it in the hot oil, and it immediately began to shrink and shrivel up. We ended up with a hard little ball of crawfish tail that was no good for eating but was great for a lasting memory of childhood fun.

    • Hi Denise and welcome. Thanks so much for your kind words. Feel free to stick around and also go back to the Home page and leave a comment on the current post about birds on Grand Isle for a chance to win that fabulous bracelet!!! Thanks for reading!

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