Once 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.
The 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.
We 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.
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.
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! Just 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 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.
In 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!”)
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!
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 …
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!