The best time to trap crayfish is from late spring to early autumn. It is as relaxing as actual fishing but the licences are free so all you have to shell out for is inexpensive traps and bait. Many people place their traps in the water in the early evening and leave them overnight. While this is a good way to get crayfish I prefer to do it during the day, sat in the sun with a few beers and some mates. Much more enjoyable.
Now for some background and history on these little guys. There are 2 main species of crayfish in our British waters. The native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) and the introduced American Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus). Unfortunately for the native cray’s the American’s are faster breeders, more vicious and larger. They also carry a disease (the ominously named crayfish plague) to which they remain largely immune but can easily transfer to the native species who are highly suceptable to it. This plague, combined with the more aggressive nature of the Signal crayfish is decimating the numbers of the white-claws in our waters. Therefore, as of 1st of June 2005, the Environmental Agency decided that the signal crayfish can be legally fished as long as a (free) licence is granted. The purpose of this licence is to check that there are no native crayfish in the areas to be fished, thus protecting any areas that they are still present. This licence can be obtained from the Environmental agency website - http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/119096.aspx. The hope is that this fishing will help to slow the advance of the invading crayfish into our waters by controlling their population and hopefully resulting in the protection of area’s of native cray’s.
Traps and Rules
You must not catch native crayfish either to eat or sell. They are a protected species and you will face prosecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and this could result in a heavy fine if you are caught. Apart from this they suffer enough problems with the invasive Signal cray’s and we should be proud as Brit’s to save our beautiful native animals.
You can trap non-native crayfish, but only if you have written consent from the environmental agency and follow all of their rules such as;
- Attach the trap identity tags supplied with the licence
- Get permission from the landowner
- Make sure that your traps are the right size. Otherwise there is a risk of catching otters or other protected animals
- In some areas you also need a special licence to keep crayfish alive after trapping
The following link is a very informative pdf guide from the environmental agency about the reasons behind their laws as well as some interesting general information on crayfish.
I have found that the best area’s to fish are on gently flowing rivers on an outside bend. This is because the detritus that the crays feed on will collect on the near bank and so make for a more likely place for catching them. The best bait to use is usually smelly as this is the crays prime hunting sense. Therefore bacon rind, fish heads, rind of salami and other similar kitchen waste products are perfect for attracting them.
If anyone is interested in the state of the native crayfish this link contains some information about a study in the Upper Thames about the viability of native and non-native crayfish populations as well as potential removal methods for non native species http://www.wildcru.org/research/research-detail/?project_id=23