Live Crayfish Tips for Smallmouth Bass- A Beginner’s Guide

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Making your rig is pretty simple and requires two knots. One connecting to your hook and one connecting to a barrel swivel placed in front of a free sliding weight such as an egg sinker:

1. It is important to choose a hook that will be large enough to allow the crayfish to fully extend without being unable to uncurl it’s tail. The more natural you can make your crayfish look, the better. When you are ready to hook your crayfish, insert the hook in the tail section just below the body. I like to make sure that I have the hook a lot closer to the front end of the bait as possible, because generally predatory fish take their prey down head first. Large circle hooks and even Gamakatsu G Lock worm hooks are great crayfish hooks.

2. I like to pre tie a few leaders to have on hand in case I lose some rigs in snags. I typically will make my leader material between 12 and 24” depending on the situation. The longer the leader, the more potential there is to snag. Carolina rigging can be high risk, high reward, meaning you will lose a lot of leaders in snags, but your potential to get to where the fish are is a lot better. It’s a catch 20 with a long leader. Either go long and make it less spooky for the fish, but risk losing a lot of hooks, sinkers, and swivels, or go short and make it more spooky to fish and still risk losing your terminal tackle. The choice is yours. I prefer to go around 18” when Carolina rigging. Start by tying your leader material to the hook. Tying a knot with a double connection is extremely important when rigging. The knot I prefer to use is a Trilene knot when doing rigging. It’s a simple, yet strong connection to both your barrel swivel and hook.

**Side note: I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a good fluorocarbon leader material when rigging. Fluorocarbon has very little stretch which makes it a more sensitive line than monofilament. Also, underwater your fluoro leader will be nearly invisible, which means less likely to spook fish.**

3. Barrel swivels are an awesome tool to have on hand in your fishing arsenal. In fact, I use this type of terminal tackle more than just about anything else. Swivels are used as a connection from your main line to your leader. Choose the smallest barrel swivel you can get away with. This is a common theme when fishing Carolina rigs.

4. The sinker you choose should be free sliding and will be placed on your line between your rod and the barrel swivel. Choose the weight of your sinker depending on the water conditions as well. In calmer conditions choose a lighter weight. The less weight you have when fishing with live bait the better. When you start getting into big hulking sinkers the odds of getting snagged and or spooking a fish drastically increases. A good rule of thumb is to choose the lightest weight you can get away with. Unless you need to penetrate deep into the weeds, or unless you are fishing very choppy or fast moving water conditions, the heavier weights will work better in those conditions. Sometimes it’s an absolute must to go heavy, however in most circumstances light is right. On a windy day when water is really moving you may need to switch from say an 1/8th oz sinker to a 1/4oz sinker and so on.


5. Now you are ready to hook on your crayfish. When using these as bait, I’m a firm believer in disarming them. Not only do the pinched off claws leave a nice scent trail in the water for already hungry predators, but it also makes the crayfish seem more vulnerable. Rig your crayfish through the tail with a larger gap hook to allow the crayfish to crawl on the bottom naturally. This will cause a lot of attention to be brought to your bait as it is searching for a place to hide. It might as well have a blinking neon sign over it that says “Free Meal” to any would be predators.

6. Once you’ve cast your bait into the water, leave the line slightly slack. This will allow you to see when the bites are coming a lot easier. When your line is taut, the odds of the fishing ripping the crayfish off of the hook are a lot greater. Using a slack line not only allows you to see when the bait has been picked up, but it also allows the fish to swim with the bait for long enough to get the hook into its mouth. Generally when you’re getting a good bite and can see the line gradually tightening you will want to give a very light resistance on the line to see if you can feel the weight of the fish. Sometimes when fish are feeding on crayfish they’ll barely pick it up by the head and casually swim away with it. You want to give the fish time to decide he wants to go for the kill before you try to hook up. If you do feel the weight, set the hook!

Fishing with a bounty of soft shell crayfish can be a rewarding experience that earns you a great day on the water. In order to get the maximum potential out of these types of bait, the more natural the presentation, the better. When the spring rains have finished and a virtual crime scene of molted carcasses are in the rocks, begin your search for the soft shelled crayfish. The plunder will speak for itself, and the smallmouth bass photo opportunities will be plenty.

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