Keeping Crawfish alive

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  1. #1

    Default Keeping Crawfish alive

    Now that I've built a couple of crawdad traps I have figured out a couple of things about catchin them around here. #1 bait ive found is fresh gizzard shad.They literaly turn that thing into a skeleton. #2 is dry dog food. I tried perch, carp, and white bass with no luck at all, I'm sure there are other things but I havent tried them yet.
    The problem Im having is keeping them alive after they are caught. The first bunch I caught I left them in a 5 gal bucket with 6-8 inches of water. They got too hot and died. I know. stupid. Then I caught some more and put them a big thick styrofoam ice chest with some leaves and just a liitle water. That looked like it was going to work until either a coon or a cat ate em. So I caught some more and put them in the ice chest with some leaves and a little water. I keep the ice chest in a shady spot that doesn't get any sun at all but I was afraid it was too hot (104 degrees) so I put 2 frozen 12 oz bottles in there with them to keep it cool in there, they slowly died off one by one. Then I noticed that there was one survivor, it was in the 5 gal bucket I had dumped them in from the traps. The survivor was in 6 inches of water in an uninsulated bucket on a 104 degree day, but all the other ones that I had tried to keep cool died, go figure. I poured him and that water in my 10 gal igloo cooler that I turned in to a bait tank and droped a frozen bottle in there. So far he has make it 2 days. I don't know what to do, the bait shop has them in a little kiddie pool with about 1/2 inch of water. Of course it is in an airconditioned shop. Going to continue to try the cooler with 6" water.

    I'm open to any tips or suggestions, i'd like to be able to keep a couple of bait tanks with bluegills and crawdads. The gills I can do but the crawdads, which seem so easy, have been tough to figure out.

  2. #2
    James .N

    Member Since
    Aug 2005
    Central Cail


    you can put them in anything you want , but with out oxygen there all going to die! And why only 6 inch water? There is not enough oxygen in that little bit of water to last them at all...You need way more water and a airpump.

  3. #3


    The reason I had 6" of water that was water from the lake I caught them in, i didnt think I was going to use that much water but now I guess I will. Didn't want to use water out of the hose. I can go back to the lake tonight and set my traps again and get more water.Yea I guess your right, I think i will put my aerator in the tank since I dont have any perch (bluegills) to mess with right now.

  4. #4


    yep put an aerator in and youll have no prob. I have kept them in the tank at home for months. Oh ya, my tank is about 2' deep and they dont seem to mind not having anything to crawl out onto.

  5. #5


    Quote Originally Posted by boombalaty View Post
    they dont seem to mind not having anything to crawl out onto.
    Thats what I was thinking was that they always crawled out of the water up on stuff, so I thought they needed to get out of the water at times, but I guess not.

  6. #6


    Several years ago I worked at a store that sold crawdads and minnows. We kept them in an air conditioned room in a livestock water tank. Usually put about 12" of water in the tank, which had an aerator.

  7. #7


    You don't need to aerate the water if they can get out of the water because they can breathe air, but with a lot of water and no easy way for them all to get out it does need to be aerated. I've heard of people talking about keeping crawdads in something in a shady spot with only wet newspaper in it.

    I don't know if city water will kill them or not. If you're not on a well, then it might be difficult to change the water, and you might need some sort of filtration system. Nasty water will kill them too if it's not changed. I think it's the ammonia from the waste. I killed a lot of crawfish with heat and nasty water before I figured out something that worked for me a couple years ago. What I would do was change the water every so often and give the tank a good scrubbing every other time I changed the water. I usually wouldn't go more than 2 or 3 days without changing the water. When it would be hot, I would change the water everyday in the evenings with cool well water, and in the mornings put a frozen milk jug in the tank. I think the warmer the water is the cleaner it needs to be, which is why I would change it everyday. Also, the more water you put in the tank the longer it takes to heat up, and the longer it takes to get too dirty.

    I thought about making a system that would filter the water and cool it off, but I never figured it was worth it.

    As far as the bait, I always used dog food. I did learn though that if you just leave it floating in the trap they will eat it through the top of the trap, and I made some bait holders to hold it in the middle. My catch went from having a dozen or so in a trap if I were lucky, to where having 20 in a trap was a low number with the bait holders.

    Another thing, they will kill each other, especially when you mix big and little ones. A lot of the same size might not fight too much but big ones will definitely kill the little ones. It always seems they are fine in the trap, but pull the trap from the water or put them in something else and they go to fighting. I've always pulled the pinchers off when I caught them, not only to keep them from killing each other, but also so they don't pinch me when I'm putting them on a hook.

  8. #8
    Jake Kustan

    Member Since
    Jul 2010
    Blog Entries


    I've never had any issues keeping them alive in my regular bait bucket. I trap them from time to time as well, usually using a ziplock of dog food for bait. Poke some holes in the bag and as the food absorbs water, it expands and pushes out. This way I get some other smaller baitfish in the traps too. I'll throw the craws and the baitfish in with my gills so the craws have something to kill instead of the smaller gills. The water is over 12" deep in my buckets and each one has an aerator. I've kept them for days like this before dumping them out and even then they were frisky as usual. Also, I only use water from the creek or river and I try to do regular water changes. Don't be throwing these guys in with chlorinated tap water. I've seen people use well water and the baits do stay alive but they become sluggish, especially on the hook. Hope this helps!

  9. #9


    Thanks for the info yall, I haven't put my aerator in the tank yet but the one crawdad that lived is still doing fine. Probably because there is only one and I've kept a frozen bottle in the tank twice a day. I'm going fishing tonight so It don't have to last but about 5 more hrs. I'll put the aerator in there after I catch more, and add more water, probably tomorrow morning. I just live 3 blocks from the North Canadian River so getting water is not a problem.
    I kept the crawdads that died and froze them, I checked of them once an hour that day so I know they didn't spoil, besides the water was cold. Have yall ever used them after they had been frozen? I figure a least the tails are good.
    As far as using dog food for bait, i do think it works fairly well. I have a bait box inside my trap so the crawdads cant eat it from the outside, and on my tube trap i made a small bait box to throw inside it so the food aint floating around.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10


    Put them in a wet burlap sack and place in a ice chest with the ice on the bottom.

    I try not to use frozen ones as bait, they usually don't last as long on the hook.

    By the way, they will last awhile in the ice chest, just keep the drain plug unplugged and the chest leaned so the melted water drains out.

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