The crawfish harvest season got off to a slow start in December. Since the catch was slow in all areas of the state, we can assume that the cool rainy weather and abundant food supply in the ponds made the crawfish bait less attractive. Crawfish were either too cold to move to the traps or the abundance of natural food was sufficient so they were not attracted to the bait.
Another factor is that some of the larger farm operations are waiting for their seasonal labor supply to arrive. As the harvest gets up to speed in the coming weeks, producers need to watch their expenses and be as efficient as possible.
In general, when the water temperature is below 65 F and the vegetation is dense, fish bait is much more effective than artificial crawfish bait. Later in the spring when the vegetation starts to thin and the water temperature gets above 70 F, artificial bait works as good as fish. A few experiments have shown that a small piece of fish with a small piece of artificial is cost effective when the water temperature is 65 F to 70 F. If you mix the bait though, do not put twice as much. Still, only use a total of one quarter to one third of a pound per trap.
One thing that I see too often when visiting ponds is the amount of bait being used in each trap. Especially while the water temperature is cold and most farmers are using fish, be careful not to use too much bait. Fish is expensive! Menhaden (pogy) is selling for around 70 to 80 cents per pound, depending on if it is whole or cut into pieces.
Over many years of research at the Rice Station in Crowley and at the Aquaculture Research Center in Baton Rouge, the bait experiments revealed that only a quarter to one third of a pound of bait is the most cost effective amount to use. Crawfish farmers need to watch their bait cost very close. Fifty pounds of bait should bait 150 – 200 traps. At 75 cents per pound, that is 19 to 25 cents per trap. If you are using a half pound per trap, your bait cost jumps to 37 cents. At three quarters of a pound, the average size of one pogy, that would be 56 cents worth of bait in each trap.
The point is that by using too much bait, it is costing you an extra dime or quarter or more per trap every day that you harvest. Do the math. For every 400 traps, you may be spending an extra $100.00 in bait cost each time you run the traps.
As with all aspects of crawfish management, there are variables and exceptions to consider. Weather, water temperature, density of the vegetation and the population of harvest-size crawfish, can all affect the catch. In some cases, it may be more cost effective to run the traps every other day (48-hour trap set) instead of everyday (24-hour set) or even just twice per week.
As the season progresses, farmers should continually monitor your bait cost and be sure you are not wasting money by using too much bait.
Bait is a significant expense for crawfish producers. Artificial crawfish bait is less expensive and works better in the spring when the water temperature is above 70 F. During the winter when the water is cold, cut pieces of fish attract better.