Susquehanna River Crawfish and the Smallmouth Bass
April 2, 2019 by Don Manning
Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, crabs, mudbugs, freshwater lobsters, or whatever you want to call them make up 80% of the diet of a smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River. Without crawfish, there would be no smallies. A good population of crawfish is a good indication that the water is pretty clean. Crawfish can not tolerate polluted waterways. If you aren’t fishing some sort of crawfish imitation, you are missing the boat, or should we say the bite.
There are two main species of crawfish in the Susquehanna River, the native Allegheny Crayfish and the invasive Rusty Crayfish. The smallmouth prefer the native craw. They are much slower moving and easier to catch. The Rusty Crayfish is much larger, has larger pinchers and moves a lot quicker than the native. They will, though, eat them both.
These crawfish can be a number of different colors, depending on the water temperature. In cold water, the coloration is usually darker, than in warm water. The color of these craws can range from black to a light brown, even greenish orange and blue at times. Fifty degree water seems to be the magic number when these crawfish emerge from the muddy bottom and from under small rock crevices. They will seek sunny areas, even gathering on top of rocks just under the surface, which makes them easy pickins for smallies. In fact, they aren’t even safe when buried in the mud because a smallmouth bass will dig in the mud to get them.
After the crawfish mates in the warm spring water, they will molt, which usually changes its color from a green brown color to almost orange. This orange color makes them much more visible to the smallies. Changing your bait colors to match the crawfish will definitely help you catch more fish especially when bass fishing pre-spawn conditions.
Crawfish make a tapping or clicking sound when crawling around the rocks. A smallmouth bass will hone in on this and pick them off. So, adding rattles to your tubes or craws will drastically increase your catch rates.
Imitating the Crawfish to Catch Smallmouth Bass
There are hundreds of manufactures that produce crawfish imitations. Some actually look better than the real thing. Most are flashy and made to attract anglers and not to catch fish. If you ever seen video of a fish eating a crawfish, they never attempt to eat it head first. The fish will always try to attack the crawfish from the tail end, avoiding the pinchers. Even if he does take it pincher first, it will spit it out and attack from behind. The pinchers are the first defense of these crustaceans. If you pull the pinchers off the crawfish and throw them in the tank with crawfish that have pinchers, bass will 100% of the time take the crawfish without pinchers first. Ever wonder why those old timers pulled the pinchers off when fishing live crawfish? Well, they got more bites, that's why. So are these crawfish imitations really all that great. Ever wonder why the Ned Rig works so well, when nothing else seems to catch smallmouth bass? It basically imitates a crawfish without pinchers.
Even though a crawfish imitation bait is not generally considered one of the top bank fishing lures, it has its place especially on the Susquehanna river. Pulling off those pinchers of pretty looking crawfish imitations like these above actually increases the number of bites you get. You be the judge, give it a try.