Beating the crayfish - Frank Granados

In Spain, normally, waters with lots of American signal crayfish are places filled with amazing carp of impressive sizes. Coincidence? Of course not. The crayfish provide an incredible source of vitamins and high protein food - anglers looking for their personal best should search out these kinds of waters.

People have written extensively on how to fish when the lakes are full of crays, but after my underwater experience and the video that we made to study the activity of this crustacean species in Spanish waters, I must say that we were all quite wrong. Despite this, there are several methods that kept our bait almost intact.

For example, crays love to destroy our hooklink: they tangle it, peel it and literally cut it. To succeed, and get some proper fish in the net, it is not enough to have loads of bait. We also need to choose the hooklink that endures the fight after the initial bite and the attentions of the crayfish.

Regarding the rig, the golden rule is this: do not impregnate any odor on the hook link, and this includes the manufacture, handling and storage stages. We have to be very careful with that due to the fact that crays can detect any substance in the water over considerable distances.

Before you start working with any materials, you must first wash your hands thoroughly, and make sure you wash with no added flavors or soap, in order to remove any trace of odor, including your personal odor. Our body produces a sweat that covers the skin of the hands, and this can be enough to attract them.

Another way to avoid any scent is to cover your hands with silicon gloves (latex ones do not work as they have a characteristic odor). During some recent fishing sessions, I have observed that crays have eaten the rubber that covers the quick release clip or they have damaged the lead clip.

Also, they have turned black swivels golden by removing the coating that covers it. Trying to find an explanation and knowing that I had not previously touched any bait, liquid, flour or anything that could permeate the hooklink, I have come to this conclusion - that my very own hands had added the things I was trying to avoid, odor and grease!

Now we have made this clear, we can look at the rig itself. Beginning with a pop-up bait, we will use a hooklink like N-Trap, choosing the color that best suits the bottom of the place we want to fish. The breaking strain depends on the size of the crays, usually from 20 to 30 lb.

We will cut 30cm of N-Trap and remove 15cm of the coating. After, make a small loop at the peeled end, no more than 5mm long. Then make the hair the correct size using expanded polystyrene balls as a model, avoiding touching any hook bait so you don't not impregnate yourself with any odor. These plastic balls can be found in the most common diameters: 10, 15, 20, 30mm. They are normally used in children's craft toys.

For this rig, I like three kinds of hooks: Kurv Shank, Wide Gape X or Kontinental, ordered from low to high strength, depending on the requirements of the venue. I tie a knotless knot with three turns below where the hair exits the hook shank and three turns above, and finish it as you would with a normal knotless knot rig.

With this rig, the hook takes on a very aggressive stance and it will be immediately nailed in the lip of the fish when it picks up the bait. On the other hand, this rig does not require elements such as silicone, shrink tube, rig rings and so on, as they are very easy to handle for the crays and they would change the presentation of the bait and the hooking potential of our rig, if it was tangled for example.

Next I place a sinker on the edge of the plastic coating of the hook link, just before the peeled area, as this will allow you to anchor the Dark Matter tungsten putty. l use as much as necessary to neutralise the buoyancy of the pop-up bait, although this step will be left to the final stage, when we will mount the hook bait. Finally, I form a figure of eight loop knot at the other end of the link.

Regarding the bait, personally I like a slightly hardened pop-up. On a scale from one to five, where five would be very hard and one very soft (freshly made), I prefer to choose a bait around level three, that will still be easy to pierce with a fine needle. I recommend a bait with a subtle smell, preferably sweet, and bright color to increase their attractiveness.

I have seen that it is difficult for the cray to swim and grab the pop up. Besides, if the cray reaches to cut a slice of the bait, it floats, so it can't easily catch and eat the boilie. The floating circular form helps to escape from the claws of the cray - however, when this is seen by nearby crayfish, it can create a bit of a battle between them!

Indeed, buoyancy helps to extend the life of the bait, but this is not enough, it is also necessary to keep the bait protected with the fantastic Super Wrap. This is a transparent plastic coating which covers the boilie and shrinks when you heat it up. It is very strong and retains its shape even after the relentless attacks of the crays. This plastic is drilled so that the smell and attraction is not isolated, leaving it attractive but the crayfish are unable to cut into the bait. Another good aspect of the Super Wrap is that it is made with a really smooth plastic, so it becomes more difficult to be gripped by the crays.

After many hours spent recording underwater videos, I have discovered that crayfish do not pay attention to the pop-up for more than five minutes due to the fact they cannot actually eat it, or keep it easily between their claws. Watching I could see they tried the bait again and again, looking for a weak point where they could attack it, but finally they surrendered. After seeing hours of footage, I realised that the boilie stop was the only place where they could get hold of the bait, and on many occasions on the first attempt, they demonstrated they could remove the stop easily.

I started using the Korda Extenda stops, the shorter ones, but the crays managed to remove them after a while. Then, I tried the mid-size and the long ones. The longer they were, the harder they are to remove. One of the disadvantages of these stops is that medium and large sizes generate a deep and wide hole where the pop-up is absorbing water and thus its buoyancy is diminished faster. This small disadvantage is neutralised by the Super-Wrap, which limits the boilie’s contact with the water over 80% of its surface and therefore, the bait does not absorb water so much.

Trying to find the perfect boilie stop, I realised that the solution was in front of my eyes. I just had to put the stop under a piece of Super Wrap. I mount the boilie on the hair and then place the piece of plastic covering the stop. To finish, I shrink it with steam, leaving the Extenda imperceptible. Another positive aspect of using the Super Wrap protection is that it does not change in size, but the boilie increases in volume when absorbing water, expanding through the holes. This swelling makes the bait more attractive as the smell and taste leaks out faster.

Regarding the free baits, it is difficult to attract a carp with a single boilie with so much natural food available. We have to put some free bait near the trap, but what kind? Do we need more boilies? Particles maybe? Pellets? After watching the underwater videos, I have seen free baits that were very close to the hook were taken by the crays - they pick them up, move away, hide and eat them quietly.

When we fish in a place full of crays, it meant that in 15 minutes half a kilogram of particles, boilies or pellets would be gone. The solution is a PVA mesh bag filled with a fine groundbait. I make this 24 hours before fishing - I mix the groundbait and add a concentrated liquid, made from the same flavor as the pop-up I am going to use, plus tuna oil and salmon oil. I use these to dampen the groundbait before use, increasing the volume of the fine particles by 20%.

The next day I make up some PVA mesh bags to put in close to my hookbait with Korda’s Katapult, the strongest catapult I have tried. But this mesh is made in a special way: filling the tube, I push the mixture down with the Kompressa and when it comes out from the end of the tube, I add an inch of sandy material from the ground with no compression, just letting out a little portion of the mesh. I will then pop my hook in this part where the sand is placed, so the hook will be protected from any odour.

In the videos, I also noticed that sometimes crays pick up the boilie but they do not attack it, instead they feel attracted to the hook and they can diminish its sharpness. And all this is due to the fact that you have attached the PVA mesh onto the link and hook, so remember the golden rule!

The advantage of these groundbaits is that they are very attractive to the fish and crays, but they get to eat next to nothing, plus a lot of crays fight over the groundbait and spread over a wide area. Groundbait can mix with the bottom sediments while the crays are making a hole, searching for something they cannot see but still smell everywhere.

The crays can be concentrated in an area and there is no bait to run away with, whilst at the same time the fish are attracted by the smell of the groundbait and concentration of crays, so what would the fish find? With no doubt, our bait hook.

In addition to the above, I also recommended that you do not use the PVA mesh bags on the hooklink - I have proved that it is the best choice by far. The most common mistake is to pop the hook into the mesh, so that way the hooklink is completely soaked with liquid and particles that crays will identify as food.

If you use the previously explained special PVA mesh bag, when it arrives at the bottom, it melts, releasing the hook bait surrounded by the sand away from the core groundbait in the PVA bag. It is just the distance between the weighed Dark Matter tungsten putty portion and the pop-up hook bait, but it keeps the hooklink protected from something that could attract the crays.

We can also throw in some boilies but all of them are going to be hidden under a stone, a stick or anything where a crayfish can hide and eat the bait. But, whilst the cray is eating the boilie, it is also creating an area of attraction because the boilie is releasing its attractive scents and flavour.

By testing baits I realised that by putting hardened boilies in as feed, their life is about one hour more, but not much last longer. In this case, it is good to feed boilies every hour using the Eazi-Stik, and always trying to keep the area attractive to them close to the hook bait. The most effective trick is to launch a combination of hard balls and PVA mesh bags with the Eazi-Stik and Katapult respectively.

To finish, let’s talk about the anti-crayfish method used by the 90% of anglers: the plastic baits. Some premium brands, but only a few, manufacture plastic baits that really endure the attacks from crayfish. What anglers usually do is to soak these baits in powerful dips and forget about it until they need them, or they buy plastics with the dip included.

Plastics absorb the liquid and odor to their maximun and they even adopt the dip’s colour. Then they simply put them on the hair, but what happens when crays are very active? Many of you already know the answer: signal crayfish try so hard to get the bait that sometimes you will find the hooklink cut, with no bait or hook!

The biggest mistake is to forget the golden rule, as mentioned earlier. Although we do not touch the hooklink, the act of placing a plastic bait submerged for years in a dip, means that the dip will soak the braided hair with the scent of the dip. Once the liquid has soaked into the hair, the crays will destroy it: they will remove the stop, they will shred the line, they will roll the hooklink until they cut the bait and even the hook.

So, is there any solution using plastic baits? Yes, of course! First of all, do not buy plastic baits previously soaked - they are completely useless when the crays are active. On the other hand, Korda has plastics – Fake Food - made with subtle flavors impregnated into the bait. Plastic corn and dumbells in different colors, sizes and flavors work well. With these baits we will be sure that we are not breaking the golden rule. You will also find them pre-drilled in order to be easily attached, and of course like this, we don’t touch them so much.

If the crays are very active, we will use a little Super Wrap portion to cover the area of the hair stop, avoiding the Extenda stop being removed, so this weakness will be eliminated the same way as we do with natural boilies.

Following the above, I can only add that these tips are guaranteed to put many more fish on the bank for you! Soon, we will post the underwater videos made on Spanish waters so you can see with your own eyes how the crays act and how you can avoid them, so follow us on Facebook: Team Korda Spain.