It was ninety-five degrees and I was standing in the middle of the Siuslaw River about fifteen miles upstream from Mapleton, Oregon. With a small, green fish net in my right hand, I moved through the current, hunching over with my face just inches above the water. The sunlight was bright and reflected off the surface with blinding intensity. I peered through reflections of trees and clouds, scanning the edges of rocks, twigs and branches.
This was my friend, Troy’s, idea. He grew up in the Florida Keys and used to organize similar hunts with his brothers. I could hear the water swirling around his legs as he waded slowly behind me. Farther up stream, our other friend, Steve, overturned rocks with splashing ker-plunks. Beside us, the water in the central channel moved swiftly and a fast breeze tossed the trees on both banks. We were hypnotized. We had crawdad fever.
They’re called different things in different places: crayfish, crawfish, crawdads and mudbugs; but regardless of what you call them, these ubiquitous freshwater crustaceans are fun to catch and delicious to eat. There are over five-hundred crayfish species, but it is the signal crayfish that is most common in Oregon. Considered delicacies in some countries, they thrive in lakes, streams and rivers and are very abundant in the waters of Louisiana. Louisiana produces ninety percent of the world’s crayfish haul with most of the catch being consumed locally.
Another ker-plunk from Steve, then legs splashing wildly. “He’s on the go!” Steve yelled. “Troy! He’s coming right to you!” Without missing a beat, Troy took two giant steps and with his tiny net, scooped up the orange blur shooting past his legs. “Got him,” Troy said as he lifted up the dripping net. “And he’s a big one.”
But it was Steve who had the greatest haul. He flipped over rock after rock and scooped up giant after giant. The big ones are the best because you get tail meat and claw meat too. In the span of about two hours, the three of us caught about fifty keepers–enough for a respectable crawdad boil.
Again, Troy’s experience showed here. He set up a Coleman stove on the tailgate of his truck, quartered a lemon and threw it into a pot full of river water. He then added a giant pouch of cajun crawdad flavoring that floated around the pot like a giant tea bag.
Fifteen minutes later, we were dipping delicious, sweet morsels of crawdad meat into butter and cocktail sauce, eating pretzels, sipping beer and rehashing the funny moments of our endeavor. When the last crawdad was gone, we took a swim, sat on the warm rocks, and listened to the wind and river–embracing the Oregon summer we knew would end too soon.