Battle of the Carp Lakes: Top Tips for Taking on Crayfish
What are Crayfish?
Crayfish are present in many waterways across the UK and Europe. The smaller White Clawed Crayfish (pictured right below) is native to the UK and sadly under threat from the non-native American Signal Crayfish (pictured left below) due to a disease that the White Clawed Crayfish has no natural resistance against.
The North American Signal Crayfish (left) compared to the native White Clawed Crayfish (right)
The white clawed crayfish is considerably smaller than its non-native counterpart and is generally found in freshwater rivers and streams. It can typically be found hiding under rocks and in small cracks, where it is safe from predation and able to forage for food. It is also a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which means that it should not be trapped or killed if you happen to come across one.
As the name suggests, the American Signal Crayfish is a non-native species that was introduced to the UK in the 1970s, as a commercial opportunity for export to the Scandinavian restaurant market. The signal crayfish came to inhabit our natural water courses by escaping from commercial fisheries and through illegal transfer of the species by humans. Although it is legal to trap this crayfish (with written consent from the Environment Agency), it is no longer lawful to transfer them from one water source to another.The American signal crayfish can survive in most UK water courses, but is most commonly found in lakes and ponds. Their ability to travel across land between different rivers, lakes and canals has resulted in them now being a widespread sight across the UK and Europe.
Despite the negative impact this crayfish has had on our native species here in the UK, I’m not sure the carp will mind too much, as they provide a valuable source of nutrition for large carp, due to their high protein qualities.
Where can you find crayfish?
Over the past 45 years, the American Signal Crayfish has invaded countless bodies of water in the UK, to the extent that now nearly all areas of Southern England support large numbers of them. Recent studies suggest that the main requirement for the signal crayfish to thrive is a high concentration of calcium in the water, which probably explains the prevalence of the species in the chalk streams and rivers across Southern England.
Signal crayfish across the UK and Europe. Publications Scientifique MNHN, Paris, 2006. (After Souty-Grosset et al. 2006)
Another key component for the success of the crayfish is vegetation, both in and around the expanse of water they inhabit. Overhanging trees and leaf litter coupled with weed growth and other detritus material provides shade and cover for the crayfish, and more importantly acts as an excellent source of food.
The final consideration that influences the areas that crayfish inhabit is clay soils. The signal crayfish has a clear preference for banks made of clay soils, as it is the perfect substrate for nesting.
If you’re targeting waters that have any of the aspects mentioned above (particularly if you are fishing in the south of England or on the continent), then chances are you will meet these pesky invertebrates at some point in your angling career.
What’s the problem?
Firstly, as the American Signal Crayfish is an invasive species, it has a significant impact on the natural biodiversity and ecosystems in the UK and Europe. On top of this, due to their widespread colonisation, they are an interference and challenge that we have to deal with as anglers, especially when targeting large carp.The main issue the signal crayfish presents to anglers, is that they will pretty much eat anything, including our baits! If you cast out a single boilie into a water that is infested with crayfish, the chances are that by morning the bait will have been picked at so much by these pests, that it will either have crumbled or will have been fully removed and eaten. Even if you select a hardy bait in an attempt to counter them, the rig itself may get disturbed to the point that it is no longer presented effectively, reducing your chances of an efficient pick up.
Crayfish are known to seek out shady, weedy areas as refuge from predators and natural light. They rest here in the day, coming out at night to feed. It is with this in mind that we anglers should tailor our approach to targeting carp and to limit the impact that these invasive animals have on our approach.
A large North American Signal Crayfish skulking on the edge of a weed bed
How to deal with them
It is inevitable when fishing for carp that at some point you will encounter crayfish (probably the aforementioned larger American Signal Crayfish). Here are a few tips to help you avoid the problems these little critters can cause, allowing you to focus on targeting large carp.
The signal crayfish will generally feed on natural food sources such as larvae, fish eggs, tadpoles and other invertebrates that are found in weedy or silty areas. The most effective way to avoid having your bait interfered with or damaged, is to avoid fishing such areas. Now I know that is easier said than done, especially on those venues where weedy/silty areas make up the majority of the lakebed, or if these are the areas that carp are likely to be lurking, so what else can you do to avoid them?
Tip 1 – Wrap up
Covering your baits with a protective film reduces the ability of the crayfish to damage or remove them. A number of tackle companies now produce a shrink wrap for use specifically with boilies/wafters.
On waters where crayfish are prolific, follow the step by step guide shown below to protect your hook bait.
Cut a single piece of shrink wrap to the size that suits the boilie/wafter being used and then slide it over the boilie.
Once it’s sitting in position, steam it using a kettle to “shrink” it down over the hookbait, providing a protective cover as shown.
Trim the edges and turn the bait 90°. Repeat by adding another section of shrink wrap so that you have complete coverage over the hookbait.
As an additional level of protection, I like to attach the bait to a hair, using a long bait stop as pictured. This helps to secure the bait to the hair, dramatically reducing the chances of a crayfish dislodging the stop from the hair and pulling the bait off.
Tip 2 – Artificial baits
Artificial baits offer an excellent alternative to wrapping your hook baits. As you would imagine, these baits prove to be more challenging for the crayfish to damage or remove, simply due to the resistant nature of the materials they are made from.
Plastic corn, boilies and cork balls all offer a variety of options suitable for this style of fishing.
Double artificial corn fixed to the hair of a simple blowback rig
Not only do they provide suitable resistance against the efforts of Ronnie and Reggie, but they can also be soaked to absorb a variety of flavours and colours. In addition, they are also impervious to the degrading effect of the water and if they are tied to an effective rig, which resets itself efficiently, they can withstand the attention from any amount of crayfish.
Artificial baits are my go-to hook bait option when I know there are crayfish present. I know I can fish them for longer periods, and I have maximum confidence that they are presented well in the water for me.
In fact, two pieces of plastic corn on a stiff D rig were responsible for my personal best carp, coming in at 51lb 3oz from a crayfish infested water in France.
My personal best Mirror caught on two pieces of artificial corn
Tip 3 – Rig choice
When it comes to rigs, for me it is imperative to have a rig that will efficiently reset itself time after time. For that reason, I will always try to incorporate a stiff material to enable the bait to stay as straight as possible after any unwanted pick-ups.
My choice is often to adopt a simple stiff D rig, which is made entirely from fluorocarbon or another stiff link material. Attach the artificial bait or shrink-wrapped bait to the hook via a bait screw or small hair, so that the bait is as tight as possible to the D section on the back of the hook.
My only other tip for trying to combat crayfish when it comes to your rig set up is to use as heavy a lead as possible. Ideally 3 to 4oz to help prevent the rig from being dragged out of position into some detritus, which is likely to render it ineffective.
Heavy leads are a must when crayfish are present
And finally… Baits to avoid.
I used to think that crayfish would be more attracted to certain types of bait, in particular krill, so I stopped using it altogether. I figured that a fish-based boilie would be more attractive to them because it was effectively a ball of goodness that resembled a natural food source, so by using them, I was providing them with their own little dinner plate! Unfortunately, I have come to realise that this is simply an urban myth and in fact crayfish will eat pretty much anything and everything that is available to them.
For this reason, I concentrate on ensuring that the baits I do use are of sufficient quality and quantity, to attract the larger carp in the lake to the spots I am targeting. This is because large carp eat crayfish… Get my drift?