Whatever you call them — crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs or whatever — crawfish are popular with bass. With nearly 400 species nationwide, the crawfish is practically everywhere, and it's a nearly perfect bass bait.
Ken Cook, former Bassmaster Classic champion and former Oklahoma fisheries biologist, knows a lot about crawfish and how bass feed on them. In his eyes, crawfish-imitating lures can be go-to baits, even in the coldest water.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about crawfish," says Cook. "One of the misconceptions many fishermen have is that crawfish are active when the water is near 50 degrees or below. There is some variability due to geographical location, of course, but being cold-blooded crustaceans, crawfish are generally dormant during winter. Unless there is a strong warming trend, they're just not crawling around."
The good news is that bass don't care.
"Crawfish are a highly preferred diet item," Cook explains. "A bass doesn't know crawfish are supposed to be dormant. Bass are also very opportunistic predators, so when he sees a craw lure, he sees an easy, nutritious meal."
In essence, a slow moving, crawfish imitating bait, such as a jig, is a good way to lure a lethargic bass into believing he's stumbled across a chance to expend limited energy to get a lot of nutrition.
According to the pro, another misconception is the idea that crawfish have seasonal colors. An example would be the common notion that most crawfish are red in spring.
"It's a bunch of hooey," claims Cook, "There are no hard and fast rules about crawfish colors. In any given large body of water, the most important factor in crawfish coloration isn't seasonal, it's environmental. Different species may have different coloration, but the best way to match any seasonal color is to match the color of the habitat.
"Although each kind of crawfish will have their own coloration, each species ends up pigmented like their environment, no matter what season it is. The key to matching crawfish color depends on when and where a particular species molts. Immediately after craws shed their old shells, they lose their color and get clearer. Crawfish build and strengthen their new shells with the nutrients and minerals from their environments. A craw in a grassy, weedy environment will take on a green color. Red clay bank craws assume a rusty color, and crawfish living around dark rocks become dark gray or black."
Cook says that even crawfish of the same species might have dramatically different coloration depending on where they live when they molt.
The 14-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier offered a final tip for fishing a crawfish-type jig: Pay attention to the pinchers.
"Most craws will have some color on their claws, especially the tips. In some areas they commonly have a little chartreuse or even red. In other places they have blue tips. I've had great success fishing a jig in cold water by selecting a skirt with a few strands of color and matching that color on the claws.
"In clear water, it's very important have the jig look as natural as possible, so I match the color of the habitat and add a little chartreuse. You should shoot for realism. In stained water, shoot for visibility by using a darker jig like black and blue. Even then, though, consider tipping the claws with some red or orange."
Cold water bass fishing can be tough, but with a better understanding of forage, the pursuit is made easier.
"I've changed my opinion about whether you can catch them in cold water," Cook observed. "Twenty years ago I thought you couldn't catch anything in 40-degree or below water. It's difficult, but if you learn everything you can about the bass and its environment, you can be successful."