Methinks I was a bit eager this year. Traditionally, every crayfish across the country, both native and non, is tucked up in a hole in the riverbank waiting for the water to get above the 10 degree mark so they can venture out in search of a piscine massacre or scavenger fest of some sort. In short crayfish ARE bastards of the highest degree. These angry omnivores will devour just about anything that they come across and have the same level of aggression as a Millwall supporter after heartwarming cocktail of drink and drugs.
I am of course talking about the American signal crayfish, you would be hard pressed to happen upon one of our native species as their Yank cousins have obliterated them by force and biological warfare. The ‘Signals’, recognizable by the red underside of their impressive pincers, are carriers of a disease that they are resistant to but can prove deadly to other, less fortunate members of the family. Most of the invaders were in fact escapees from crayfish farms that have colonized our waterways and begun to wreak havoc, so much so that if you get a Signal crayfish out of water, it is ILLEGAL to put it back. If you are going to go after these freshwater beastie’s in numbers (and please do, by all means), then you will have to obtain a license from the Environment Agency, but for us ‘one-for-the-potters’, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Despite trying my best to catch crayfish from the river by the treehouse last summer (April-November is the best time to catch them), I had little success: in fact I had none. I even took to baiting my homemade trap with banana skins as well as fish heads- the scent given off by the banana skin mimics the scent of a female crayfish, creating a sort of honey trap for any horny males in the viscinity. Frustrating as it was to find my pot consistently empty, it wasn’t until midway through writing in November, that I took myself up to the village pub and was educated as to the whereabouts of the local crustacean population, a stream on the other side of the village…balls! Village pubs consistently prove themselves to be the place to go if you want information Royston Vasey-style, be it truth, myth or madness…its always the best place to start.
Even though I used to maintain a position behind the bar of my local pube (that’s not a spelling mistake, we ‘ere in rural Sossssaaaax often refer to them as pubes), and having gained my P45 ten years ago before trundling off to Africa, I seem to get that eyeballing from the yokels if I step foot inside: “This is a local pub for local people…we didn’t burn him”. There is something to be said for staying local, but I chose to venture into the world beyond the village boundries there is so much to see: I can prop up the bar later in life.
Bernard, for that was his name, told me about the crayfish whilst I sat at the bar thumbing through contact sheets for the book (I was starting to get cabin fever at home).
“Is that one of them thar crayfish traps?” said he as he peered over my shoulder. Nosey bugger, and yes it was. “If its crayfish you is aaaafter, yous want to go up yonder to them woods by that there church, small stream…loadsa tuggers.”
He explained to me that “tuggers” was a term used to describe the beasts, I’m going to hazard a guess that it is probably a local term…for local people. Bernard was actually quite the master of the subject and gave me plenty of tips. If I was after the big’uns, I should use a bit of bacon tied to a piece of string. I bought Bernard a pint of ‘foot’ (another local term for the Badger Ale ‘Tanglefoot’), watched him fall flat on his face on the bar top because he was shitfaced and bade him farewell. Good knowledge fella.
March is probably a bit ambitious for crayfishing, but it was such a fine day packed with signs of spring, that I took off yonder in search of a premature feast. The stream was running low and clear and even the wild garlic was pushing through, a tasty garnish for things to come?
I constructed two rudimentary rods from a few spindly lengths of hazel, tied some string to them with a small rock as a weight and then tied a slice of bacon to the end. I wandered downstream to the place Bernard had suggested above the bridge, dropped my lines and dug the ends of the hazel rods into the bank so the line was taught. This would help me see if any ‘tuggers’ were tugging. After 15 minutes, I saw some movement on one of the rods, a gentle nodding from the tip. Carefully I lifted the line and lo and behold: a crayfish! And a rather small one at that. I must point out, its probably best to have a small net to place under the crayfish as soon as it has broken the surface, to prevent losing supper.
Despite my best efforts over the rest of the afternoon, I had no more luck. I did read the entire contents of “Why not eat insects” a flimsy tome written in 1885 by Vincent M. Holt (Research for the next blog post…) and left with just the one tugger for supper, afterall I could have been up in court had I put it back. Here is another method of how to put together a trap for crayfish from George-lets-save-the-planet-Monbiot
So, what can you do with one small crayfish? Boil it for 5 minutes in salted water, take out the tail and crack open the claws. I only had enough to make a small canapé with a little mayo, chopped wild garlic and a smidge of smoked paprika balanced on top of a piece of toast, but what glorious mouthful! The flesh is absolutely sublime: sweet, firm and by gad I wish I had more- beats lobster and crab hands down! Obviously, I am aware of the damage the American invaders are doing, but they are (like the Grey Squirrel) part of the British landscape now, almost natives themselves, they are clearly here to stay, which means plenty for everyone. But after tasting that sweet flesh…I wouldn’t necessarily say their presence is a bad thing.
So, what can you do with one small crayfish? Boil it for 5 minutes in salted water, take out the tail and crack open the claws. I only had enough to make a small canapé with a little mayo, chopped wild garlic and a smidge of smoked paprika balanced on top of a piece of toast, but what glorious mouthful! The flesh is absolutely sublime: sweet, firm and by gad I wish I had more- beats lobster and crab hands down!
Obviously, I am aware of the damage the American invaders are doing, but they are (like the Grey Squirrel) part of the British landscape now, almost natives themselves, they are clearly here to stay, which means plenty for everyone. But after tasting that sweet flesh…I wouldn’t necessarily say their presence is a bad thing.