Oregon Magazine

Home on the Range

"Mudbugs" Deserve Your
Angling & Appetite Focus

By Seared Lightly

Your intrepid correspondent has a long association with our local Crawfish, unjustly
designated by some "mudbugs". This affiliation began back in the late '60's, when we became
the owner of Portland's Jake's Crawfish restaurant. Then we dealt with commercial anglers who
supplied our establishment's namesake restaurant item. One evening, a fellow came in and
introduced himself as an official of the Swedish government ... seems that crawfish are a summer
staple of the Swedish diet and honored by a Royal proclamation dating back to the 1600's. Alas,
a virus virtually wiped out the native crawfish stock and this official had been sent forth to
explore Pacific Northwest sources for Pacifastacus Lenicula, identical to Swedish native stock
(the northern Pacific coastal region and Scandinavia are this species sole global outposts).
This contact led us to explore a commercial crawfish source to supply marine shpments to the
Swedes. We traveled to Sweden, contracted with a broker/importer for myriad thousands of
pounds. Upon return, we partnered with the Warm Spings Indian government to harvest the
abundant crawfish crop in central Oregon's Lake Billy Chinook. This bold venture died after a
small initial shipment, due to a lengthy U.S. Longshoremen's Union strike, crippling our ability
to export in time for Sweden's summer consumption season.
The native Swedish crawfish stock has now rebounded thanks to an intensive government
environmental restoration effort , but for several years the Swedish crawfish yen was supplied by
Turkey, which exports the Procombarus species native as well to the American South, but
inferior to Pacifastacus, being smaller and with tiny front claws. Pacifastacus is directly related
to the saltwater American Lobster, dwells in cold freshwater lakes and streams and boasts sweet
flesh ... it truly is a 'Freshwater Lobster.'
Crawfish hunting
These tasty critters are everywhere in our water-laden environs, but two locations have inspired
our trapping activity ... the Nehalem river accessed by gravel road off U.S. Highway 26 at the
Elsie roadside on the way to the Coast, and the Deschutes river running throuh Sunriver resort
grounds. The latter site prompted us to stage two Crawfish Olympics competitions in 1977 and
'78, attracting some prominent chefs fromf outside our area, including the legendary Cajun, Paul
Prudhomme. Most houseboat owners on the Willamette river and the Multnomah channel
alongside Sauvie Island are well-versed in hanging traps from their decks.
Fishing tackle retailers can provide a trap, a cylindrical, fine-mesh wire contraption with tapered
open ends. Fashion a couple of bait hooks to hang fresh fish parts (Salmon heads or backbones
are idea l), or simply puncture a can of cat food for an ea sy bait solution. A 'pencil' lead fishing
weight placed at both trap ends will sink it to the bottom and prevents the trap from rolling if
your stream angling. Some 30 feet of nylon line will enable you to cast the trap into an ideal site.
No license is required to seek Crawfish in Oregon. Coordinate your trap-setting with a finfish
expedition and pull your traps at the end of your outing. Drop Crawfish under 3 « inches in
length back into their homeland to grow larger. While a trap is the practical Crawfishing
technique, a kid with a chunk of bacon tied to a string will find success in stream holes, pulling
the grasping critter from the water and shaking the prey into a bucket.
Enjoying your catch
The Crawfish is a hardy beast, able to survive out of water for days if kept cool & damp. Don't
make the mistake of keeping a live catch in a bucket of water, however, where they'lll soon run
out of oxygen and succumb. Houseboat dwellers use a wire mesh holding tank suspended in the
river and feed the contents with veggie scraps for longevity. Don't transport your catch in an
open container. These guys are climbers and, if they get loose, hide in dark places where you
may not find them until they expire and your nose leads you to them, and your vehicle to a
steam cleaner.
Preparing your catch for dining is simple ... drop them live into a boiling brine flavored to your
taste. We prefer the traditional Swedish brine, salted to taste and flavored with oodles of fresh
Dill sprigs, sugar and chopped onion. Southerners do theirs in a spicey broth, but that's
because their native Crawfish dwell in warm, brackish water, not the clear, cold waters of
our Northwest. If you go Swedish, cool the fish before eating. However you cook your
catch, cold beer is a 'must' accompaniment, unless you're in Sweden, whereupon, you must
have a shot of Aquavit and a beer chaser before or after each crustacean consumed.
The tail is the meatiest part of Pacifastacus, but unlike its southern brethren, the local denizen
provides meaty claws and true Crawfish aficionados look under the body shell for the Crawfish
'butter'... and in late summer and fall, one finds roe under the females' tail flippers.
Sunriver Crawfish Olympics competitors created numerous exotic and complicated
presentations, but we attest that a Swedish boil followed by a cool is as good as it gets !!!

(OMED: Mudbug photo at top is from an info site: http://mackers.com/crayfish/ "Seared Lightly" is a
gnome de plume, or "pen name," for Fred Delkin. A Swedish Mudbug may be easily discerned from
other varieties by its square head. My mother was Norwegian.)

© 2011 Oregon Magazine