If chicken livers are the best known of all catfish baits, crawfish may be the most overlooked. All major species of catfish feed on crawfish, although most flatheads caught on craws weigh 20 pounds or less.
Crawfish rank among the best baits of all for fishing in creeks and small rivers. You can either bounce live crawdads near the bottom in the current using split shot rigs or add a little heavier weight and fish crawfish tails right on the bottom. Dead crawfish produce mostly channel catfish. Live ones -- especially big craws -- also attract modest-sized flatheads. Anglers who specifically want flatheads should put baits close to the thickest cover they can find and be ready to pull with everything they have upon setting the hook.
Crawfish are not purely stream baits, though. They are important forage in many ponds, lakes and reservoirs and, therefore, make great catfish bait in waterways of all sizes. Fresh crawfish, whether dead or alive, work great for putting cats in the boat whether they are placed atop rocky points or humps on summer nights, or fished in the deeper open water along the edge of a grass bed.
A live crawfish can be hooked through the base of the tail from the bottom up. Some anglers like to remove the pincers, but the cats probably do not care either way. Anglers using dead craws often pinch off the head and string the body on the hook, inserting it under the tail and impaling as much of the crawfish as possible. This kind of rig can spin in the water if there is any current, so adding a swivel between the weight and the hook is a good idea.
Some bait stores do sell live crawfish. However, anglers who want to bait up with fresh craws generally have to catch their own. Simply turning rocks can accomplish that in some streams. In many rivers and most lakes, anglers have to put down some type of crawfish trap, which can be baited with chicken parts.
Catfish purists should consider one warning about using crawfish -- especially live crawfish: Virtually everything that swims likes to eat crawfish, so expect to sort through a bunch of bluegills, bass and other "undesirables" between prized catfish bites.