The flat-bottomed aluminum boat glided through Bayou Savage, parting the sea of emerald green and leaving a trail of muddy brown behind us. Overhead, sprays of Spanish moss hung like tinsel from the Cyprus and tupelo trees of the bayou. The zit-zit-zit sound of thousands of dragonfly wings flittered through the thick, muggy air.
We’d already passed half a dozen alligators out sunning themselves under the broiling heat of the day, but they were not what we hunted that day. We were going mud bugging, also known as the search for crawfish, as it is more commonly known across the country. But here in lower Louisiana, the Cajun call it mud-buggin’.
From the cooler at his feet, Waylon, my Cajun guide, pulled a fish head still attached to a picked clean backbone. I hoped it wasn’t the same cooler we had stashed our lunch in as his cracked and weather-beaten hands wrapped around the head and plunged it into the wire mesh trap at his feet.
“We’ll pull up the ones I set last night and leave these here new ones for tomorrow.” He grabbed a steel hook that looked like an umbrella with no fabric and used it to grab the line out of the coffee-colored water. “Night is the best time to catch crawfish.”
On the shore, a white egret stepped its long legs over a fallen branch and silently stalked an unseen mullet. He, too, was looking for a lunch in the bayou.
“There’s crawfish in nearly every pond, lake, river, creek, or stream here in Louisiana. They’re our local specialty.” He pulled his camouflage cap lower on his head while pulling up the next trap on the line. Inside, half a dozen tiny, lobster-like crustaceans crawled over each other. “Shoot, girl. You can’t go more than ten miles in this state without seeing a crawfish boil on the menu of any restaurant.”
Waylon was right. Along with a cup of gumbo, fried catfish, and oysters, a platter of crawfish was what we’d been devouring everywhere we went since the season stared in December. It was now June and the season was almost over. This might be our last chance for wild crawfish. Although these days almost all crawfish on menus are farm-raised, usually from rice fields that are flooded after the harvest, I had wanted to come out with Waylon and see how they were caught.
He opened the trap and dumped it into the plastic bin at his feet. “We’ve got about five pounds so far.” He reloaded the trap with another fish head. “How hungry are you?”
He obviously hadn’t seen me suck the heads of these creatures before. “Maybe a few more traps.” I tried to sound demure and lady-like, but I didn’t want to miss out on the last feast of the season.
Waylon pulled another dozen traps on the line before heading his flat-bottomed boat back out the river. I stretched out and tried to count the number of great blue herons I saw on the bank. I lost count after I added painted turtles sunning themselves on logs to the tally. I pointed to a knotted rope tied to an oak branch over the water ahead.
“Isn’t this the same river we saw alligators in earlier today?”
Waylon’s laugh was gruff. “Depends on how good them boys and girls are if the parents warn them when the gators eyes pop up.”
That evening, Waylon dumped our catch into a pot of boiling water flavored with his secret Cajun Fire spice mix, smoked sausage, garlic, mushrooms, corn and potatoes.
“The secret to my crawfish is the addition of lime.” He squeezed four halves of citrus into the roiling mixture and removed it from the fire. After draining the water, he strewed the meal across newspaper laid out on his picnic table. Hot and sharp spices filled the air. The crawfish glistened red. The garlic melted to butter.
I twisted the body off the first crawfish and sucked the spicy liquid from its head. I shucked the sweet plump meat out of the tail and popped it in my mouth as I grabbed a bottle of Pontchartrain Pilsner and clinked its neck against Waylon’s bottle of Barq’s root beer. “This is amazing.” Under all his wrinkles and sun-darkened skin, I could have sworn he blushed. “Hell, darlin’. It’s just a mess of bugs.”
- 5 pounds live crawfish
- 2 gallons water
- 2 onions, quartered
- 4 limes, halved
- 2 heads garlic, peeled
- 8 bay leaves
- 1 cup Creole seasoning
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 1 pound small redskin potatoes
- 6 ears of corn, shucked, trimmed and cut in four
- 1 pound mushrooms
Bring the water to a boil in a large stock pot with the onions, limes, garlic, bay leaves, Creole seasoning and salt.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes.
Add corn and mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes.
Add crawfish, cover with a lid and turn off heat.
Let the crawfish steep in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Drain and pour onto a picnic table covered in newspaper or pile on a large tray.
Serve with plenty of beer and Barq’s Root Beer.