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First, a bit of biology. Crayfish (aka crawfish, crawdads, crawls, ditch lobsters, and mud bugs) are common in streams and lakes throughout the Kentucky and live a rather short life–usually less than two years. They have a hard exoskeleton, which is great for protection but must be shed in order for the crayfish to grow. This shell is molted up to 10 times each growing season, with May through August being prime times, depending on where you live. It takes a couple of days for the new shell to harden.

Crayfish molt because they must shed their hard exoskeletons and grow new, larger ones as their size increases. During the first year of life, a crayfish molts six to 10 times. This number decreases to three to five times during its second year.

Although soft-shell crayfish are sometimes sold at a premium by bait shops, I’ve found little difference in their fish-catching effectiveness. However, I do find hard-shell crays more resilient on the hook.

I prefer a fish-gut-baited minnow trap to catch crayfish, and I hook them through the tail when fishing.

There are over 50 species of crayfish known from Kentucky’s streams,
lakes, caves, wetlands, and other freshwater habitats. Many of them are
rarely encountered by humans, and most are similar in their overall
appearance. Visit the overview of Kentucky crayfish (PDF) from the
Kentucky Department of Fish and WIldlife Resources for a
comprehensive list of species. A few of the most common species are
listed and pictured below.

GENUS and SPECIES: Barbicambarus cornutus

GENUS and SPECIES: Procambarus clarkii

GENUS and SPECIES: Orconectes rusticus

Just so you know KY’s Laws….

(301 KAR 1:130, 1:122)
No live fish, live bait fish or live bait organisms that are not native or established in Kentucky waters shall be bought, sold, possessed, imported, or in any way used or released into waters of this Commonwealth. Blueback herring are not native to Kentucky and may not be imported or possessed in this state.

Holders of sport fishing licenses may take live bait from public waters and may possess up to 500 live bait fishes which include shad (except on lakes where possession or use of shad is prohibited) and herring, 500 crayfish, 25 spring lizards or dusky salamanders, 5 frogs (other than bullfrogs), 5 tadpoles, 100 native lampreys, 500 other aquatic invertebrate organisms other than mussels, and any number of unshelled Asiatic clams. Live wild caught Asian carp, herring and shad, as well as the species mooneye and goldeye, may only be used in the waters from which they were collected. A commercial license is required to take live bait from public waters open to commercial fishing for the purpose of selling.

Regardless of size or how obtained, it is illegal to use any sport fish for bait (except redear sunfish less than 6 inches long). (Sport fish species are listed here). Live bait fishes are defined as rough fish except blackside dace, palezone shiner, Cumerland darter, relict darter, tuxedo darter and redear sunfish less than 6 inches long. Also, see page 21 for a description of these protected fish species. Bluegills are not sport fish and may be taken for bait as described above.

Live bait may be taken with the following gear:

  • Dip Nets: Maximum size of 3 feet in diameter is legal statewide.
  • Minnow Traps: Maximum legal size statewide: 3 feet long, 18 inches in diameter, 1-inch openings for catching.
  • Seines: Maximum legal size statewide: 10 feet long, 4 feet deep, ¼-inch mesh. Maximum legal size in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and Kentucky and Barkley lakes: 30 feet long, 6 feet deep and ¼-inch bar mesh.
  • Sport Cast Nets: Maximum sport cast net size is 20 feet in diameter with maximum 1-inch bar mesh statewide except in the following waters. Sport cast nets prohibited in: 1) lakes having fewer than 500 surface acres, 2) Hatchery Creek in Russell County. All sport fish incidentally taken while capturing live bait with seines, dip nets or cast nets must be released immediately unharmed into the water.

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