HORNBROOK, Calif. — On a slow bend of the Klamath River on the wrong side of the Oregon/California border, Glenn Goodwin emerges streamside with his bucket of perfectly stinky fish for a busy afternoon of almost nothing.
He stuffs three bloody anchovies into a wire trap and launches it into the tea-brown Klamath, then waits for it to attract the poor man's lobster.
Within 20 minutes, Goodwin retrieves the trap, and it's loaded with large red crayfish, their pinchers ready to do battle with the 53-year-old Eagle Point man who, by day's end, will catch, boil, clean and eat close to 50 of these warmwater crustaceans without breaking a summer sweat.
"It's a nice change of pace," says Goodwin, a hunter and fly-fisherman who has captured crayfish regularly for 20 years. "You don't really need to do anything except have a trap with some smelly bait. Just hang out and watch the river go by, and at the end of the day you have a nice meal."
Whether you call them crayfish, crawfish, crawdads or just plain 'dads, catching and eating a mess of crayfish is an endeavor that should be on every Pacific Northwest outdoorsman's bucket list — even if it means just one day chasing 'dads before you die.
From lazy spots in the Klamath River to the warm waters of Klamath Lake to any of a slew of summer creeks in the Rogue River basin, the feisty little crustaceans with their well-endowed pinchers aren't hard to find.
A $9 trap and a 35-cent can of cat food can turn anyone into a crayfisher. The only other requirements are a bucket for the quarry, quick reflexes during some hand-to-pincher combat, and a suspension of maturity to crayfish the day away.
"To me, catching crayfish is the best," Goodwin says. "You have to act like a kid sometime, so why not today?"
There is no limit to the number of crayfish one can catch on either side of the Oregon/California line, and there are barely any limits on how you can take them.
In Oregon, legal methods include hands, baited lines, nets, rings and traps. Only fishing hooks are banned, because some doofusses once used the ruse of crayfish fishing to angle illegally in closed tributaries.
A string of small crayfish traps dropped into warm, slow waters where crayfish are known to fester on lazy summer days is about the only instruction left to pass along.
"Don't make it complicated, because it's not," Goodwin says.
Neither is their preparation for the plate: 8 minutes in boiling water, then pop off the heads, peel off the shell, pull out the dark intestine-like membrane — "because you don't want to eat @%*&," Goodwin says — and you've got a meal revered in some American haunts.
"I'll only eat fish at gunpoint, but I'll eat crayfish," Goodwin says. "They're like salad shrimp, and that's a good way to eat them. On a salad."
Fifty of the finger-long critters get you about a pound of meat. Males are larger and their one prominently large claw has a chunk of meat akin to lingcod cheeks or crab legs.
"If you're going to play with these things, you might as well get the ones with the big claw meat," Goodwin says.
"Other than that, I don't know anything about them — just that they're here," Goodwin says.
Known among crustacean scholars as Pacifastacus leniusculus, this subspecies of crayfish is native to the Klamath and Rogue basins and are common dwellers in cool-water lakes, rivers and reservoirs throughout the Northwest.
In the Rogue Basin, they are common in Elk Creek near Shady Cove, Carberry Creek in the upper Applegate River Basin and in Evans Creek near Rogue River. Howard Prairie Lake was once a crawdadders' heaven, but illegally introduced smallmouth bass have chewed the crayfish population to the nub.
Native crayfish in both systems are fighting losing battles for food and space with two non-native crayfish introduced here, with the Ozark crayfish now very common.
But that's more science than most people ever seek to digest about crayfish.
"People just call them all crayfish," says David Haight, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Central Point.
The only real difference is that crawdadding in California requires an angling license, whereas Oregon doesn't consider crawdadding fishing, so no license — not even a shellfish license — is required.
On either side of the Agricultural Inspection Station, slow and deep stretches of water are the best places to toss traps that can be left out overnight and retrieved the following day.
Regardless, never skimp on the amount of smelly fish or catfood cans.
"The whole thing is based on scent," Goodwin says. "The longer you have your scent out there, the more time that critter has to follow it to your trap."
On a lazy Thursday, Goodwin baits and chucks nine crayfish traps into a scum-topped eddy of the Klamath upstream of Copco Reservoir. Then he takes a nap.
When the snoozing subsides, he pulls the traps individually and culls the catch.
Big ones, especially all big-clawed males, go into a five-gallon bucket laced with a little river-water to keep the critters alive. Small ones — those that require the burning of more calories catching them than he'ff get eating them — get a free toss back into the river.
Goodwin fingers one mid-sized female and almost tosses her into the bucket. At the last moment, he changes his mind.
"Today's your lucky day," Goodwin says as the crayfish soars toward the river.
A large male that won't go down without a fight isn't so lucky. After an impressive counter-attack that does damage to two of Goodwin's digits, the crawdad succumbs amid Goodwin's taunting narrative of the "hot bath" fate that awaits.
"I'll have the last laugh on you," he says.
The final crayfish stands on the backs of others, claws flailing skyward as if to challenge Goodwin to one final duel. Goodwin laughs as the crayfish exerts more energy in the bucket than Goodwin did capturing him.
"What a great way to sit by the river and watch the day go by," Goodwin says.