For fisherman Barry Toups, crawfish season starts early in November or December when his 28 acres of crawfish ponds are filled and traps are set in preparation for the upcoming flood of hungry southerners.
Louisiana has crawfish farms covering some 225,789 acres of land, according to a 2016 summary published by the LSU AgCenter. The ponds bear about 127.5 million pounds of the crustaceans, an exponential increase from the 61.1 million produced just 25 years ago.
Toups, a Henry, Louisiana native and retired electrician, is one of over 100 crawfish farmers he said he knows in Louisiana and even some parts of south Texas.
“This is crawfish country out here,” Toups announced as he made his way into the boat, a locally-made vessel built specially for his farm.
Toups offers a look into crawfish fishing that many people, even the local Cajuns, may never see: how the crawfish make their way from murky waters to savory delicacy served piping hot and spicy with corn and potatoes. At Toups’ 28-acre property, Crawfish Haven and Mrs. Rose’s Bed and Breakfast, guests can rent Cajun-themed rooms (Cypress, Fleur de Lis, and Crawfish Rooms) in his renovated bed and breakfast (complete with a Cajun breakfast made by Toups himself of crawfish omelets and boudin egg rolls) and, for an extra fee, have an afternoon on the waters harvesting their very own crawfish for the night’s boil.
“Honestly, you never know what’s going to be in that trap,” Toups said, pulling out one of the wired cages and dumping its wriggling contents onto a special grate before putting the crawfish (only the big ones) right into sacks for later. “You might catch a pound. You might catch five pounds, so it’s exciting just every day picking up traps.”
The farm runs seasonally beginning when water is pumped from the land into the ponds and the crawfish begin to house within the water. Bait on Toups’ property depend on temperature. For temperatures below 60 degrees, Toups baits with pieces of carp and similar fish. Any temperatures above 60 degrees call for a locally-bought, artificial bait prepared especially for crawfish and formed into cylinders for the traps.
Toups said his ponds produce some 30-40 thousand pounds of crawfish a year, a number that has grown every season.
“A cage, I got 14 pounds in one cage,” Toups said.
Toups admitted he never planned on getting into the commercial crawfish business, but the idea came to him at the suggestion of a family friend after Toups’ purchase of the bed and breakfast from Rose Robichaux, a woman he said he “got to be like a grandmother (to him).” After taking his guests onto the boat to catch their own crawfish, one suggested he could make money doing this and the idea “just stuck.”
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” Toups said. He added he originally hoped to harvest enough crawfish to simply pay expenses and still have enough remaining to occasionally boil up with friends and family.
“And today, we’re taking people crawfishing from all over the world,” Toups said. In fact, a map hung above the bed and breakfast door displays pushpins marking the location of each guests that makes their way onto the property.
“I’m going to have to get a world map,” Toups announced.
Toups admitted, however, that business is not always so good, noting that some seasons produce very small crawfish and natural disasters can put a damper on production for the year. He said “big rains” have hurt harvests before, and his “crawfish friends” have seen significant damage.
“My crawfish friends closer to the coast get storm surge from hurricanes with salt water may kill their crop for a few years,” Toups said.
Predators also play a part, Toups explained as part of the crawfish excursion. Predators include bullfrogs, raccoons, otters and snakes, and, as Toups made sure to mention, people.
Since retirement, Toups said the crawfish industry, and his business, has only grown and he doesn’t expect this to end in the future.
“Every year keeps getting better and better,” Toups said.