How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

The spiny Murray crayfish is the second biggest freshwater crayfish in the world, second only to the Tasmanian giant crayfish.

The Tasmanian giant crayfish is the biggest freshwater crayfish in the world, but is also totally protected. This means that the spiny Murray crayfish is the largest freshwater crayfish that we can actually target, catch and even eat.

The Murray crayfish season is only open in winter here in Victoria. 1st June to 31st August inclusive.

In winter many people put on their football boots, or wax their snow skis. But for me it is all about catching these prehistoric crustaceans.

How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

My biggest ever crayfish at 140mm.

How do I catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish?

There are only a few ways that you can legally catch Murray crayfish. One way is by hand. You can just pick them up. Swimming for crayfish in the depths of winter? Good luck with that!

The second way is with meat and string. (with no hooks attached) The same technique that many kids use to catch yabbies. A length of string with some meat tied to the end. Throw it into the river and when the string pulls tight. Pull it in slowly and scoop up the crayfish with a small net.

I have used this technique a number of times and it is a lot of fun, although very challenging. The clearer the water is the harder it is to actually scoop the crayfish as they tend to let go of the meat a lot earlier in clear water.

The third, and most popular way to target Murray crayfish is by using crayfish nets, or drop nets. These are referred to as hoop nets in the Victorian Fisheries handbook.

How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

2 crayfish in one net. Caught using dry dogfood in a stocking as bait.

These hoop nets are subject to a maximum size (diameter) and there is a limit to the amount of nets that you can use. Please refer to the Victorian Recreational Fishing guide for the full set of rules and regulations:

Basically, the hoop nets are deep sided, but sit flat on the bottom of the river while baited up. (I will talk more about baits a bit further down the page) When you pull them up the sides of the net lift up first, trapping the crayfish in the net.

These hoop nets can be used from a boat or from the bank. Most of my crayfishing is done from the bank.

How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

Carp is an excellent bait for crayfish.

When I was a kid we use to make our own crayfish nets out of bicycle rims and ferret nets and they always worked very well. In some ways they were better because they were heavier and able to withstand the current a lot better. These days, in the throwaway society we live in it is so much easier to just by them at the tackle shop.

Worth noting is that it is illegal to target Murray crayfish with open top lift nets. (Pyramid nets) In fact, the use of these nets is prohibited in most crayfishing waterways at all times.

Best places to catch crayfish..

In Victoria the Ovens River and Goulburn Rivers are great crayfish spots, with the Goulburn River being the better of the two. The Goulburn River is wider and deeper, and has more public access areas than the Ovens. The Ovens River does have a lot of public access, but much of that is locked up in winter, especially if it is a wet winter like this year. (2022)

How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

A late season crayfish caught in August in the middle of Wangaratta

There are also crayfish in the Kiewa River and Mitta Mitta Rivers, as well as most of the feeder streams that run into these rivers. The smaller rivers tend to have smaller, undersized crayfish in them though.

The Murray River is a very popular river for people targeting Murray crayfish, so too is Lake Mulwala when it is full, which is most winters, but not this winter.

Those areas are governed by NSW D.P.I. fisheries, so you will need to check the NSW rules are regulations.

In these areas, look for deep water. I find the best crayfishing seems to be in the deepest holes, especially if they are under steep clay banks. Deep water at the bottom of steep clay banks always seems to produce crayfish.

Obviously if you are crayfishing from the bank you are a lot more limited to where you can access, so just look for deep water.

Don’t be afraid to go crayfishing when the river is high and dirty. Unlike many finned fish which often shut down during periods of high, dirty cold water in winter, Murray crayfish love these conditions.

Be careful where you put your fingers, crayfish mean business when they nip you with their claws. This bite was from a 10cm crayfish and was a quick nip, it could have been much worse.

Crayfish can be caught an just about any meat, but we all have out favourites. Bloody meats such as lambs fry, or ox heart are awesome baits, however I find that they tend to lose the blood pretty quickly and become quite pale looking. At this point they also lose a lot of smell. My personal experience is that the first couple of checks of the nets are the best, and after that things slow down.

Chicken frames are my favourite. They stink all day. They don’t lose their smell, and crayfish love them. Carp are much the same. If you have somewhere to catch carp in the winter, they are a deadly bait to use on crayfish.

Another good bait is dried dog food. You can put it into some kind of bait holder, or you can make a bait holder out of any small container. Just fill an empty 600ml Pepsi bottle with dry dog food, punch holes in it and tie it in the net. It will work.

I usually put my dry dog food into a stocking and tie it in the net. The beauty of this is that you can bait your nets up the night before and leave them in the car. The downside is that I don’t think it works quite as well as chicken frames and eventually the crayfish will rip the stocking apart.

How to Catch Freshwater Murray Crayfish

A big female crayfish with eggs walks back into the Ovens River after being released.

Please be aware that Murray Crayfishing is policed very heavily here in Victoria. I have already been checked by fisheries officers once this season, so make sure that you know the rules and stick to them. Not only will it save you money by not getting fined, but it will also help to ensure that our kids, and grandkids can enjoy this amazing pastime for many years to come.

Robbie Alexander