Fishing

Here’s one way to use those creepy, crawly Mormon crickets: to catch catfish

Swarms of Mormon crickets invade Southwest Idaho

“They’re back again,” says Elias Jaca, a rancher in Owyhee county who has been fighting Mormon crickets for weeks. Mormon crickets climb into water tanks, eat crops and flowers.
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“They’re back again,” says Elias Jaca, a rancher in Owyhee county who has been fighting Mormon crickets for weeks. Mormon crickets climb into water tanks, eat crops and flowers.

Catching a catfish is not for the faint of heart.

Sure, you occasionally can catch a cat on a good old-fashioned worm or crankbait. But to really pursue a big whiskerfish, you need to get nasty. I have seen anglers use all manner of disgusting baits to entice a catfish, ranging from chicken livers and pikeminnow guts to pickled squid and the most foul-smelling homemade stink baits you ever could imagine.

The reasoning is simple — catfish like to eat gross things. They have a highly developed sense of smell, and the more pungent your bait is in the water, the more likely it is to attract their attention.

Last week at Brownlee Reservoir, I was introduced to a new kind of hair-raising catfish bait — creepy, crawly Mormon crickets. The swarming pests have descended upon Brownlee like the locusts of Egypt, and just about everywhere you turn, the hillside is hopping.

I tagged along with an experienced group of cricket catchers to learn the ropes. It was a little weird launching the boat with no bait on board, but my friends assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.

Finding crickets was easy. The canyon echoed with their incessant chirping, and if the boat came too close to land, the shoreline would shift inland as crickets scampered away from us.

We banked the boat and proceeded to fill a small cooler with the crickets, which average 2 to 3 inches in length. Unlike grasshoppers, Mormon crickets can’t fly, which makes catching them less difficult. Creating a circle and rounding them up in the middle is probably most efficient, but four guys running around snatching and scooping for 5 minutes by hand also works just fine. If you don’t mind being made fun of, I recommend wearing work gloves — the crickets have a pinching bite, and they “spit” a foul-smelling juice on their captors.

With our bait captured, we motored on to the fishing hole. After anchoring up in a small cove, we loaded large bait hooks with whole crickets, fixed a bobber above the hook and flung them toward the shore.

The wait wasn’t long. Old Larry’s cricket was the first to get slurped, and he hauled in a 3-pounder. Within 45 minutes, we had three nice channels on board.

My bobber was the last to go under, but it was worth the wait. My rod doubled over immediately, and every time I got the fish close to the boat, it took off on another drag-peeling run. After a 10-minute tug-of-war, my buddy Caleb lowered the net and scooped up the catch of the day. It was more than 2 feet long and weighed 7.5 pounds — great size for a channel catfish, though they can grow to double-digit weights in Brownlee.

We wound up boating a dozen catfish and bass, all on Mormon crickets. As dusk approached, we even saw catfish feeding at the surface — a rare sight that was cool to witness firsthand.

The crickets are still thick as thieves at Brownlee, so get out there while the infestation lasts! Catfishing can be gross, but for my money, I’ll take fishing with creepy crawlies over gag-inducing stink bait any day of the week.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors@idahostatesman.com.

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