Archive | Foraging

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Doin’ the Crawdad Crawl

Posted on 12 February 2010 by Cork Graham

Never a dull moment with my buddy, Dan Caughey. Last time we went on a canyon jaunt was two years ago, during the heat of the California A zone deer season. I almost died from heat exhaustion and dehydration—and the Columbian blacktail buck we thought from a long distance was a legal forked-horn, ended up just being a non-legal spike as we drew close.

When we found a spring at the bottom on that death march, I sucked up all the cold fresh water I could, straining through the dead branches and leaves, thanking my stars later than that I didn’t get anything into my system, like giardia.

Dan Caughey flipping over a rock to see a crawdad

This time we were after monster crawdads, which meant we’d be walking the creek 90 percent of the time. Still, I filled my Blackhawk Camel Bak and carried it comfortably on my back, as we made the first initial leap off canyon road to the stream below. It’s very comforting and relaxing to be sucking refreshing water as the day heats up.

It would be a hell-crawl on hands and knees through thick underbrush on our way out, but for now, it was almost an idyllic hike through tall redwoods. I already knew I had picked the wrong footwear to use on this trip—slip on sneakers.  I should have used some Hi-Tec-type sneaker boots or at least a pair of lace up sneakers with thick soles.

Though my feet were feeling every small rock and pointy object as we walked, it was my knee that was giving me problems. Heavily traumatized during some very high-impact events in Central America during my early 20s, all injuries were now making themselves known. Twisting, and pounding as I jumped from a high embankment to creek, the knee felt it the most—the next day I wouldn’t even be able to bend, or walk on it, without extreme pain, but for now, the promise of crawdads as big as small lobsters drew me forward.

Pacifastacus leniusculus, generally known as the Signal Crayfish, was our target. Signal crayfish aren’t indigenous to Northern California. A 1912 Department of Fish and Game experiment gone wrong (they just dumped the crayfish into the local San Lorenzo River of Santa Cruz County when they were done investigating the depredatory effects of crayfish on small trout), they’ve overtaken the coastal streams from Monterey to British Columbia, and made their way into all rivers feeding into the Sacramento Valley their home.

With the drop in populations of the endangered steelhead, I consider it every steelheader and salmon anglers responsibility to take as many of these small fish and fish eggs eating freshwater crustaceans they can…and even if you’re extremely lucky, you might make a tiny dent. They’re just all over and they’ve pretty much taken out not only a number of small fish and the offspring of larger sea-run trout and salmon, but are endangering the much smaller indigenous crawdads in the waterways they’ve overtaken.

Is it any wonder that there’s no limit on signal crayfish in California?

With this in mind, I wanted to get as many as we could. Caughey’s record was 400 in a day’s haul. That’s what I call a feast on a great scale with what I endearingly call the “Po’ Boy’s Lobster”!

Look at the size of those sweet meat claws!

Though a much larger haul can be got with crayfish traps, Caughey enjoys more the hunting and fishing-like activity using his normal bass and trout fishing rig, with a steak as bait; a dip net for actual capture: Remember to not have any fishing hooks in your possession, because the warden will cite you if you do so on rivers and streams closed to normal fishing—such as coastal steelhead streams during the summer.

Finding a pool that was only about four feet deep, and crystal clear (many think it’s because of the voracious appetites of the overpopulated crayfish that eat frogs, fish and vegetation), Caughey stopped and said, “Let’s try this one.”

From one of the two 5 gallon paint buckets were carried with us, he grabbed the cheapest, pot-roast I could find at the supermarket the night before, and sliced off a steak.

“See what I’m doing?” he said, as he began slicing out from the center of the steak in a daisy-wheel pattern. “This gives them something to hold on so they don’t let go before we can get the net under them.”

He tied it on with a few wraps of the fishing line lengthwise and then crosswise across the meat (going in between the cuts), ending with clipping the line with the swivel. With a short cast, the chunk of meat was in the water and it didn’t take long…

A steak for a Po’ Boy Freshwater Lobster…

Three minutes later it was covered in five crawdads and the pool seemed alive with crawdads crawling out of their holes and from under rocks, excited by the scent of fresh meat and blood in the water.

“Ready?” Caughey asked.

“Yep.” I pulled up on the rod as I had been told, working the meat straight off the bottom and toward us, making sure to keep constant drag, but not so fast as to make the steak pinwheel: pinwheeling sends the crawdads flying, and sudden stops and sinking back, cause the crayfish to let go immediately. The key is to keep them holding on.

“Keep it coming,” Caughey said as he slipped the long-handled dip net under them. Bringing the crawdads and meat up in one lift, we had six big, fat signal crayfish—what a great start to the day!

The next four hours was spent walking up the cold stream, sometimes deep enough for us to have to remove our wallets and keys from our shorts and carrying them above water. When we got to Dan’s girlfriend Vivian’s home, where she would prepare them in the style of her Norwegian heritage, we counted 286 of the feisty little buggers, many not little at all: the largest was 9 inches long from end of tail to tip of claw!

 To  fill up on fresh crayfish and help native steelhead, trout and salmon…you’ll need the following:

  • Fishing license.
  • Stiff fishing rod and with strong line, say 10-15lb strength line is good.
  • Bait net with at least a 5 to 6-foot length handle.
  • Pot roast.
  • Swivel.
  • Knife to cut the meat.
  • Five-gallon bucket, with a few small 1/16 inch holes drilled into the side of the lower half of the bucket to let fresh water in and then as you work you way up the waterway.
  • Burlap bag or material to moisten and lay on top of the crayfish to keep them moist, but not suffocating in still water.

Vivian’s Traditional Norwegian Dill and Saltwater boil Recipe:

This is probably the easiest recipe you’ll find for crawdads out there, and it’s in its simplicity that it lets you really enjoy the sweet, lobster meat taste of the crawdads.


  • 10 gallons of freshwater
  • 1 pound of Kosher salt
  • 3 full bundles of fresh dill


1. Start the fire under the water pot and pour in the pound of salt
2. Unbundle the dill and throw them in whole
3. Once the dill and saltwater is at rolling boil, begin tossing in the crawdads
4. As they finish cooking, the’ll float up to the top bright red.


Vivian likes to seal the crawdads in large Tupperware containers for later enjoyment. According to her, the length of time in the freezer, in the saltwater and dills really helps impart the flavor into the meat, and makes them that much more delicious.

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FAT of the LAND by Langdon Cook [Book Review]

Posted on 18 January 2010 by Cork Graham

Long after I realized there were better ways of making a living than getting shot at, a few years after I had an epiphany about wildlife management being so much more than just about hunting, fishing, foraging, and sound wildlife conservation and ecology in Alaska; I entered outdoor writing through the more traditional forms of print magazines, books and newspapers, and was quickly likened by reviewers to Aldo Leopold.

Having graduated to outdoor writing in the new and burgeoning form of multimedia, I’m still leery of labeling a new author in the same manner as I had been so early in my career, not because of that boost to one’s career (Knowing how hard it is to succeed, I wish every writer the best in their career!), but because of how much it’s also an incredible weight and responsibility, and even for some, can be like a TV or film actor’s typecasting that is almost impossible to get out from under. Yet, when I read Fat of the Land by Langdon Cook, I couldn’t help but think how much, in relation to the urbanized society we’ve largely become in the United States, Cook, 42, is the Henry David Thoreau of his generation.

When I review a book, I’m in search of a number of offerings in that writing: education, entertainment and escape. Few authors can offer all that consistently and keeping it going throughout a book. When they do, it’s a great book!


Cork Graham subsistence hunting moose and Dall sheep on the Kenai Peninsula, 1990

As someone who lived in Alaska as a subsistence hunter, angler and forager, I’m always impressed with a writer who can take me back to the only place in the world, that I’ve lived in that I can say I’m truly homesick for, much less in a book that isn’t even about Alaska. With nice touches of a personal history reaching back to the East Coast, and often simply because of his beautiful poetic form of honesty, Cook was able to transport me to all the places I love through the window of Oregon and Washington.

Through Cook’s writing, that never once takes the reader over that sickeningly sappy poetic license that amateur writers often attempt, my voyage of escape from the flu I was fighting last week, was amazingly easy. At the open of “Honey, Get the Gun”, I was back on the shores of Clam Gulch, Alaska, in the middle of December, with my then girlfriend, a longtime resident, digging up razor clams. Some would be fried. Others would end up in my favorite “Razor Scampi”. Many were smoked and canned, enjoyed later as boat lunches during commercial salmon season.

For those who may be wondering if Fat of the Land will only appeal to someone who has “gone and done it”, worry not. I was never a fungi fan (but because of his “Confessions of an Amanita Eater”, I am now), nor have I been “Fiddling Around” for fiddleheads; yet, I was still with Cook, rooting for him and his gang when they succeeded, though appalled when he did something that just made me cringe. Yet, through his eyes, I saw what’s really happening for those now starting out in the world of hunting, even underwater, and even when he brought up a controversy in the arena of wildlife conservation that at times seems clichéd: from chapter one to its end, I was still completely vested in the book!

That heart and mind investment started with the hunt for the wild dangerous creature known to many a forager who prowls the shores of Puget Sound, (my great uncle would regal us with how many there were when he was a salmon fisherman out of Seattle just after WWII). If you think I’m being factious, try going after clams with your hands, like the new-to-Alaska, Cheechako I was. All it takes is a finger or hand split to the bone on the sharp edge of the shell to appreciate the common name for siliqua patula, and the practicality of an elongated clam shovel or a tube gun.

Cook talks with authority on the subject of clams, their history, and sadly, their possible future, a topic that can easily be spread throughout other flora and fauna speared, hooked or gathered in Fat of the Land, and which has put me in a quandary as someone who not only enjoys hunting, foraging and fishing, but also teaches others how to do it for themselves—can the wild flora and fauna populations support this, especially as a a human population sees that same wild bounty as an opportunity to overcome ever-increasing prices of food, or draw an income through foraging, in this horrible economy?

Moving deeper into the water, albeit still connected to land by the deck of a pier, was a lesson not only in how to fish for squid, but also how to start learning from those more experienced, and why it behooves everyone to learn an extra language—this hit home when I was eighteen, unlucky, and under harsh interrogations in a Communist Vietnamese prison, unable to string more than three words together from the Vietnamese I spoke fluently as the result of having been an American expat’s young child trying to survive in a Vietnamese-dominated French Catholic kindergarten in Saigon.

Surprisingly, or maybe it’s not, because of the multitude of immigrants who now ply the waters, streams and mountains for game and fish; being fluent in Spanish, French and Korean and having the ability to at least ask someone how and where to do something in Russian, Mandarin, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese, have offered me new techniques and secret places for putting meat, fish and forage on the table. It’s also kept me from getting a bullet in my head as I quickly removed myself from a illegal and dangerous farming venture, because I heard and understood them before they had a chance to know I was there while deer hunting: the amount of wild game that the pot growers (most often kidnapped and coerced by the murderous Mexican drug cartel to sneak illegally into this country) slaughtered and left to rot that was later found by CAMP, was atrocious—Is it any wonder how hypocritical it appears when someone staunchly says they’re environmentalists and ecologists, and yet they light up a joint or bong loaded with marijuana likely grown on illegal pot farms in the national forests and other public lands, turning them into free-fire zones where every living thing is killed through boobytraps and shooting to protect those fields?

The multinational flavor of the foraging community described in Fat of the Land carried to a chapter on shad fishing, notorious for its numbers and fight. If you haven’t caught them before, by the time you’re at that moment in your life where a flyrod and the meditative quality of flycasting calls out to you, you quickly realize it’s time to use “Shad Darts at Dawn”. The stringers become long and heavy with the American shad, immigrants from the waterways of the East Coast, and a boon to those who like to fill their larder, yet not impact the indigenous; but for my tastes, the much better fight on the line and fare for the table, lower-numbered steelhead and salmon.


Langdon Cook and a full stringer of American shad.

When I cringed it wasn’t the Christmas tree formed of a number of shad on a stringer; nor was it the catching and releasing of steelhead. Hatchery or wild, it really doesn’t matter to me as fish is good to eat from either and money aside (made from an industry that thrives only because of catch and release) when more and more research says that practice of catch and release leads to up to 63 percent accidental kill, and it becomes more and more as salmon farming increases and  the wild strains follow the way of the California condor.

No. It was when Cook and his mentor were becoming “The Inhuman”. I know a bit of what I talk about when it comes to spearfishing. I’ve been a spearo since the early-1980s spearing great seafood meals in the Caribbean, and Pacific. Repeatedly did so until my buddy, Randy Fry, lost his life to a great white shark at Kibbesillah Rock, just off Fort Bragg. The event put a stop to my spearfishing and ab-diving, until right after I returned from a teaching sabbatical in South Korea: I’ve seen people killed in combat, in some very horrific ways, but let me tell you, just imagining a good friend diving into a shark’s mouth and being bit clean through from shoulder to shoulder bring the mind back to its most primordial fears of teeth and claws—It led to a four year hiatus from entering the waters off Northern California as a freediver.

As one who tries my best to make as quick and efficient a kill as possible, and with the least amount of waste, when I read how not only Cook had gone after a lingcod with a traditional pole spear (Though Cooks calls his setup a Hawaiian Sling, a Hawaiian sling is actually a set up with a handle system, that has a hole through which a free-shooting spear is shot, almost like a slingshot), but that his “mentor” Dave, the professor, often hunted lingcod with not just a pole spear, but with the tri-pronged spearhead that pole spears normally come with—I found that atrocious!

It’s one thing, to not know. When someone who is a teacher, a professor no less, doesn’t investigate further, it’s a shame . The problem wasn’t the use of a pole spear: Master Spearo “Shark Man” Manny Puig, is well-known for his environmental work and being a spearfisherman, and especially for efficiently using a pole spear for putting fish on the table—it’s actually more efficient than a speargun, as you don’t lose time reeling in line to get your fish off your spear and on the stringer. The difference is that Puig uses a Hawaiian style barb, which flips open to hold the fish on the spear: for halibut and lingcod, even this isn’t enough.

Lingcod and halibut rank up there as the most easy to lose with a pole spear or a speargun. That’s why those who go after them use either the detachable spear tip, or 5-prong Trident spear. Mentor Dave knew about the best wetsuits to use, and Cook detailed well how it’s more comfortable and efficient to use a 4 mm suit, as compared to 5 mm, to descend, but when he didn’t tell Cook to replace a speartip infamous for losing fish, that just brought me back to how important is for this new generation of hunters, anglers and foragers to get the right tutelage, or else yet another generation will needlessly become fodder for the “antis” movement.

If this new generation does “do the job right”, the benefits to the ecosystem will be multitude: waste will be kept down; populations of hunters and anglers will increase enough that the funds collected through fishing and hunting licensing will once again provide more habitat to support and improve numbers of game and fish on public land.

Right now, because the wealthy pay great fees for prime hunting, the only place with abundant game and fish are  lands that are privately owned. It wasn’t always this way. Before, there were more than enough people who went fishing and hunting, so much so that the departments of fish and game catered more to this group, by improving habitat and stocking. In the process, all other non-game creatures also benefited. If there’s enough good habitat, and stewarding of the land, game and fish populations can be prolific on their own.

It’s for this very reason that I’m in favor of having all coastal dams removed from Baja California to Canada. There are so many other forms of electrical power, and would free up the waterways so that the salmon and steelhead would come back on the their own. Not many know that the largest salmon run in the world was not some river up in Alaska, like the Kenai: the Sacramento River held the largest run, with salmon up to 100 pound netted on the McCloud River. In the 1856, Hutching’s California Magazine actually complained that you couldn’t navigate across the upper Delta and lower Sacramento without being overcome by the stench of hundreds of thousands of spawned out salmon carcasses. Lake Shasta and all the later dammed up rivers, like the Mokelumme and Stanislaus to name a few, ended that.

A wild, healthy salmon on the Rogue River for Langdon Cook

A wild, healthy salmon on the Rogue River for Langdon Cook

Aside from the ill-advised suggestion to use inadequate equipment, what are my thoughts? As I mentioned earlier, I’m in a quandary. When I started hunting, I was a thirteen-year-old, fresh from a previous life as an American expat in Southeast Asia. The hunting and fishing opportunities my father enjoyed at that same age in Spokane, Seattle, and the Midwest, during the early 1940s and the glory days of great opportunity resulting from hunters and anglers going off to WWII that provided a six-year break for game and fish populations, were long gone by the time I blindly searched for the guidance of those who knew what they were talking about and weren’t arrogantly talking through the romance of hunting and fishing were few.

When I found them, I cherished and kept in good friendship with them even as they aged and died. That generation that had to hunt and fish to provide for the table, and had not been barraged by divisive advertising campaigns to separate the hunter from the environmentalist, is quickly disappearing.

Chantarelle success!

Chantarelle success!

Cook has the writing skills, that’re beyond evident. And, he’s honest. He shows what life and death is about in nature, and how humankind was never meant to be removed and simply an observer in the most intimate of all settings: the cycle of life. Where his honesty comes from, is where I hope as he ventures into hunting on land, as he has mentioned on his Fat of the Land (FATL) blog, will spur him to search out the most experienced, and not just rely on those most easily accessible, wrong, and frankly lazy in their own edification (or worse, just disrespectful to the very prey that gives them nourishment), in the assessment of efficiency, as Professor Dave: 200 hundred days a year in the water, according to Cook, but evidently not interacting with those who could have taught him better.

In a nutshell, Fat of the Land is a great telling of a newbie’s entry into the world of West Coast spearfishing, fishing and foraging. It’s unlike so many books that try to romanticize the wilds, something that almost seems a crime, especially when I remember Christopher McCandless’ stupidity in Alaska, only a year after I came back to California. That honesty about Cook’s activities and those around him is what informs, educates and entertains (the humorous anecdotes are priceless and many of you who have ventured forth in your own rite, might easily recognize similar funny experiences). Through this writing, readers don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Through his writing, readers have an opportunity see if the world of living off the fat of the land is feasible or desired.

If you were stuck in bed like me last two week, you’ll feel fortunate to enjoy the escape to the wilds that a writer of Langdon Cook’s artistic ability brings to the page, making it so easy to “be there”, keeping your attention even through the blurred fog of a flu. Once I regain my sense of smell and taste, I can’t wait to try the recipes at the end of each chapter, related to the subject of that chapter, one of which I’ve enjoyed greatly in the past: oyster po’boys! Cook is so on the money, making sandwiches with those big as steaks North Pacific oysters.

As I said at the beginning, I see a new Thoreau in Langdon Cook, and with that amazing skill of capturing natures beauty like a photo, I look forward to him coming easily to the challenge of those ensuing responsibilities in his future books.

For you to enjoy your own copy of Fat of the Land!

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