The Crawdad Song

Simple songs are what I like best, the ones played with three chords or less and having lyrics that don’t need interpretation. An old tune that fits my preferences well is The Crawdad Song. Although its origins are uncertain, some think it was born on the levees of the Mississippi River as they were being built. I don’t know if that’s the case but spelling Mississippi just reminded me of something from childhood.    

Daddy taught me a couple of ways to spell Mississippi. Speed was essential to both. “M-I-Double S–I-Double S–I-Double P-I. His other version substituted “crooked letter” for each s and “humpback” for each p. That’s just bonus information and not the main story today.        

The Crawdad Song, also known as The Crawdad Hole, has multiple versions with verses that are considerably different. The chorus, however, is common to all with only minor changes. “You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line and I’ll get a pole. We’ll go down to the crawdad hole, honey, oh baby mine.”

Sheriff Andy Taylor let me sing along on that song when I visited him and Opie in Mayberry. He had exceptional taste in music. Others have also performed it quite admirably. Woody Guthrie made a nice recording as did The Foggy Mountain Boys. They featured a banjo and a fiddle, perfect instruments for a toe-tapping tune.

Although I’ve been singing that chorus since I was a kid, only recently did I learn what a crawdad hole is. I always thought those two lovebirds were going to a pond to catch a mess of catfish or bream.

In the woods where Jane and I love to walk, there are holes all along the banks of the stream. Mama calls them snake holes and sometimes they are, but snakes don’t dig them. The holes are about an inch across and have a mound of dirt which forms an open-top steeple. I had figured they were dug by giant worms, overgrown cousins of the nightcrawlers which decorate our yard with their castings.

It was late April when I took a picture of one of those holes with its mud chimney and showed it to Dennis Cross. He’s a longtime friend who’s been rambling through woods and wading creeks since before he could say the alphabet. He only needed a quick glimpse to identify them as crawdad holes. That had never crossed my mind, partly because it’s rare to see any of those shrimp-like critters in that stream.

Some online research showed a video of a man fishing for a crawdad out of one of those little holes. He had tied a small weight and a piece of bacon on a string, then lowered it down and waited for a tug. Ever so gently he pulled the line upward. A crawdad was clinging tenaciously to that strip of meat with both claws. He didn’t care where he was going or who was driving. It must have been thick-sliced bacon.  

Our youngest grandchild, Walt, came for a visit and we gave crawdad fishing a quick try. His Uncle Seth dropped a line down several holes, but nothing took the bait. He and Walt started looking under rocks in the stream and found a few crawdads hiding. They could have caught them with a net, but we were sport fishing and had other plans for supper.

When Walt came back for another visit, we tried again using short sticks with strings. Fishing the holes didn’t work that time either, so we lowered our pieces of hotdog near rocks and roots in the flowing water. Two hours later we had 20 crawdads in our bucket. 

Seth boiled them that night. He had one and Walt ate the other 19. Our crawdads are too small to fill the belly of a growing boy, plus we like having them in the branch. We’ll probably go with a catch and release program in the future. And maybe next time I’ll take my guitar and teach Walt an old song that Andy taught me. 

Crawdad fishing isn’t for everyone, but it reminded me of something that is. It’s often the simple things which make the best memories. Walt will likely remember catching those crawdads for a long time, maybe even when he gets to be as old as his Papa is now.

I can’t say for sure that will be the case, but I have my reasons for believing it. Although I’m a little out of practice, I can still spell Mississippi just like my Daddy did. 

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11 Responses to The Crawdad Song

  1. Cynthia Couch says:

    Neil, you and I played a duet to this song. “You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the crawdad hole, honey baby mine!”
    And I can still hear my mother spell Mississippi using crooked letter “s” and humpback “i”.
    I had no idea you actually met Andy and Opie.

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  2. Melanie says:

    Priceless Neil! I bet Walt will remember it for a lifetime. Simple pleasures are the best.

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  3. Ellen Hunsucker says:

    You are exactly right about making lasting memories with grandchildren! Great article!

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  4. Michael Chason says:

    So many similar memories. My Dad sang the Crawdad Hole song often. He also did Mississippi song with the crooked letters and the humpbacks. We were in the Mississippi Delta once and they served us a pile of crawdads a foot high. That’s when we found out that it takes a mountain of crawdads to make a meal. Great story!! Great Song!! You get a line…..

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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  5. Ann K. Nutt says:

    Thanks for jogging my memory about crawdads and the crawdad song and the spelling of Mississippi. I learned the crooked letter humpback version also!!
    As always, enjoying your writing so much.

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  6. George says:

    Always enjoy the stories from past experiences. I can relate to both songs and fishing as well.
    There are probably many more “songs” from that era that folks remember. One other went something like “Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool, two little fishes and the mama fish too” etc. and I’m sure there are many others..

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  7. Ronnie Williams says:

    Your column today really brought back good memories. As you know Claire was in the Phi Mu Washboard Band at VSU! They sang the Crawdad Song as one of their standards! Claire taught our grandchildren the song and still sings it some today! Thanks for reminding us that it is the simple things sometimes that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren! Always enjoy your writing!
    We are hanging in there with the Parkinson’s! Ya’ll take care of each other!
    Love ya’ll❤️
    Ronnie and Claire

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  8. Judy says:

    I know Walt loves coming to visit, and he will tell his grandkids all about his adventures with Grandpa.

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  9. Paula says:

    Love this! Priceless memories! ❤️

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  10. shirley Harrison says:

    This story really brought back good memories. Reminds me of all the times fishing behind Erma and Willie Shugarts’ house and playing with all the neighborhood kids . Good times

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  11. Laura Woodward says:

    I just loved this one!, My DADDY used to take me fishing and taught me how to pull off the claws on the crawdads and use them for bait. Hadn’t thought of our fishing trips in a long time. I would catch the craw dads on a worm. Thanks for jogging my memory. I never did catch one in his home. They must have preferred worms to bacon!

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