Tahoe Lobster Co. owner Fred Jackson lifted wiggling bags full of fresh crawfish from his big red truck onto the loading dock at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa Friday afternoon. He’d just come from the dock.
“I just picked up about 137 pounds out of the lake about 10 minutes ago,” Jackson said.
The 500 pounds of crayfish are for Lake Tahoe’s first Boil & Fry Day, an all-day event centered around the miniature lobsters. The outdoor party will feature lawn game tournaments, music, beers and, of course, a whole heap of Tahoe crayfish.
“This is the first event that Tahoe’s thrown for their little lobster friend from the lake,” Jackson said. “It’s awesome, actually.”
The publicity surrounding the party is a much-needed boost for Tahoe Lobster Co., Jackson said. The buzz about Lake Tahoe’s only commercial fishery started to wear off a little this year, he added.
“This year has been slow,” Jackson said. “[Distributors] would rather push peel-and-eat shrimp, than the live crawfish.”
Jackson said part of the problem is chefs who want to make dishes out of the crawdads rather than serve them whole as is tradition. At Boil ‘n Fry Day, the crawfish will be served in the classic Southern-style boil.
“It seems like a deep-seated tradition to a lot of people,” event organizer Tim Manas said. “A lot of people have friends from the South or family from the South. And it’s the kind of event that just pulls people together.”
Manas will use a secret combination of seasonings that’s straight from New Orleans to flavor the crawfish, he said. Attendees will be able to buy a dinner plate with 1 pound of the little lobsters, kick back and pick the meat from the shells.
Manas has been doing the Boil ‘n Fry Day for several years in Sacramento. Last year, the restaurant he was working with was sold to new owners who were uninterested in the event. Manas began looking for a new venue. When he started doing production for MontBleu, it all came together.
“I always wanted to incorporate food into a festival,” Manas said. “I put everything together, just kind of jumped on it and ran with it.”
Crayfish harvest slowing down
The commercial harvest of crayfish was approved on the Nevada side of the lake last year. Jackson, who spearheaded legislation to allow the fishery, has been filling orders since the day it passed. But there haven’t been as many this year, he said.
“Last year was better,” Jackson said. “This year is kind of a struggle, but we’re getting through it.”
The total sales dropped this year compared to last, he said. Losing dozens of traps to thieves hasn’t helped either. The buzz surrounding the harvest has died down since Nevada allowed the commercial harvest. At the time, several large media outlets, including The New York Times, trumpeted the new business.
“The local community has kind of backed off for some reason,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of weird.”
Jackson hopes California will allow commercial fishing of the crayfish in the state’s waters by next year. This will open up a lot more room for growth, Jackson said.
“That’ll open up about 70 percent of restaurants on the lake,” he said.