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Crawfish Farmer Began Booming Business Almost By Accident

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, N.C. — Many people may think they have to go to New Orleans for a plate of steaming crawfish.

But it isn't just a Cajun treat. In fact, crawfish is becoming a hot catch here in North Carolina.

Tony Wheeler raises the little lobster-like creatures on his crawfish "ranch" in Franklin County. His story started almost by accident.

"I carried my daughter to the dentist one day and picked up a wildlife magazine and saw an article about raising crawfish," Wheeler said.

So he tried a few on the back side of his farm, where beavers had flooded a creek.

"Word of mouth got around, and it just grew from there," he said. "I added another pond, and then another."

Wheeler's helper harvests the crawfish by dragging a couple of tubs around the ponds, emptying the traps into one, and then re-baiting the traps from the other.

Wheeler said 95 percent of his customers are folks who moved here from Mississippi and Louisiana. To those folks, crawfish are more than just food.

"I'm not just an ordinary cook," said Wyndall Arnold. "I'm a champion cook from Mississippi."

Arnold helps Wheeler out as an unofficial crawfish culinary advisor.

"You put your crawfish in, and you cook them until they float and soak them until they sink," Arnold said.

Wheeler said he has a waiting list every year when the crawfish harvest begins. He can't raise enough to meet demand.

"Most people that call me see one of my signs on the highway," he said, "and I can tell they are on the cell phone. I have had several run off the road trying to get the number off the sign."

This "crop with claws" seems to be a run-away hit.


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