Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trapping Muskrats: Recap and lessons learned

Headed home: Dan the Goose Man has the oars

Island trapping on a time-crunch

Thanks to some scouting that my buddy Dan did during the early days of December, we were able to have a good catch of muskrats by using a boat and trapping the islands in the Allegheny River. Due to time constraints such as work and family, we were only able to set and check traps on the weekends. We would set on Friday night after work and we would pull on Sunday. Our traps would only be out for 2 nights and we knew that our catch numbers would suffer because of this. Our solution was pretty simple. We tried to set every single trap we brought and “landmine” an island with them. When Sunday came, we pulled the line and set our sights on another island. We anxiously counted down the work-days while planning our next trap-setting blitzkrieg for the next island downriver.

Dan headed down to check some muskrat traps
Setting the river from the boat was something that was new to me. I had never approached sets that way in the past. I usually had to walk into all of the areas that I wanted to set. Walking into a location is great, but you are restricted in the number of traps you can set. You can only set as many traps as you can carry. By setting from the boat, we could take a lot more traps. When I consider how short of a time the traps actually soaked, I think we were able to take a decent number of rats. If you add up all of the nights that the traps were actually set, it didn’t even total a full week.

Finding the sign

On the first night of the first island that we set, we were using 110 conibears primarily and were setting runs and what holes we could find. We also were using the conibears for blind sets or bottom-edge sets under the cut banks (figure a).

(fig. a: The bottom-edge set doing its thing. 2 nice rats caught in conibears)
We caught some ‘rats the first night but we were a little surprised that we didn’t do better. The second day we were walking along the bank and we decided to examine a bunch of willows that were growing on the bank at the water’s edge. When we lifted the branches that hung down in the water we could see all kinds of grass clippings and root clippings from where the muskrats were sitting on the bank and eating under the protection of the willow branches. This was our sign. We then knew what to look for once we had found this little muskrat’s sanctuary.

We began to pay better attention to the banks and we were constantly looking for grass clipping, dig marks, and dug up roots. We began to see a pattern. A lot of the ‘rat sign appeared at the points of the islands or on the downriver side of peninsulas (figure b). 

(fig. b: A snow covered rat that was caught at the point of a penisula)
Trapping the big open water of the river was a certainly a different beast than the small farm ponds I had set growing up. We also keyed in on any vegetation that could potentially offer a good hiding spot. Areas that had a little slack water were also great places to look for sign. We would set a 1.5 coil-spring about a 1/2” to 1” under the water. We anchored the trap with heavy gauge wire to either a submerged log in the water, a rock, or staked the trap into the soft mud (figure c).

(fig. c: A welcomed sight. By using 1.5 coilsprings, the trap catches the animal high on the leg, ensuring a good hold.)
 This set was very quick and efficient. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves setting more 1.5 coil-springs than we did 110 conibears. This was a surprise to me simply because as a kid the 110 conibear was my go-to-trap for muskrats.

By the time we had finished trapping our first island, we started to incorporate an appetizing morsel into our set. This was done in order to get the ‘rats to approach our trap exactly how we wanted them to. We used a piece of apple skewered on a stick and smeared a glob of Darin Freeborough’s Muskrat/Beaver food lure on top. This really seemed to do the trick. It got the ‘rats right over our trap pans.

(Dan set a 1.5 in this hollow log at the water's edge. This set produced rats back to back. It was perfect place for the little guys to sit and eat while using the log as cover)
One night after checking traps, I was talking to one of my good buddies on the phone. I was telling him about how we were catching muskrats using the 1.5 coilspring and an apple. My buddy chimed in, “Well, Rabbit always said that an apple is like candy to dem muskrats.”

The Bank Set a.k.a. Ol’ Rabbit’s “apple-like-candy-to-dem-muskrat set”

When I was about 12 years old I had the opportunity to talk to an old-timer who everyone called Rabbit. Rabbit and I started talking one afternoon because I brought in a couple of muskrats that I was going to sell to my local fur buyer. Rabbit told me, in his raspy voice, “use your boot and make a shelf for your trap on the side of the bank. Take an apple and pin it to the bank just above the trap. An apple’s like candy to dem muskrats.” I remember trying Rabbit’s technique later that season with no luck. I never would have guessed that it would take me another 14 years before I would finally figure out what Rabbit meant. Looking back on it now, I was used to setting muskrat holes in the local farm ponds with 110 conibears. That was my typical rat set. I don’t ever recall finding a location that warranted the use of a 1.5 coilspring. I’m sure if I would go back now to those old ponds I would be looking at the banks for signs of grass and root clippings.

(Removing a bonus raccoon from a bank set)
Trappin’ Muskrats next year

I am looking forward to hitting the river again next year. With ‘rat prices being as high as they are, I think I’ll invest in another dozen or so cheap 1.5’s. I’m thinking Dukes. I figure if I catch a ten dollar rat in a Duke, then I paid for that Duke right then and there. Now that Dan and I know what to look for in terms of ‘rat sign, we hope to come back from the river next year with a stack of rats.


No comments:

Post a Comment