I was the kid in my neighborhood who would always be down at the creek fishing, catching turtles or flippin’ stones to see what was living underneath them. My mom said I “couldn’t leave the house without coming home with wet feet”, it was true. Trapping live bait is fun way to save some money while spending time outdoors, and learning about the smaller inhabitants of our waterways.
The primary varieties of minnows I catch are: chubs, shiners, suckers and dace. I will catch some more unusual species in the course of a season. When I encounter an unknown type of fish, or other creature in my trap I will take it home ID it then return it to the place where it was caught. I have had incidental catches of tadpoles, sticklebacks, and giant water bugs to name a few. But for fishing purposes the chubs and the shiners are my main quarry.
When searching for a new location to set my traps, I look for a particular type of creek and a set of conditions that have proven universal to success. I like smaller creeks, some are so tiny that they can be stepped over others are somewhat larger but still not impossible to cross on steppingstones or in knee high rubber boots. I normally walk the creek and survey the minnow potential looking for them bunching up in washed out holes or undercut banks. They like to gather in places where there is an escape route which brings me to one of the conditions I look for. I have found that the very best creeks to trap bait in usually have some sections that are overgrown with brush and practically impenetrable. The dense overhead cover provides safety form herons and other predators allowing a large population of bait to grow and reproduce. A creek with good cover will have a wide variety of species and sizes to trap for your live bait needs.
Some other conditions that I look for involve the nature of the creek itself. I rarely find great minnow trapping in a swift rocky trout-like stream, rather the opposite is true. The slower meandering meadow creeks hold the most minnows and are best for trapping live bait. The closer to the mouth of the creek the better. There is a significant run of minnows up into the smaller creeks from the larger creeks that they empty into. This run occurs every fall and makes for the very best trapping conditions of the year. If after walking a promising creek you do not see any minnows move on to a different section or a different creek. I don’t bother setting a trap unless I can see minnows.
When I have found a good creek with a hole that has some bait I’m ready to set and place the trap. Setting the trap just entails opening up the two halves, adding some bait to attract the minnows, and clipping the trap back together. Preferences for bait is a highly debatable topic. My first choice is dog kibbles. I have a dog, she is overweight and she will never miss them. Second on my list would be stale white bread slices. I have used whole wheat and the little minnows seem to have a definite preference for the white. Some guys use cat food, too messy for me. Others have proven that even Ivory soap will catch a couple dozen minnows in a pinch.
Having baited my trap, I’m ready to place it in the water, but how that is done can have an effect on the results you will
find when you return to pick up your catch. Most minnow traps have, on each end, a funnel turned in toward the center of the trap. These direct the bait into the trap, once inside the funnels will direct them away from possibly escaping. Knowing this I orient my traps parallel with the direction of the current flowing in the creek. Game fish will hold parallel to the current flow in a stream of river. Minnows behave the same way, they will follow the bits and pieces of bread or other food up to the source, through the funnel, and into the trap.
I like to place a trap, then take a nice walk or go fishing for a while, returning in a few hours to collect my catch and retrieve the trap before it can be discovered by mischievous youngsters. If you did your homework and located the trap in a good spot, a few hours is plenty of time to catch 3 or 4 dozen minnows. Transport your bait home in a five gallon bucket with plenty of water. Once you have them safely home an air stone connected to a small aquarium pump will keep them happy and fresh for up to a week. Be sure to keep a lid loosely covering the top of your pail as fresh baits are jumpers and will leap right out onto the floor.
Be sure to check your state laws pertaining to trapping live bait. Some states do not allow it. Others have all sorts of restrictions on where and how live minnows may be collected and used. Fresh, live minnows caught in your home waters and used to catch the native game fish which inhabit them offer an exciting and effective way of enjoying fishing. Whether you chase walleye, smallmouth bass, pike or musky catching a trophy fish on a bait that you caught yourself is a thrill for a lifetime.
Trapping Live Bait
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