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DIY: Building Your Own Minnow Traps

When you consider the high price of live fish bait, it makes good sense to build an inexpensive trap and collect your own minnows

DIY: Building Your Own Minnow Traps
DIY: Building Your Own Minnow Traps

When building your own minnow trap, you’ll save a few dollars, have a little fun and add a new dimension to fishing.

Be sure to check local regulations first, however, because in some areas, trapping baitfish is illegal, or there may be restrictions on how you go about it.

I first became acquainted with minnow traps as a boy. My Uncle Julius, an ardent crappie fisherman, always kept a couple of home-made traps sunk in the local creek.

In those days, you could buy glass minnow traps through mail order and at many general mercantile stores. These resembled a one-gallon glass jug like those that held pickled eggs or pigs’ feet on the front counter at every country store. A screw lid on top had holes that allowed water to circulate through the trap. The bottom had a molded-in glass funnel that pointed into the jar. Minnows could enter the funnel, but not exit. A wire frame around the jar had a handle and legs. Traps such as these are now expensive antiques.

Being a frugal and innovative man, Uncle Julius made his own traps from 1-gallon pickle jars. Each jar’s lid was removed, and in its place, Uncle Julius put a wire funnel he made from screen or hardware cloth. The funnel’s narrow end had a 1/2- to 1-inch hole by which minnows entered the trap. The wide end of the wire funnel was bent back around the jar’s mouth to hold it in place.

A few pieces of stale bread or crackers were dropped into the jar, the funnel was put in place, and then Uncle Julius dug a trench in the creek bottom in which the trap rested on its side. The trap’s mouth faced upstream, with the whole contraption in shallow water at the edge of weeds.

Each day, Uncle Julius drove to the water’s edge, checked the traps, dumped the minnows he’d caught in a bucket and then transferred them to a horse trough behind his house. The horse trough was an interesting affair as well, constructed using an acetylene torch to cut an old iron water tank in half lengthwise. Feet were welded on the bottom (formally one side of the tank) for support. A water faucet at one end ran with a continual drip to keep the water fresh and aerated. When it was time to go crappie fishing, we simply ran a dip net through the trough, caught the minnows we needed and transferred them to a minnow bucket. In the 15 years I fished with him, Uncle Julius never bought minnows at a bait shop; he always caught his own.

Duplicating Uncle Julius’ minnow traps is simple. You can use glass jars if you have them, but you’ll have to use care to avoid breaking them. It’s better to use wide-mouth plastic jugs like those containing condiments bought in bulk. To make the funnel, cut out a circular piece of window screen or 1/4-inch-mesh galvanized hardware cloth, the diameter of which is 3 or 4 inches larger than the diameter of the jug’s mouth. Next, cut a pie-shaped wedge (an inch or two wide) from the edge of the circle to its center. Then cut a 2-inch circle in the center of the wire, where the tip of the pie was.

Bend the wire circle around, and join the sides of the wedge-shaped cut to form the funnel. Stitch it together with some heavy monofilament fishing line or light wire, then insert it in the mouth of the jug, and bend the screening back over the lip of the jug’s mouth. Done properly, the funnel should fit snugly. If it’s a bit loose, you can hold it in place with a strip of duct tape.

A coffee-can minnow trap follows the same principle. Cut a large circular hole in the plastic lid, and then staple a 1-inch funnel of window screen around the hole. As with the jugs, lay the baited trap on its side, with the funnel facing upstream if current is present. A few holes drilled outward through the bottom of the can or plastic jug will allow water to circulate through the trap.

A trap with a funnel at both ends works even better and can be easily constructed from a 2-foot by 4-foot piece of 1/4-inch-mesh galvanized hardware cloth and 10 feet of heavy fishing line or light wire. The only tool required is wire cutters to cut the hardware cloth. You also may want some heavy workman’s gloves to protect your hands while cutting the hardware cloth. Be aware that the wires are very sharp.

Start by making the body of the trap. To do this, roll a 20-inch x 24-inch piece of hardware cloth into a cylinder 8 inches in diameter. Sew the seam together with fishing line. A big sewing needle is useful for this.


The two funnels, one for each end of the trap, are made next. Cut a 12-inch-diameter circle from another piece of hardware cloth. Cut a pie-shaped wedge 2 inches wide from the edge of the circle to its center. Then cut a 2-inch circle in the center of the hardware-cloth circle. Repeat to make a second circle, and then form each circle into a funnel by bending the cut “pie” edges around until they overlap. Sew the overlapping edges in place with fishing line, and then sew a funnel to each end of the cylindrical cage.

Finish the trap by cutting a 6-inch square door on one side, leaving one side of the square uncut so the door remains attached to the trap. The door can then be bent open or shut to bait the trap or remove minnows. It can be fastened shut with another small piece of wire when the trap is in use. Add a long piece of cord that can be used to secure the trap to a tree or bush on shore for easy retrieval.

You must lure fish into the trap to catch them. Do this by tearing up four or five pieces of stale bread and putting it inside the trap. Next, make a dough by mixing five parts of flour to one part of dried oats (like you use to make oatmeal). Add just enough water to bind the mixture together. The dough should be slightly moist and stiff when properly blended.

Roll the dough into four finger-thick strips, and press the dough firmly into the wire mesh inside the trap. The dough will melt slowly when immersed in water, attracting baitfish that will swim into the trap to eat the bread inside.

Sink the trap in three or four feet of water at the edge of a weed bed or other cover. When baitfish enter, they won’t escape, because they’re eating bread that has now risen to the top of the cage. Even when the bread is gone, they’ll seldom get out, because they rarely find their way back through the trap’s narrow openings.

Catching your own bait can be almost as much fun as fishing with it. So if you have the time and the wherewithal, try building and setting your own minnow traps. It’s a great way to spice up the fun of fishing.

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