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
When buildingyour own minnow trap, you’ll save a few dollars, have a little fun and add anew dimension to fishing.
Be sure to check local regulations first,however, because in some areas, trapping baitfish is illegal, or there may berestrictions on how you go about it.
I firstbecame acquainted with minnow traps as a boy. My Uncle Julius, an ardentcrappie fisherman, always kept a couple of home-made traps sunk in the localcreek.
In thosedays, you could buy glass minnow traps through mail order and at many general mercantilestores. These resembled a one-gallon glass jug like those that held pickledeggs or pigs’ feet on the front counter at every country store. A screw lid ontop had holes that allowed water to circulate through the trap. The bottom hada molded-in glass funnel that pointed into the jar. Minnows could enter thefunnel, but not exit. A wire frame around the jar had a handle and legs. Trapssuch as these are now expensive antiques.
Being afrugal and innovative man, Uncle Julius made his own traps from 1-gallon picklejars. Each jar’s lid was removed, and in its place, Uncle Julius put a wirefunnel 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 wirefunnel was bent back around the jar’s mouth to hold it in place.
A fewpieces of stale bread or crackers were dropped into the jar, the funnel was putin place, and then Uncle Julius dug a trench in the creek bottom in which thetrap rested on its side. The trap’s mouth faced upstream, with the wholecontraption in shallow water at the edge of weeds.
Each day,Uncle Julius drove to the water’s edge, checked the traps, dumped the minnowshe’d caught in a bucket and then transferred them to a horse trough behind hishouse. The horse trough was an interesting affair as well, constructed using anacetylene torch to cut an old iron water tank in half lengthwise. Feet werewelded on the bottom (formally one side of the tank) for support. A waterfaucet at one end ran with a continual drip to keep the water fresh andaerated. When it was time to go crappie fishing, we simply ran a dip netthrough the trough, caught the minnows we needed and transferred them to aminnow bucket. In the 15 years I fished with him, Uncle Julius never boughtminnows at a bait shop; he always caught his own.
DuplicatingUncle 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 usewide-mouth plastic jugs like those containing condiments bought in bulk. Tomake the funnel, cut out a circular piece of window screen or 1/4-inch-meshgalvanized hardware cloth, the diameter of which is 3 or 4 inches larger thanthe diameter of the jug’s mouth. Next, cut a pie-shaped wedge (an inch or twowide) from the edge of the circle to its center. Then cut a 2-inch circle inthe center of the wire, where the tip of the pie was.
Bend thewire circle around, and join the sides of the wedge-shaped cut to form thefunnel. Stitch it together with some heavy monofilament fishing line or lightwire, then insert it in the mouth of the jug, and bend the screening back overthe lip of the jug’s mouth. Done properly, the funnel should fit snugly. If it’sa bit loose, you can hold it in place with a strip of duct tape.
Acoffee-can minnow trap follows the same principle. Cut a large circular hole inthe plastic lid, and then staple a 1-inch funnel of window screen around thehole. As with the jugs, lay the baited trap on its side, with the funnel facingupstream if current is present. A few holes drilled outward through the bottomof the can or plastic jug will allow water to circulate through the trap.
A trapwith a funnel at both ends works even better and can be easily constructed froma 2-foot by 4-foot piece of 1/4-inch-mesh galvanized hardware cloth and 10 feetof heavy fishing line or light wire. The only tool required is wire cutters tocut the hardware cloth. You also may want some heavy workman’s gloves toprotect your hands while cutting the hardware cloth. Be aware that the wiresare very sharp.
Start bymaking the body of the trap. To do this, roll a 20-inch x 24-inch piece ofhardware cloth into a cylinder 8 inches in diameter. Sew the seam together withfishing 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 fromanother piece of hardware cloth. Cut a pie-shaped wedge 2 inches wide from theedge of the circle to its center. Then cut a 2-inch circle in the center of thehardware-cloth circle. Repeat to make a second circle, and then form eachcircle 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 toeach end of the cylindrical cage.
Finish thetrap by cutting a 6-inch square door on one side, leaving one side of thesquare uncut so the door remains attached to the trap. The door can then bebent open or shut to bait the trap or remove minnows. It can be fastened shutwith another small piece of wire when the trap is in use. Add a long piece ofcord that can be used to secure the trap to a tree or bush on shore for easyretrieval.
You mustlure fish into the trap to catch them. Do this by tearing up four or fivepieces of stale bread and putting it inside the trap. Next, make a dough bymixing five parts of flour to one part of dried oats (like you use to makeoatmeal). Add just enough water to bind the mixture together. The dough should beslightly moist and stiff when properly blended.
Roll thedough into four finger-thick strips, and press the dough firmly into the wiremesh inside the trap. The dough will melt slowly when immersed in water, attractingbaitfish that will swim into the trap to eat the bread inside.
Sink thetrap in three or four feet of water at the edge of a weed bed or other cover. Whenbaitfish enter, they won’t escape, because they’re eating bread that has nowrisen to the top of the cage. Even when the bread is gone, they’ll seldom getout, because they rarely find their way back through the trap’s narrow openings.
Catchingyour own bait can be almost as much fun as fishing with it. So if you have thetime and the wherewithal, try building and setting your own minnow traps. It’sa great way to spice up the fun of fishing.