Northern Michigan mink and muskrat trapping
By Herbert Lenon
My reason for writing this article in the manner that it will be written is to give advise to the trapper, both amateur and semiprofessional, who have previously trapped only in the southern part of Michigan and then come to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with the expectations of great catches of mink and rats, thinking that up here the woods are alive with furs.
I have trapped over most of the Eastern part of Northern Michigan for the past many years, and before coming here I trapped the central part of Southern Michigan for many years. So I know conditions over much of the state quite well.
The first question asked by trappers from Southern Michigan is “Where can I find a good trapping area where there are no other trappers and where there are numerous mink and rats.” The correct answer to that question is the North Pole.
I have never trapped an area in Michigan where there were not several trappers working the same area. Furthermore, there are no areas in the Upper Peninsula where rats and mink are found quite plentiful; that there is not also a good crop of trappers.
This fall I had two young trappers stop at my station. They were looking for a trapper’s paradise; were well equipped with traps and had some experience trapping in Southern Michigan. These two youths were sure fine lads, and I done all I could do to help them. Their catch for the first week was one rat. Another trapper with considerable experience and a good outfit caught 18 rats, 3 mink the first week.
Now why, you may ask, those small catches. The answer is two-fold. First, Upper Michigan is not a trapper’s promise land where mink and other valuable furbearers are found in droves; second, trapping conditions and technique are much different here than in the marshes of Southern Michigan.
I have trapped the marshes in that area where most every march had ten to 25 or more rat houses. Here I have trapped an entire year and never saw even one rat house on my entire life. Certainly, a trapper who had previously trapped such marshes with its perfect set on feed beds and trails, would be lost up here, where along the rivers one seldom sees a house.
There are some areas up here where one can find a lake or marsh with several rat houses. Also in many small bays of the great lakes, one finds marsh trapping with many houses, but there again the trapper is quite likely to fail, if not experienced in trapping the great lakes with its own special trapping problems. When trapping the bays of the great lakes, say for purpose of discussion, a small bay at the north end of one of the larger bays of the great lakes.
On the opening day of the season we will say it is a quiet calm day and water levels are normal, one finds many good geed beds, sloping logs, shallow trails and various other types of sets, singes, are plentiful and many traps are placed, the trapper returns to camp tires, wet and hungry; but happy in the thought that every set was perfect, and a good catch was sure.
About dusk that evening a fresh breeze comes up from the South and it blows steady all night, not a gale, but just a steady wind. Early next morning the trapper is up and anxious to gather those dozen or so rats, BUT, when he reaches the march everything looks strange, there has been no rain, no storm, but yet his perfect set are under a foot, possibly more of water.
Disgusted, but no discouraged, he resets all the traps properly, but during the day the wind subsides and next morning his traps are a good foot out of water. He again resets his traps this time in the same places as the first day and again is sure of a catch.
That evening it turns colder and a fresh breeze comes from the north. It blows all night and the next morning the traps are again a foot above water and covered with 3 or 4 inches of roots, mud, grass and whatnot. After three such days the amateur trapper gives up in disgust and wither hunts a new area or returns home.
I have many times seen a fluctuation for over 2 ½ feet in water depth between the water level with a North wind and a South wind. What then is the solution to such a problem?
The solution is floats. Floats made large enough that the trap may be set on each end or board with a small cedar float on the bottom at one end, to give it buoyancy and raise that end and the trap set at the other. It is the usual practice of trappers to place a few weeds, roots and possible mud on the float to make it resemble a natural feed bed.
Next we will consider the problem where the trapper chooses a river and possibly a small stream for his trapping ground. This trapper is experienced only in marsh trapping. He walks for miles along the river but does not find even one feed bed or muskrat house. He is puzzled and does not know what to do. Here and there he sees a track an occasionally sees where something has scratched at the roots of grass along the stream. Usually he decided there are no rats there, no houses, no feed beds, few signs, for such a sign as droppings on the logs have been washed away by rain or high water after each rain.
Again the answer is floats, but of a different type. The float is made this; Choose a piece of water soaked or partly rotten log or post, 3 to 6 feet in length and 5 to 9 inches in diameter. Whatever rat signs are found, signs such as tracks, a few droppings, trails or where they have been feeding on grass roots along the water’s edge, or at the inner side of a bend in the stream, prepare and place the float thus.
First lay the log in the water to decide which side floats, then cut a notch in the center of the log; cut this notch wide enough for the trap and deep enough so 3-5 inches of water runs through it.
Next take a piece of wite and staple it to the inner end, have this wire about 4 feet in length, on the other end nail a small pole about 4 feet long and probably one or two inches in diameter. Nail it at he end, quite solidly, so that when the log is laying in the water, with the notch up, this pole will be level with the water and protrude up stream. The purpose of this pole is to furnish leverage and prevent the log float rolling with the current.
Staple another 4-foot piece of wire to the end of this little pole, then drive a stake up stream about 3 feet from the inner end of the float and another up stream about 8 feet rom the outer end of the float, wire the float to these stakes. When the log is so placed, it protrudes from the bank straight out in the stream and the water runs through the notch cut for the trap. The wires allow the log to rise and lower with the stream, the little pole prevents the log from rolling.
Any rat swimming along the bank, and any mink as well, will swim through the notch rather than swim around the log; also any rat feeding there will choose the float for a feeding place and will climb on the float at the notch.
I have used this type of set for years and it is surprising how well it works on mink and how many rats one will take, even on a stream that looks barren to the marsh land trapper, almost of our rats along streams are bank rats.
At old unused beaver dams one usually finds signs of both rats and mink, and excellent sets can be made either by cutting a notch through the dam, so about 4 inches of water will run thorough or by taking a pole about 4 inches in diameter and 5 feet long and ramming a hole through the dam at water level so about 2 inches of water will run through the hole. This set will take every mink that comes along. It seems they just can’t resist swimming through the hole in the beaver dam. On small streams, one often finds an old mosey log damming the stream and one often sees signs of where mink and rats have climbed over this long, usually near the middle of the stream, such a log calls for a set.
To make the set, cut the moss in the chosen location and tip it back. Then cut a notch, wide enough for the trap and deep enough so 4 inches of water will run through it; tip the moss back to cover the fresh cut and place trap in the notch. Scores of mink I have taken in such a set and many rats as well.
At a bend in the stream one often finds where high water has washed out the bank on the outside of the bend, and the grass and roots hang down from the bank forming a tunnel about water level. A trap set at each end of such a tunnel with a piece of fresh muskrat or fish placed in the tunnel halfway between the traps, is quite a productive set.
Usually across the stream from such a tunnel, one finds a small sand bar ad where mink are present in any numbers, one will often see their tracks, just at the water’s edge, on such sand bars. If such signs are found, a very simple, yet successful set can be made by setting the trap just in the edge of the stream, then plant about 3 small branches, 2 inches apart, from the trap just in the edge of the stream, and about 6 or 8 more from the trap, up the bank thus forming a narrow passage over the trap.
Occasionally one finds where an underground stream enters the larger stream, about water, the mouth of such underground stream or springs is in my opinion, the best of all sets. Any small narrow stream flowing into a larger stream is a good bet for a mink or rat set, and on many occasions I have taken a short piece f hallow log, placed in such a small stream where it entered the larger stream, covered the hollow logs over with stones and sod, so that the stream flowed through it, and every mink that came by was caught.
Other very simple sets I have made and had good catches from, are any narrow passage of water running under the bank, under old stumps in the edge of streams and many times I dug a narrow ditch through a narrow sand bar protruding out in the stream. In fact one need only to know the habits of the mink or rat to devise many odd, yet productive set.
One time I was trapping a small stream that had a fair stock of rats and mink. At one place the stream had a short bend, forming a letter U, back from the narrow end about 10 feet long so that about 3 or 4 feet long so that about 3 or 4 inches of water run through I rather than follow the stream around the bend, I set a trap at each and had a rat in each set for several visits; also caught 2 mink in it before it froze up.
I’ll conclude this article with the hope that it will prove beneficial to some trappers wishing to trap in out North country, whose experience has been in marsh type trapping.
-Herbert Lenon Founder of Lenon Lures Since 1924 visit www.lenonlures.com