River Trapping in a Boat by John S. Chagnon
Picture my Grandfather John M. Chagnon with some big Raccoon 1970's
November is my favorite month of the year to trap. I winterize the perch and walleye boat and put the 10 HP Johnson Outboard on the small boat equipping myself to harvest muskrat, mink, otter, beaver and raccoon. I always throw in a few canine sets along the high banks too. River trapping in a boat is just plain enjoyable, you always get excellent scenery and by November most rivers are yours. I run into very few folks while trapping along rivers in November and December.
I use a small boat or canoe to trap rivers in Michigan until about the middle of December. Years ago while I was living in the U.P. I floated a small river in a canoe with a friend named Rick in January. Rick had never checked traps before and while we were snowshoe rabbit hunting with my father, he talked me into checking my river line one more time in January. So we set out on a cold clear morning floating the Sturgeon River on a day trip. Well this was before the internet and reliable weather forecast. All was good and memory has us catching a good number of beaver before it got real cold, windy and snowy. The first stretch of river was rocky and shallow with a fast current, but as we approached the wider and slower moving section half way through our trip, the river began to ice over.
You got it we were iced in about in the middle of the U.P. Rick and I tied our canoe to a tree on the high banks. We did make it out hours later. Since then I tend to not go floating rivers in January and February. Furthermore it is quite a job to pull out traps when the water freezes over. So my advice is get out in the beginning of the season in your boat or canoe and harvest the cream of crop and regroup for a land line in January. I always like to advise folks floating rivers in November to wear a life jacket. Over the years there were a few times I was glad I was wearing one.
The nice thing about Michigan is we have a lot of streams and rivers that can be trapped from a boat or canoe. As of writing this article in August there is no sign of much better fur prices for mink, muskrat, raccoon and beaver. Low water furbearer prices a couple of years in a row should leave light pressure on the rivers by other trappers. Plus the market is quite good for coyotes currently. For me this leads to some enjoyable trips down some river harvesting an abundance of water furbearers with minimum competition. Plus those river banks far from the roads leave a lot of opportunity for catching some nice fox and coyote.
It is nice if you can float a river in August or September to get a basic idea of how many furbearing critters are around. Also you can get a feel for if you will be setting sloughs with huts and lodges or bank den muskrat and beaver. The usual low water during the summer also reveals all the mink, muskrat and raccoon tracks in the extra mud. You can also construct a few cubbies in prime locations during the summer for easier setting in the fall.
I usually will always make a few pocket sets for Mink and Raccoon. The pocket sets are made where the bank is on an approx. 90 degree angle and dug back into the bank up to a foot. In the back I place a piece of either muskrat meat or fresh fish and I always lure with a smear of Lenon’s Super Range Mink Lure. Sometimes certain stretches of river in Michigan may not have beaver, otter or muskrat but most every river or stream will have some raccoon or mink traveling it. I guide the entrance of the pocket set with either a 1 ½ longspring trap or a #1 ½ coilspring trap. I prefer to use a drowner set constructed with 14 gauge wire staked at shore and led out to deeper water to a hardwood pole. Always make sure to put the drowner lock on the correct way. When set up properly the furbearer can only swim one way to deeper water without the ability to return to shallow water. Without following this precaution you find out the hard way that Muskrat, Mink and Raccoon with leave their foot in the trap. So when setting footholds for water animals always take the time to make a proper drowning set.
If beaver are present you will see plenty of sign such as wide slides and trails, chewings along the bank and floating cut sticks that have been pealed. Watch for bank dens or large feedbeds of young poplar and aspen that the beaver are stock piling for the winter under the ice. I always like to set on as much sign as I can find when setting beaver traps. So if I have a good active trail I will set a foothold. My preferred is a Bridger 5 Coilspring under two inches of water in front of the slide. For added insurance I will throw some mud and sticks on the side of the slide and dip a stick in Lenon Beaver Super All Call Lure. Use either 11 gauge wire or 3/32 Cable for drowner wires when using footholds for beaver. It is not uncommon to catch beaver in Michigan in excess of 50 lbs.
I usually do not go out of the way to set for Otter when trapping in Michigan. The reason is simple where I trap I will usually catch one or two otters in my beaver sets. We are only allowed a couple otter in Michigan each year based on what zone we are trapping. Make sure you have your tags should you catch one, and read the regulations to know how to handle an incidental once you filled your tags. I started trapping in Michigan in the 70’s and there were very few otter and beaver in the areas I trapped then in southern Michigan. Today they keep expanding their range which is really neat as more Michigan trappers can experience catching them. It was the lack of beaver, otter, coyote and bobcat in southern Michigan that led me as a young man to trap in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
In many areas of Michigan there are enough muskrat along a river to warrant almost targeting them entirely. In Northern Michigan I usually include them in the mixed bag of furbearers I catch along a river. For muskrat I use a variety of traps. Colony traps are a favorite as they can catch several muskrat in a night and even mink and can simply be placed in underwater runs through the cattails and weeds. I also set active muskrat feedbeds guarding them with a number 1 or 1.5 size trap and lured with Lenon’s Muskrat Super All Call. Make sure all your muskrat sets will hold a raccoon as it is very common to catch raccoon and mink in muskrat sets. Another favorite muskrat set is a muskrat float that is lured with the same. The advantage of the float is your trap is operational during rising and falling waters. Have a few newspapers with you while muskrat trapping and wrap wet rats in them when caught, it will leave them ready to skin with dry fur when you get home.
I enjoy making land set while running a river water trapline. The advantage is you will pick up raccoon, mink, coyote and fox that will not be caught in your water sets. In addition, any raccoon caught in a DP on dry ground will be a lot easier to handle dry versus soaking wet, plus that raccoon will not be setting off your good mink, otter and beaver sets. Your traps will be operational during rising water. The disadvantage is you will have to check your land sets along the river every 24 hours, versus the 48 hour check requirement for water sets. Sometimes it is worth it for me as many river high banks have a lot of fox and coyote too.
I told the story about trapping too late in the season and having the river freeze up on me. Now that we have relatively good weather forecasting, one should avoid setting out a river trapline when the forecast is for extensive rain. Only you know how much your river will fluctuate during periods of high water. Traps under several feet of water can be very difficult to recover so pay attention to the weather forecast. I always found a water line to be extremely effective during periods of light rain, it seems the furbearers just travel more with a drizzle happening.
A last tip is to have some type of marking system when you set a long river line to identify your sets. It can be as simple as using flagging tape. Flagging tape has the disadvantage of also being easy for other persons to see your set location. So I will usually use a combination of land marks such as a point in the river, a large tree that stands out and such. Keep in mind, usually after properly setting a river line it is only necessary to make a couple checks to catch the cream of the crop and leave some seed for next year. Personally I like to trap different rivers and sections all the time.
Keep an umbrella handy and enjoy the peace and quiet of a river trapline. I do welcome you to visit my websites at PcsOutdoors.com and LenonLures.com.