By January usually most of Michigan’s lakes, swamps and ponds are frozen over. The muskrat are still active under the ice all winter long. Also mink are active under the ice as well as on land apparent by the tracks they leave in the snow. Both mink and muskrat furs are very prime at this time of the year so you will be harvesting the furbearers at prime time.
The equipment and traps you will need to trap muskrat under the ice include: boards 6’ to 8’ long approx. 4” X 1” wide, number 1 long spring traps or number 1.5 long spring traps, bait such as raw parsnip or carrot, an ice spud or axe, ice skimmer like used for ice fishing , plastic sled to carry equipment and some nails and wire. Some 110 body grip traps come in handy if you want to set a few trail sets to catch mink on the ice or shoreline. Both parsnips and carrots are the preferred muskrat bait as they offer great eye appeal and tend to last when submerged under the water.
If you are lucky enough to have located muskrat huts and feed beds these are the areas were you will look for air bubbles under the ice where the muskrats are traveling. Other good spots where muskrat have underwater dens could have been marked during open water or you might see the runs under clear ice. Areas of ponds and lakes with cattails along the edges are good places to look for dens and muskrat huts. If you have small streams and rivers with flowing water you might even be able to make a few open water sets.
My number one consideration while trapping muskrats under the ice is my safety. I try to wait for 3” of ice and a weather forecast with below freezing temperatures. One must still watch for areas with current or around obstacles that might not freeze solid. Finally I will wear a life preserver most times just to be on the safe side.
So you have found your active muskrat run under the ice and have spudded an eight inch hole through the ice. Now submerge your board on a 45 degree angle under the ice and push into the mud and pull out of the water. This will leave a water mark for water depth and you will want to drive in the first nail so the bait is one inch below the bottom of the ice. You will drive your second finish nail with no head so the number 1 long spring trap almost touches the bait. Most number 1 Long spring traps have a small hole in the frame of the trap to be utilized on this type of underwater muskrat ice set. I know for a fact the Victor and Sleepy Creek brands of traps have such a hole in the frame. The trap chain is wired to the bottom area of the board.
Finally gently submerge the board with bait and trap secured to the board under the water at a 45 degree angle and push into the mud. Do so gently as you do not want to spring the trap. If snow is available cover the entire hole with snow as this will make the hole not freeze and easier to spud out latter. The muskrat will get caught and drown while trying to get the carrot or parsnip. Another muskrat will eat the carrot or parsnip so always remake the set after catching a muskrat. When first pulling the muskrat from the frozen water, wrap it in dry newspapers and by the time you get home it will be fluffy and ready to be skinned and put on a muskrat stretcher.
If you can find narrow passages through the weeds and cattails you might be able to position a 110 body grip in these travel ways under the ice. These sets can produce muskrat as well as mink. J3 Outdoorz, a Michigan Company, came out with the HAGZ Bracket and HAGZ Spring Clip which folks are finding all kinds of way to use these clips for stabilizing traps under the water. You can visit their website at www.j3o.com for some good information on these new brackets and clips.
Mink tracks are about an inch long and are circular with five toe marks. Sometimes only four toe marks are left. I have had good luck January through February blind setting with 110 body grip traps where I spot mink tracks in the trails along the streams and marshes. Mink travel the most during this time period of the year. I always use orange flagging when setting body grip traps on land at this time of the year as it does not take much snow fall or blowing snow to cover your 110 trap. Simply reset on the snow when it gets covered. I will place Lenon’s Mink Super Range All Call Lure on both sides of the trail with the trap between.
January first is the beginning of coyote and fox cable restraint snaring in Michigan. Personally I prefer to use foothold traps for coyotes and fox all year. The Michigan DNR Website has a 26 Page Informational PDF at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/THEBOOK12_05_144690_7.pdf with all the detail on how to use snares legally in Michigan. The Michigan Legal Snares are available at pcsoutdoors.com and many other trapping supply houses.
This September was the first time I set up a booth at the Woods N Water Outdoor Show in Imlay City and our staff and myself really enjoyed the show and great folks we met there. We agreed before we left the show that we would plan to attend the 2018 Show. Almost every deer hunter was interested in learning more about our raccoon and coyote trapping tools. Being from northern Michigan I could not believe the amount of hunters that told of 10 and even 20 raccoon on their game cameras. Most folks were also ready to help reduce the coyote numbers with coyotes everywhere.
My dad bought my first 22 rifle from Randy’s Hunting Center of Bad Axe Michigan many years ago. At the time Randy’s Hunting Center was in Kinde, Michigan. While I was at the Woods N Water show I met up with Randy from Randy’s Gun Shop and after some reminiscing about the area years ago, our conversion led to Randy carrying a good selection of trapping supplies including traps, stakes, accessories and Lenon Lures in his store in Bad Axe. When I was a kid living in the tip of the thumb of Michigan I had to purchase all trapping supplies through the mail. Today a young trapper can stop by Randy’s Hunting Center and actually buy trapping gear.
Hopefully this winter you put the ice fishing poles and spears down long enough to harvest some of Michigan’s abundant muskrat, mink and coyote. In our next article we will cover weasel trapping and some other winter trapping activities. I welcome you to visit my websites at www.pcsoutdoors.com and www.lenonlures.com I always welcome calls from fellow trappers at (989) 569-3480.