This is an excerpt from Tom Berg’s article “Paddling for Muskrats,” which appeared in the November 2013 Trapper & Predator Caller issue.
By Tom Berg
Obviously, the first item on your gear list should be a stable canoe. Any canoe will work, but a stable craft with a fairly flat bottom will work best. If you are like me and usually trap alone, a shorter canoe like a 13- or 14-foot model is the perfect size. If you always bring along a partner, a larger 17-foot canoe will give you more room and allow you to pack more traps and stakes.
The next item on your gear list should be a canoe paddle. Actually, you should have two paddles. You need one paddle for propelling the canoe, and you need a spare. Hopefully the spare paddle will always remain in the bottom of the canoe and you won’t need it. But if you ever break your paddle or drop it overboard in deep water and can’t retrieve it before the wind takes it away, a spare paddle can save the day.
A life jacket is also a required item. Most states require a life jacket, and if you paddle through deep water, you will be glad you are wearing it if the canoe capsizes for one reason or another.
Insulated waders are another must. Cold water leads to hypothermia very quickly, and it doesn’t make sense to risk your health or your life. Full-length chest waders are definitely better than hip boots for keeping you warm and dry.
Now for the fun gear — an assortment of traps. Some trappers only bring along one type of trap, but I have found that bringing along different types of traps gives you much more flexibility on the trapline. Foothold traps, bodygrip traps and colony cage traps will give you the tools for almost any situation. Bring as many as you will have time to check.
Trap stakes are also must-have items. A trap stake can be almost anything — a thin (but strong) tree branch, a wooden slat or even a bamboo pole. The only two requirements for muskrat trap stakes are that they be long enough to push into the bottom while still sticking out above the water and that they are strong enough to prevent a muskrat from breaking them or pulling them loose.
I always bring a pair of rubberized gauntlets too, although I admit I don’t always use them. It just depends on how cold it is. They are a lifesaver when it is cold, though, so be sure to bring them.
One optional item that you can bring is bait. Some trappers do not use bait at all and others swear by it. I like to bring along two or three apples. I slice them into thin wedges and place the pieces around the muskrat lodge above my submerged traps. The bright white color of the apple is easy for the ’rats to see in the moonlight, and the scent of the apple acts as an attractant, too. Some trappers use carrots, while others use turnips or other foods. Bring along a knife to cut the bait into wedges.
Another optional item is muskrat lure. You can use a commercial muskrat lure if you like, or you can use something like peppermint extract. Pull a stiff marsh grass stem off of the lodge where you are setting your trap and dip it in the lure. Then push the other end of the stem into the lodge, with the scented end hovering right above your trap.
You will also need a few small miscellaneous items while you are out in the marsh, like a short length of rope, a Ziploc bag for your cell phone and a roll of fluorescent flagging material to mark your trap stakes. A small notebook and a pencil could also come in handy so you can keep track of how many traps you set and where.
The last two items I bring are a pair of 5-gallon buckets. One bucket is absolutely filled to the top with traps. I add a short length of wire to the chain on each of my longspring traps, and I wind the chain and wire around the trap to make a compact package that doesn’t get tangled. That really helps when I pile them all into the bucket.
The other bucket holds the small miscellaneous items and some extra clothes, like a rain jacket, knit hat and spare pair of gloves.
Tom Berg’s full story appeared in the November 2013 issue of Trapper & Predator Caller.
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