By Paul Wait
I’d Found a Flattail Honeyhole
As soon as the spring thaw arrived, I knew I’d be skinning beavers
I was just about to pop my lunch into the microwave, hoping to enjoy a few minutes away from my computer and satisfy my growling stomach.
“Hey,” came an inquisitive voice with a hint of accusation. “Aren’t you the guy who trapped beavers this spring on my land?”
My fingers stopped programming buttons, distracted by thoughts — embarrassment, actually — of the beaver trapline I set this spring. I knew the wife of the gentleman who had granted me permission to trap worked at F+W Publications, but I’d never talked to her before. I wasn’t even really sure what she looked like.
But I knew before I turned to face her that I was about to meet her. I felt my face flush as I slowly spun away from my plate of food.
“Uh, you mean on the lake over by Ogdensburg?”
I smiled weakly, and saw her lips form the exact words I hoped she wasn’t going to say: “They’re back.”
It was fortunate I hadn’t eaten yet, because my intestines suddenly tightened as if I had been kicked by a karate instructor.
In March, just days before the end of beaver trapping season where I live in Wisconsin, I fashioned what I hoped was a nifty little flattail trapline. The anchor of my efforts was a small, private lake with an occupied beaver lodge on one end.
I had looked at the property at the end of February, and decided to wait until the ice pulled away from the shore to set it up.
“Those beavers aren’t going anywhere,” I said, surveying the lodge and several iced-over runs. I made a mental note of several potential set locations, and smiled as I hiked back to my truck. I had myself a beaver honeyhole.
I traveled a few miles up the road to secure permission to trap another colony that had fallen several saplings near a small river. I had floated the stretch in the fall to jump-shoot ducks, so I knew the exact location of the lodge and dam.
“Another trapper has been catching them,” I was told by the landowner. No worries, I still had the lodge on the lake. I decided I’d make a few sets on a public trout stream, hoping to pick off a few spring travelers. And I knew about another colony on a larger lake, although the ice usually hung on longer there.
A week before the end of the season, the spring thaw hit. I checked the little lake. Still iced in, but I knew the next day, the ice around the edges would give way.
The next morning, I struggled to anchor traps in the frozen lake bed, but managed to punch rebar into the stiff bog. I fashioned a pair of castor mounds within 50 feet of the lodge, confident I’d have action after the sun went down.
I plopped in a few mounds for travelers on the creek as I’d planned, uncertain but hopeful they would connect as curious 2-year-olds dispersed from their families.
A day later, I pulled on my waders and grabbed my bodygrip trap setter on the way to the little lake.
Other than the ice retreating farther from shore, the scene was just as I’d left it a day earlier. The peaceful beaver lodge stood out like a beacon, now fully surrounded by open water.
I checked the stability of my #330s. Solid. Unmoved.
The next day, the lake was half-open. My sets were untouched. I relured. The third day I checked, I left my setters in the truck. Could have left my waders there, too. The lake was now free of surface ice. It became painfully obvious it was also void of beavers. No chewed sticks. No mudded runs. No fresh pullouts.
I left the traps for three more days on speculation that maybe new beavers would investigate the lake. Meanwhile, my other sets flooded. I lost a stabilizer, went in over the top of my waders and nearly lost a couple traps.
So three months later, in the company lunchroom, I ate my pride for a midday meal, sheepishly explaining that beavers travel heavily in the spring, and the flattails that toppled her trees must have vacated the area just after ice-out.
Gathering courage, I resumed the warming process on my lunch. The microwave hummed as I again turned toward the woman.
I’m sure my face was ghostly white as I stammered to push out the words: “Can I try again this fall?”