Fathead minnow photo from the Missouri Department of Conservation

Minnow Traps Made Easy: Effortlessly Trap Live Bait for Fishing

What is it? Why should you use it? Types of tshirt

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After having been fishing for so many years, I've come to appreciate the many tools and techniques that enhance the fishing experience. Among them, the minnow trap holds a special place.

Now, you might wonder what's so exciting about a device that catches tiny fish? And why do you need a minnow trap when you can just buy bait at the local tackle shop? But let me tell you, there are plenty of great reasons to learn about minnow traps, know how to make them and how to retrieve the minnows from the traps, some important techniques in minnow trapping, and common alternatives to minnow traps. As it turns out, the minnow trap is an underrated yet remarkable piece of fishing equipment that offers much more than meets the eye.


What is a minnow trap?

A minnow trap is used to catch small freshwater fish known as minnows. Minnows are often the go-to bait for many fish species, if you're into fishing with natural bait and not with artificial lures.
Essentially, a minnow trap uses something tasty like bread, fish food, dog or cat food, bacon, or canned corn to attract these baitfish. Once the fish are drawn in, the trap closes and holds them captive until you're ready to retrieve them.
Some of the freshwater fish you can catch with minnows are bass, chain pickerel, crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, trout, and catfish.

Benefits of having a minnow trap

White Cloud Mountain Minnow, Photo by sannse via Wikimedia Commons
By having your own minnow trap, you ensure that you have a fresh and lively supply of bait, right when you need it. No more last-minute runs to the bait shop or settling for subpar bait. It's a huge time saver, and it means you can spend more time actually fishing rather than running around trying to find the perfect bait.
  • Having your own minnow trap can also be a great way to save money. Buying live bait can add up quickly, especially if you're fishing regularly. With a minnow trap, you can catch your own bait, and it'll cost you next to nothing.
  • Another great thing about them is their versatility. Depending on the design, you can catch other small species like small bream or crawfish, which are also great as baitfish.
  • And let's not forget about the fun factor. Using a minnow trap can be a real adventure, especially for kids. They'll love watching the minnows swim around in the trap, and they'll feel a sense of accomplishment when they catch their first fish using bait they caught themselves. It's a great way to get the whole family involved in fishing, and it's a memory maker for sure.

How to make a minnow trap

To make a minnow trap, you'll need a few basic materials. First, gather some sturdy stainless steel wire mesh. This will form the walls of your trap and allow water to flow through while keeping the minnows inside.
Next, find a plastic water bottle or similar container that's large enough to hold the minnows. This will serve as the body of your trap. To attract the minnows, you can use bread, crackers, dog or cat food, fish food, or canned corn. Anything that's starchy and smells good to minnows should work fine. Just be sure to use a small amount, as too much bait can cause the minnows to become suspicious.

Plastic bottle for making minnow trap
Once you have all your materials, follow these steps:
  1. Cut off the top of the plastic bottle using scissors or a sharp knife.

  2. Poke some small holes around the cut edge of the bottle. This will allow the minnows to swim in.

  3. Add a few small rocks to the bottle for weight. This will help the trap sink to the bottom of the water and stay in place.

  4. Add some food for the minnows through the funnel. Use just a small amount, as too much can scare off the minnows.

  5. Insert the cut-off top of the bottle into the trap with the nozzle pointing in, securing it to the bottom with fishing line.

  6. Lower the trap to the bottom of a pond or lake for a few hours or overnight. Check it regularly to see if you've caught any minnows.

Remember, the trap is reusable and can be used for years of budget-friendly fishing. How cool is that?


What to do once you’ve caught minnows

Once you’ve successfully caught minnows, you’ll want to safely remove them from the trap.

  1. First, you'll want to open the trap. If your trap has a door or latch, simply undo it to gain access to the minnows.

  2. Next, bring the trap back to the shore and carefully empty the minnows into a bucket filled with water. This will help keep the minnows submerged and reduce their stress levels.

  3. When handling the minnows, be sure to do so gently. Minnows have delicate bodies, so it's important to avoid squeezing or dropping them. Take your time and handle them with care.

  4. Finally, once you've removed the minnows from the trap, you can transfer them to a suitable container, such as a bait bucket to keep them alive and healthy until you're ready to use them for fishing.

Modifying your minnow trap to avoid catching unwanted fish

Minnow traps are designed to catch minnows, but other small fish species you don't want may also get attracted to the bait and end up in the trap. If this happens, you’d want to modify your trap to catch mostly minnows and avoid those other unwanted fish.

A bunch of minnows
  • One thing you can do is to adjust the mesh size of your trap. By using a smaller mesh size, you'll allow smaller fish to swim through the holes and avoid getting trapped. This is a great way to target minnows specifically.

  • Also, position your trap strategically. Place it near debris or in shaded areas where minnows tend to hang out. Point the open end of the trap towards the shore, rocks, and tree roots. This will help attract minnows while reducing the chances of catching unwanted fish.

  • Another trick is to experiment with different baits that specifically attract minnows. Use bait that's less appealing to larger fish to reduce the chances of them getting caught in the trap.

Techniques for minnow trapping

Now, let's talk about when and where minnow traps work best. In using minnow traps to successfully catch baitfish, timing and location are essential.

  • Timing is Key. Minnow traps are most effective in mid to late summer. As the season progresses, fish tend to concentrate in small pools within small creeks. The warm weather, paired with the water's natural flow, creates an environment where minnows thrive. That's your opportunity to swoop in with your trap.

  • Find the Right Area. You'll want to choose a spot where you can actually see some minnows. Take your time to observe the water, looking for the glimmering movement of these tiny fish. A pair of polarized sunglasses can help you see into the water more clearly. If the minnows are there, you're in the right place!

  • Positioning the Trap. The orientation of the trap plays a crucial role in success. The trap opening should be parallel to the current, allowing the minnows to naturally swim into it. It's a bit like setting up a funnel where the water's flow guides the fish right where you want them. Placing the trap in shallow water adjacent to a structure or the bank can also increase your catch. Minnows often gather near these areas for shelter, and that's where your trap comes into play.

With these tips, you'll be well on your way to catching mostly minnows! Note that I said mostly minnows, because catching unwanted fish is an part of minnow trapping that is really hard to avoid. When it happens, it's essential to handle these fish with care. Releasing them back into the water gently minimizes harm and ensures that they can continue to thrive in their natural habitat.


Nets: Alternatives to Minnow Traps

Want to catch some minnows without using a traditional minnow trap? No problem! There are actually several alternative methods you can try, and they're pretty easy to use.
Fish net
  • For example, you could try using a seine net. This is a type of fishing net that's perfect for catching minnows. Simply drag the net through the water, and the minnows will get caught in the mesh.
  • Another option is to use a dip net. This is a handheld net that allows you to scoop up minnows from the water. It works best in shallow water or near the shore, so keep that in mind. Just be careful not to scare the minnows away before you can catch 'em!
  • If you're feeling adventurous, you could always give cast nets a try. These are circular nets that you throw over a school of minnows. The net sinks to the bottom, trapping the minnows inside. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, you can catch a bunch of minnows at once.

Rules for baitfish

It's important to remember that different places have different rules when it comes to using baitfish. Some states have laws about what kind of baitfish you can use, how to release unused baitfish, and even importing baitfish from other areas, as we talked about in a previous post.


Final thoughts

Minnow traps truly are a game-changer for any angler looking to catch more fish. Not only are they budget-friendly and effective, but they're also super easy to use and make with a few materials and a bit of elbow grease. With a little practice, you'll be a pro at catching minnows in no time! And who doesn't love the idea of having a steady supply of fresh bait right at their fingertips?

To recap, we discussed the importance of minnow traps for freshwater fishing, how to make your own trap, and some tips for retrieving minnows from the traps. We also touched on some alternative methods for catching minnows, such as using different kinds of nets. Just be sure to follow the local fishing rules when using baitfish, and be responsible if you catch any unwanted fish. Happy trapping and happy fishing!

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