Misadventures on a long-distance trap line

This week I am writing to you about my experiences of trying to catch my first fisher (carnivorous mammal) and also trying to catch an otter and most importantly trying to survive on what for the most part were seven-mile treks while checking my traps.

On Dec. 16 I started setting traps for a fisher which consisted of a square 3-gallon bucket with either beaver or venison inside of it and just inside of the bucket a 160 body grip trap.

I have never attempted to catch a fisher before and my real plan was to make an adventure out of this trap line, so what I did was have four locations where I had sets, with the furthest walk being about 2.5 miles round-trip.

All my treks were done on frozen dikes in The Meadow Valley Wildlife Area in northern Juneau County. After three weeks I have had some insane experiences with melting ice, due to either warm temperatures or the rise and fall of the water level on these dikes due to melting snow, rain or cranberry growers who often hold back or release water.

All together I had 10 sets out for a fisher and although I did not make any otter sets right away I would end up with five 330 bodygrip traps under the ice.

Here is what is kind of stressful in my opinion on the fisher trapping season. Fisher trapping closes on Dec. 31 and my thoughts are why the heck when otter, beaver and muskrat are open all winter why does the fisher season close before we have reliable ice on our marshes, lakes and rivers and also when the average trapper is pretty busy with the holidays.

Anyway, here is a typical day for me. I arrive at my first dike and I’m wearing hip boots. I observe that the water under the 2 inches of ice has dropped 6 inches. This means that my treks will be walking on a long eggshell that if I break through I will be in a foot to 7 feet of water.

I’m always in a hurry these days. I use an ice spud and travel closest to shore as best I can but stay on the ice as it is much faster then through the dense forest.

I break through the ice on any given day 5-20 times a day but most of these experiences are more of a danger to my lower leg then drowning as I’m traveling so fast that when I break through, let’s say up to my knees, my momentum propels me forward. There were dozens of close calls over this three weeks with injuries.

On Dec. 21 I went through the ice up to my belly and this experience was not pleasant. The walk to the truck, the frozen feet and the drive home were stressful.

On Christmas Eve I fell through the ice in the dark. This experience was much worse as I went through up to my chest but as my momentum carried me forward the ice broke and I was now under the ice.

In this particular experience I was a mile from my truck and my legs were literally dead when I made it to my horse on wheels.

On Dec. 29 I was in a very big rush to cover my seven-mile journey as I had other obligations. I was setting a 330 body-grip trap for otter when I made a huge mistake and sprung it and completely caught my left hand (the one that that I crushed with a wood splitter two years ago).

This, my friends, is any trapper’s worst “or closest” nightmare. I now had one hand to get a trap set that many people cannot set with two. I knew I had to accomplish this task fast or I would lose my hand.

I focused, used my right hand and my knees and must admit I could not believe that I got myself out of that mess.

On New Year’s weekend I was checking an under-the-ice otter set, and low and behold I had what turned out to be a 54-pound beaver in it. A beaver can get much larger but 54 pounds is a good one. If I do not catch an otter over 55 pounds (I have a 58 dried) I think I might have another beautiful memory for my living room.

I love living on the edge, am not very technical and so far I always heal!


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