Basic Under Ice Sets for Muskrats, pics

Discussion in 'Trapping Techniques archive' started by soggybtmboys, Oct 5, 2007.

  1. I was thinking about last year and it being my first year and the 'learning curve'. A very good friend of mine mentored me in my first year, and I would like to pass on what I learned from him, and hopefully help a new trapper speed up his 'learning curve'.

    This is about trapping muskrats under ice, when we have enough to trap. Can be a little tricky but bear with me.

    First you will need the following supplies:

    A sled- for dragging equipment around on the ice and snow, it works better than a pack basket.

    Axe- for cutting your holes in ice, and possibly chopping out a rat that freezes to the underside of the ice.

    Traps- I preferred number 1 longsprings, but we did use a few 1.5 longsprings as well.

    2-2.5 inch finish nails- These are used for the boards to hold your bait as well as hanging your traps on the board.

    Electrician Staples- These are heavy duty staples to secure cables to joists, here we use them for securing your trap chain to the bottom of the board.

    Boards- 6'-8' boards depending on how deep the water is and soft the bottom. 1"x4" are great for #1 longsprings old fence works good.

    Surveyors Tape- To mark your traps and your routes, makes following your trapline alot easier, especially in the dark or in a snow fall.

    Milk crate- These are handy to have to throw odds and ends in and ride nice and flat on top of the boards you lay on the sled.

    Bait- I preferred carrots and keep them nice and clean, really orange for better visibility, I know some fellas like potatoes, or apples. We had best results with carrots.

    Ok, those are the basic items you will need. We can move on to sites to set, and how to make your sets.

    Sites I had best results with were between feed huts and houses, and houses and feeding sites in the bottom where they have been digging at roots. Look for a rat house and usually within 50-100 ft you will find a feeder hut. They still use these in the winter time. Look for the most active runs, this will be apparent with bubbles. Rats do exhale some while they are swimming under water. You will see frozen bubbles on the underside of the ice in their runs, sometimes you will even see the bubbles moving around under the ice in a good run. Same thing with the digging sites near a bank or where they are digging around for roots on the bottom, lots of bubbles and vegetation frozen in the underside of the ice.

    Now we have our spot, a nice run bubbled up between a rat house and a feeder hut. Ohh before I forget, becareful around these runs....they wear them thin and sometimes they do not freeze....I got more than my share of soakers last winter!:lol:

    Here is a pic of a house


    This is a really big house that we pulled 14 rats off of before we hit a kit.

    Anyways, you find this you have a nice house and start to look for satelite feeders and the runs. When you have located a nice run and you want to set up, come back in the run about 10 ft off the house and chop a hole in the ice just wide enough to slide a board down into with the trap on it. Slide your board into the water at about 45degree angle. Look at your water line on the board and the bottom of the ice. Make sure you push the board into the mud a little to get a frim hold so the board doesn't wiggle or move. Next, take a finish nail and drive it into the board in the center, this is your bait nail....keep it off the bottom edge of the ice so it does not get frozen into it, but close. Next take another nail and pound it in below the bait nail where you can palce your trap below the bait on the board, without leaving more than a half inch gap in between your bait and your trap. Touching it is ok, this will prevent a rat from getting his foot between the bait and the trap on the board. Next, stretch out your trap chain to the bottom of the board, take your staple and nail it firmly thru the chain attaching it to your board.

    Ok, now it is pretty much ready to go in. Place your bait on the upper nail, set your trap and place it on the second nail. Make sure the chain is on secure, and try to keep the chain straight on the board. It will make sliding in the ice easier. Slide it in at a 45 degree angle and gently push it into the bottom, don't bounce or whack the board it can set off the trap or knock it off the board.

    The idea of this is to use the ice and the board to 'wedge' or guide the rat into the trap as it goes for the bait. It will swim up to the carrot, but he will drop his legs onto the board and usually its his hind legs that are in the pan. He is trying to get leverage to get the carrot off the nail, then he gets snapped. The trap falls off the nail, and the chain holds it to the board and the rat drowns. In turn this leaves the carrot there in place usually and another rat will come in and condition him to think that spot is ok, the trap is already gone with a rat in it, and the other rat will come back when you reset and get him and so forth and so on.

    Here is a pic of my son checking an ice set with a board.


    You can see the carrot on the nail on the board. Keep your holes small so a rat cannot come into the board from the side. You can add nails to the side to fence that area and force the rat into it more if it becomes a problem.

    Here is another pic of the lil man checking another set.


    This one is a miss, but you can see the second nail where the trap hangs, also you can see the staple and how it keeps the trap to the board. The mud on the bottom of the board also displays about how much you should push the board into the mud.

    Here is another pic of Jake checking another ice set.


    We have a catch here, note the nice high front leg catch. High catch on a rats leg is desirable, there is alot less chance he will wring himself out of it.

    It may seem a little complicated but its not. Make good sets and pay attention to what you are doing, better sets will way out produce sloppy ones. We were running about 60 sets, but were getting sloppy, we cut back to 40 and concentrated, and we started really producing nice catches.

    One last pic here of last years take with my son and my good friend Paul. 272 rats for my first season, all Jan and Feb rats....we got a damage permit for my area for another month.


    Ok well just one more of the little guy with some rats off sets he made himself.


    I hope this helps those who need it or are looking for some pointers on trapping muskrats under ice. I am really looking forward to my second season and expanding some horizons in my trapline. If any of the veterans here see that I have missed something, please feel free to add to this post. One more parting thought, if you are not already a member...please join the MTA....good group of men and women and they work their butts off for our way of life.

    Dean Smith

    Wanna kill these ads? We can help!
  2. Nice post Dean. This will be my first season trapping, hopefully I will have some success at it as you did. Post like this one does help the learning curve and are fun to read. Thanks for taking the time to wright it.

  3. Nice post Dean and beautiful pics. The only improvement I would make is to replace that axe with one of our short (Beaver Trapper) icesaws. You're starting the boy right. Have a good season.
  4. Great post Dean. Do you have any close up pics of the pole with the bait nail and the trap mounted? Not sure I'm quite understanding the positioning of the trap vs bait, and where the nail to hold the trap is.

    Those saws that Sailor sells are slick. Don't have one, but saw one in use a couple years back ... it unfotunately for the new owner, it sank to the bottom of White Lake later in the day.

    Sailor - Which model saw did Splitshot loose? It was pretty compact when folded up (at least as I recall).
  5. Mister Ed, here is the pic of my son holding the board very carefully.


    See where the carrot is? Look at his right shoulder, just under the carrot about a few inches should be able to see the nail for the trap. This particular trap had a hole further down on the frame, which is why it was about a few inches down. Look carefully and you can see it, whatever reason my crop feature is not wanting to cooperate. That nail is where the trap rest/hangs on. When you put this nail on the board, make sure it is down enough so the pan will fire, and not hit the nail and stop. You want enough nail shank to hang the trap on too, depending on your boards and you to play with it a little. Keep the traps as centered on the boards as possible. That will keep a rat from swimming in and flipping your free jaw up and out of the way. Yep, rats seem to have tricks too! I hope this helps some, the nail is facing the camera almost halfway between his hand and the carrot. Try to keep your carrots fresh or fresh looking, take a knife with you or use the axe blade to knock off dulles carrot skin, the more orange the carrot looks, the better.

    The spring will be pointing down towards the bottom of the board, where the chain is fastened.
  6. Those saws that Sailor sells are slick. Don't have one, but saw one in use a couple years back ... it unfotunately for the new owner, it sank to the bottom of White Lake later in the day.

    Sailor - Which model saw did Splitshot loose? It was pretty compact when folded up (at least as I recall).[/QUOTE]

    He lost his new short saw and a few other things when the wind slid his shanty over the hole pushing his stuff (including a very expensive camera) into the hole he had cut to demostrate the saw. But Ray is a very good sport
    and rolls with the punches (and all the good natured jabs he's gotten over this). The next day he bought a long saw. We sell most of the short saws to beaver trappers who like them a lot better than axes and chain saws.
  7. OK, I got it now. I did not see the nail the first time (right above your son's hand). Just looked at my 1.5 Long Springs ... sure enough, they have a hole drilled into their base. Never paid those little holes any attention before.:lol:

    Sailor - You are right, Ray is a good guy! But that sure was an expensive day for him. If I remember right, it seams like Stien and KarlD. were able to snag MOST of the stuff that went down the hole, but couldn't quite get a hold of the saw. Sure was an enjoyable day though.
  8. [
    Sailor - You are right, Ray is a good guy! But that sure was an expensive day for him. If I remember right, it seams like Stien and KarlD. were able to snag MOST of the stuff that went down the hole, but couldn't quite get a hold of the saw. Sure was an enjoyable day though.[/QUOTE]

    Yeah everybody had a good time. Whit planned to do it again last winter...but as you know the ice didn't hang around long enough.
    Tom Hammilton made everything go smooth. I hope we can do it again this winter.
  9. Dean,

    Nice post. You did well for your first season under the ice. I would like to make a few suggestions though.

    1. For opening holes I use a spud. I've found that I have more control with a spud then an axe. Plus spudding a hole is easier on my back then chopping with an axe. Spud won't spray as much water either

    2. When there is fresh clear ice looking for the bubble trails is a good idea. When the ice is cloudy and snow covered just tap around the hut with a spud and you will hear a hollow sound where the air bubbles are.

    3. I use an adjustable board. I use a 1x2 board that is 6.5' long (this will lay down in the bed of my truck). Starting 1.5' from the bottom of the stake I drill a hole every 6" up to about the 4' mark. I then have some plywood boards to hold the bait and trap (aproximately 5"w x 8"l ) . The long bait nail is at the top of the board and the shorter nail to hang the trap on is just a couple of inches down from that. A 1/4" hole is drilled in the center of the plywood. A 2.5" carriage bolt and wing nut is used to secure plywood to the holes drilled in the stake. This is a lot easier to carry around then full sized boards.

    4. I also use a skimmer to clean out ice chips. Hate it when an ice chip floats in the hole and sets the trap off.

  10. Thanx Joe,

    I had a buddy of mine and a mod here using a spud this year. We found we get thru the ice about 4 times as fast. Think it is a 7 or 8 lb axe, we needed it too because of the hard freeze we had here, it built 8 inches to a foot of ice very quikly.

    Never thought about tapping around near a hut, we found the snow covered ones by clearing the ice and looking for wet spots in some cases, and our legs found some other by going thru :yikes:!

    We had some boards that we did change a little, we made a few like paddles when we ran out of fence board, and used a 1x2 like you said, just we did not have them adjustable. Have to keep that in mind this year, sounds like that might be workable.

    The skimmer is a good idea too, we just used the axe blade or our hands.....we had on neoprene diver gloves, but had a few nights where our gloves froze solid....have to remember a skimmer too.

    Thanks alot Joe!

  11. Ohh yeah!

    I found out about being too close to the hole when chopping!!! Learned to swing and stay back a bit!


    Had picked most of it off by the time I took a pic!!! Should have taken one when My whole gotee was frozen!!:lol:
  12. Dean,

    I'll agree that most spuds aren't cut out for that amount of cutting. Mine is homemade. 1.5" black pipe for the handle and a chunk of leaf spring for the cutting edge. I'm having a new one made this year. Same size pipe, but the cutting edge will be made from an old cutting edge off a D-4 dozer. Almost forgot, straight cutting edges on spuds suck. Two or three groves cut in the cutting edge will give it some seration and really make the ice fly.

  13. Dean,

    What a GREAT post!!!

    This is a Sticky, OK?

    I will add some info on using baited 110 conibears under the ice also.

    But using the #1 longsring on a board was the way I started my under ice muskrat trapping, back before we had the conibear trap.

    Wes Grant was one of Michigan's all around Great Trappers!

    He was born in a lumber camp in northern Wisconsin back in the early 1900's and started trapping at the age of five. He caught his first mink at that young age and held mink trapping as one of his main pursuits. But he was a master of all types of trapping.

    Here are some photos taken of a pamphlet he printed about Muskrat Trapping.

    Wes was a good and dear friend of mine and he taught me much about trapping and studying everything about the out of doors.





    Personally I like to use a slightly smaller diameter stake for this set, which allows the stake to slide between the jaws of the bottom corner of the set conibear for more stability.

    This set works great, when baited with small cubies of parsnip.
  14. Sure David,

    Threw it on here to help. I tried a few baited conibers under the ice over the winter and did not have much luck, I only got one in the baited coniber setup in a run. Would love to see how you set a baited coniber under ice and actually get em into it.

  15. I have a draft of an article I'm writing on my under-ice muskrat method. I thought I'd post it here in the spirit of the thread. Hope you find it useful:

    A baited conibear can be an effective under-ice muskrat set, but getting the trap into the right position can be a challenge. For best success, the trap should be right below the ice. However, varying water depths used to prevent me from pre-rigging my sets. Since this is obviously something I would prefer to do in the warmth of my trapshed, I tried a number of ways to prepare for the trapline that would let me quickly and easily get my traps properly positioned once I was out on the ice. To be honest, most of them failed pretty miserably!

    Most northern trappers are familiar with “tip-ups” or “fish traps”, a specially designed tool used for fishing through the ice that holds the bait in position until a fish takes it. One winter day while I was fishing for pike, I had what I call a “Eureka!” If I took the fishing reel off of a tip-up and replaced it with a 110 or a single spring 160, I would have a perfect set up to hang my baited trap right beneath the ice!

    Now with tip-ups going for $10 each and up, obviously this wasn’t going to be a cost-effective solution. But then again, I didn’t really need the whole tip-up, just the wooden frame.

    After playing around with a couple designs, here is what I came up with:

    Material required:

    One piece of 1” x 2” -22” long- I use a spud or an 8” auger for my holes, a larger hole requires a longer piece.

    One piece of 1” x 2” -18” long- This length depends on ice thickness and how much snow you’ll need it to poke above. (So you can find your sets!)

    Two carriage bolts (1/4”-20) 1- 2” long and the other 2 ½” long, two washers and two wing nuts

    One piece of sheet metal, tough plastic, or 3/8” plywood 2 1/2"” x 2 1/2" (I cut holes in the backs of my mailboxes and buckets and cover them with hardware cloth. This plastic works really well!)


    Drill a 5/16” hole in the middle of the 22” long 1” x 2”. This piece is now done. Drill a 5/16” hole in the middle of the 3” x 3” piece of sheet metal or plywood. This piece is also done. I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Wow! This is easy!” Well, it is easy- but not that easy. In the 18” piece of 1” x 2”, you need to drill one 5/16” hole 2” from the end. Then move up a distance equal to what you expect will be your minimum ice thickness and start drilling a hole every two inches until you run out of wood. These holes will let you adjust your trap depth for changes in ice thickness.

    To put the thing together, push the 2” bolt through the hole in the middle of the 22” long 1”x2”. Then make your best guess on ice thickness and put the bolt through the 18” piece the desired distance from the hole 2” from the end. Add a washer and wing nut and tighten it down. Then take the 2 ½” bolt, put it through the piece of sheet metal, plastic, or plywood, put it through the coil of the spring on your trap, and then finally through the hole at the end of the 18” long 1”x2”. Add a washer and a wing nut and tighten. You’re done.


    The best place for these sets is in front of a muskrat house or hole or near where they are digging for roots. I cut a rectangular hole in the ice just large enough for the trap to fit through. The cross on the upright post (the one with the trap hanging off of it) will support the set and keep the trap and catch from falling beneath the ice. Bait the trigger wires, and set the trap with the trigger centered. Turn the trap 90 degrees so the trigger wires are pointing up when the rig is in the set position. (Be careful because the weight of the bait can spring the trap and you want the trigger to be fairly sensitive. The muskrat will be floating and almost weightless while it’s working your bait. I prefer turnips, potatoes, and carrots.) Slip the trap through the hole and hang it from the cross. If my hole might be a bit large, I put a handful of wet slush next to the sides of the cross. This will soon freeze in place and block the cross from turning. Then the trapped animal can’t wiggle the set around and have the cross slip through the hole. If it ever happens to you, look straight or nearly straight down the hole and you’ll find your set and catch on the bottom.

    These sets are quick and very effective. A couple additional notes: Based on the catches I’ve made under-ice muskrat trapping, I think that ‘rats move as much or more in the daytime under the ice than they do at night. Just something to think about when planning your checks. Second, it’s common practice to cover the holes of under-ice beaver sets with branches or cardboard and bury them with snow. This is done to reduce ice formation and because the light is suspected of scaring the beavers. From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from better under-ice ‘rat trappers than me, leave the holes open for muskrats. The light seems to attract them and it obviously helps make your set more visible in the gloom. Lastly, unlike beaver sets, it’s best to check your under-ice ‘rat traps every day or every other day. These sets doesn’t need to sit like baited beaver sets. I’ve had them score in less than an hour during the middle of the day.

    One last thing. When you’re out on the ice trapping, you will definitely want to carry ice spikes in case you go through. In addition, consider wearing one of those duck hunters’ life vests. They are comfortable, don’t interfere with movement, and people who die from going through the ice usually drown. If you can get out of the water, you can usually get help, get to shelter, or make a fire. We’d hate to lose you.

    Good luck and be careful!

    #15 Beaverhunter2, Oct 9, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 30, 2015

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