Ice fishing is now well underway here in Franklin County. Dedicated anglers have already ventured onto the ice and enjoyed the quality fishing that is typical earlier on in the season. This past weekend I found myself running back and forth between flags, hauling in fish and hooking on more bait to keep the action going, but it wasn’t long before I realized I had not brought nearly enough bait for the day. By 1 in the afternoon I was out of minnows and had “green-horn” written visibly across my chest for all to see.
Fortunately, as Mainers we have the privilege of gathering our own minnows from local waters to use as bait, a cost-effective and enjoyable activity to indulge in this winter. As long as you have a bait trap and some old bread, you can be on your way to free bait this year! These minnow traps can be found at the trading post, and yes, Walmart, for around $10.
Once you have the trap, the next step is to find a place to set it. Obviously it is preferable to pick a spot where you know there are minnows, but if you can’t think of any places, look for a small pond and try to find a depth of at least 4 feet. Once you have found your spot, drill or chip a hole into the ice and push the trap (with some bread thrown inside) down into the space provided. If you have a 10-inch auger, the hole you produce is big enough to fit the typical minnow trap, though you may have to get a sleeve wet when maneuvering the trap out of the hole the next time you check it. Don’t allow the trap to sink too deep; the trap should not be resting on the bottom.
Some people use dog food to bait their traps, some people use hot dogs. As for me, I grew up watching my father haul in loads of bait with stale bread, so I am content doing the same for now. If you are ever in a spot where you know there are minnows but can’t get them in your trap, try experimenting with the bait you use. It can be beneficial to align the trap with the existing current, that way the bait fish can literally follow a path of breadcrumbs right up to your trap. However, these traps have been known to work just fine in ponds where there is minimal, if any, current to carry breadcrumbs off in a certain direction. But, it’s important to find where the bait fish are first, and only after you do so should you busy yourself improving your trap’s efficiency.
In order to stay legal about it, here are a few basic rules of trapping bait fish:
• Make sure you trap only on waters that are currently open to fishing; however, if you have a spot in mind that isn’t technically open to trapping bait, then you can write to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to obtain free permit based upon their approval. Perhaps as a more convenient alternative, you can call them at (207) 778-3322.
• The opposite end of the rope attached to the trap should be attached to a piece of wood or something similar that displays your name and address on it.
• Check your trap(s) at least every seven days. I like to go every other day for the sport of it, but it largely depends on the rate at which your trap fills up with minnows.
For more information on trapping bait here in Maine, including a list of closed waters, check out: Laws Pertaining to Bait Dealers/Use of Live Bait on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website.