Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bait Fish Trapping Through the Ice

In years when the ice is safe, March is the perfect month to introduce a child to the sport of ice fishing. Increasingly longer hours of sunlight create days where the mercury creeps high and anglers are able to tend ice traps in t-shirts. These are the best days to ice fish and every year I relish being able to enjoy days like these with family and friends. While I used to enjoy ice fishing the “Grands”, in pursuit of big togue and salmon, my favorite ice fishing trips now are those made with my young children and their friends to local “pickerel ponds”. These bodies of water may not hold trophy sized fish but the fast action is practically guaranteed to keeps the kids busy chasing flags, re-baiting traps and catching lots of fish. One thing I learned quickly, when ice fishing with kids on pickerel ponds, is that they go through A LOT of bait in a very short amount of time. Not only are pickerel ravenous eaters but kids also tend to kill and lose a fair number of bait while attempting to learn how to properly place bait correctly on a hook. On a typical outing, it’s common for me to bring 8-10 dozen baitfish just to make it past lunch time.

Considering baitfish are now being sold for $4.50 per dozen, a half day of ice fishing can get expensive! To solve this problem, as well as introduce kids to another fun angling endeavor, this winter we started trapping our own bait. The state of Maine allows any person who holds a valid fishing license permission to take live bait for their own use with hook and line or bait trap. Baitfish traps must be marked with the name and address of the person who is taking or holding the baitfish, and must be checked at least once every 7 calendar days by the person who set them. It is also important to note that not all bait sized fish are legal to possess only; Smelt, Lake chub, Eastern silvery minnow, Golden shiner, Emerald shiner, Bridle shiner, Common shiner, Blacknose shiner, Spottail shiner, Northern redbelly dace, Finescale dace, Fathead minnow, Blacknose dace, Longnose dace, Creek chub, Fallfish, Pearl dace, Banded killifish, Mummichog, Longnose sucker, White sucker, Creek chubsucker, and American eel. To ensure anglers harvest only legal baitfish, IFW maintains a website ( listing most of the above species along with full color pictures.

 To trap bait in the winter, it helps to have both an auger, ice scoop and chisel. The auger quickly drills the large hole needed to accept the bait trap, the ice scoop cleans slush from the hole and the chisel chips out ice on future visits, when the hole is frozen over. The best place to locate baitfish is on weed edgings in close proximity to the shore line where small fish tend to feed and hide from larger fish. Start by drilling a single hole and using sounder to check the depth. I prefer bait fishing in 4 feet of water or less. If the depth seems right, drill three more holes (for a total of four) that are all touching each other, then use the chisel to connect the four holes thus creating the one large hole needed to accept the bait trap. Lastly use the ice scoop to clean out the slush and large ice chunks so the bait trap can be easily lowered through the hole. Always start out with a larger hole, than seems necessary as it helps immensely later as in Maine’s extremely cold weather the edging of the hole closes in quickly with ice, becoming rapidly smaller with every visit.

 I bait my Gee’s minnow traps with a cup of dog food and a slice of bread. The two choices seem to encourage more and a wider selection of baitfish to enter the trap than just the one choice. Other anglers swear by Cheetos, spearmint gum, hotdogs, corn, dry cat food and even Styrofoam! Half of the fun with bait trapping is working to find that perfect combination that will lead to big hauls. Once baited, the traps are lowered down the ice hole on a rope until the trap rests about a foot off the bottom. The other end of the rope is then tied to a long straight branch suspended above the hole using two forked sticks. The sticks help keep the rope and the branch from freezing into the ice directly above the hole. I then mark the hole opening with a small spruce tree, warning people of the large opening in the ice and also ensuring that in even after the deepest snow fall it can still be easily found.

 For those looking to try catching their own baitfish Simpson Pond (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, D-3) located in Roque Bluffs State Park offers easy access and a multitude of Golden Shiners. Other good choices include Montegail Pond (Map 25, B-4) located in Columbia Falls which contains a wide variety of dace and minnows, East and West Pike Brook Pond (Map 25, C-3) and Pineo Pond (Map 25, C-2) both located in Cherryfield and both containing healthy populations of Golden shiners.


  1. Hi Steve,
    Let me start by saying thank you from everyone at Tackle Factory for using the Gee's G-40 minnow trap. We still manufacture the trap in Fillmore, NY as it has been for decades. If you ever find yourself in or near Fillmore New York... Stop in and take a tour of the factory. While you're there I will show you the accessories for your trap.
    Thanks again,
    Greg Popovice
    Tackle Factory

    1. Hi Greg,
      No problem, I only highlight and mention the very best of products. The Gee trap is constructed with care by people who know how to catch bait! Thanks for the invite, I might just take you up on that offer someday!
      Take care!

  2. "If anyone has any fish jokes; let minnow ...


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