By Chris Pohl
Trapping in the late part of the season most generally means much colder temperatures along with frozen ground and lots of ice for most of Iowa. A lot of folks choose to pull their trap lines and pursue other interests when the weather takes a down turn, but you don’t have to.
It takes a little bit of extra preparation to trap the cold temps but it’s really not entirely different than trapping the early part of the season. As a matter of fact, with the snow on the ground and water being iced or frozen over can actually help channel the movement of animals to your advantage.
Frozen creeks or other waterways become more available as travel ways for coon, mink and K-9’s as they move between open water pockets in the ice or maybe pools that are kept open by running tiles or springs. These are great locations for sets of your choice. Providing the bed of the steam isn’t too rocky in these locations I prefer a fish stake set. I don’t have to contend with exposed bait over water regulations where I trap, so it works for me. Be sure to know your regulations for your trapping area! If the stream bed is too rocky, I’ll try to find a suitable drag or anchor if the stream bed is not suitable for a fish stake. Pockets sets, smear sets or PVC sets can all work equally well at these locations. In my experience you do need to turn your lure smell up a notch or two in cold weather. Shell fish oil, rather than fish oil alone seems to help. I’ll use a couple of different lure smells at these locations. Shell fish oil and maybe some anise or spearmint has worked for me in the past along with a very oily fish, like sardines. Early in the season carp work well but tend to dry out quickly as the temps drop. I’ve had good success with bullheads later in the season. Keep your bait fresh! ‘Coons, mink, muskrats the occasional skunk and even a few foxes, over the years, have all been taken by variations of this late season open water set. Trap selection is up to you. I prefer strong #11 double jaws.
I believe in gang setting, however; that’s sort of tough to do when you’re talking about small areas of open water sometimes no bigger than a pizza box. Depending on the size of the exposed water, I may blind set it, especially if the spot is right along the bank. A stick of two for fencing, if it’s needed will usually suffice. Obviously if there are multiple spots, I’ll try to set them all, but this is seldom the case. So I try to set the trails and travel routes between the denning areas with either snares or body gripping traps. High up under the road bridges I’ve been using DP traps with various baits and lures the last few years, as well. About mid-January when the breeding cycle starts, these have been my top producers for big boars that are out looking for love. This time of the year I’ll throw some coon gland lure into the mix as well. I can’t honestly say if it helps or not, but I can honestly say it sure doesn’t hurt.
There are a few things to keep in mind when late season ‘coon trapping. Mostly, don’t expect them to move every night; it’s just not going to happen. When the weather turns really cold, they do den up for sometimes days at a time. Right before or after these weather patterns is when you want to make sure your sets are out and functioning properly and bait is freshened up. Don’t get discouraged; if you know the ‘coons are there, sooner or later they’re going to return; again, freshen up your bait and lure.
There are many different ways to target late season ‘coons. Talk to five different trappers and you’re going to get five different preferred methods. Whole books and videos have been produced on the subject. This is just a few of the ways I prefer to target them. At the very least it can be good exercise and you can mingle in other activities while running your line, whether it be jumping ducks, pheasant hunting or even ‘coon calling in between stops. One thing is for sure, you’re not going to catch them with your traps in the shed and you on the couch!