Otter Trapping, water trapping — December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

To trap and catch more Otter, use quality body grip traps in your Otter trapping


 Body grip traps for you otter trapping

best otter trap trappingWe will start with body grip traps. This is the trap of choice for most otter trapper. This is a great tool on most otter lines. It however is not the end all trap choice for every situation on every location. As good as the body grip trap is don’t fall into the trap that conibears are always the answer, but they will be the bulk of your operation.

Before we cover what a otter conibear should act and look like we need to make one major point. The 330 size body grip trap or larger is a better size for otter than 220 and 280 conibears. I know this will raise a few eye brows, but its as close as a fact as you can get in otter trapping. I personally have been chasing otter for almost a decade. I have used 220’s and 280’s. I have watched my competitions traps, sets and results. I have also had the honor to rub shoulders and call many other 80-120 otter close friends. Just like in many aspects of the trapping world, the written word has lead many trappers down a low production road. Most articals preach that the best trap for otter is a 220 or 280 conibear. The logic is that the smaller trap hits the otter behind the ears and causes a quicker death. There are a couple of facts that need to be brought to light about the above statement. First, otter are getting pressure in unprecedented heights that have not been seen in more that 100 years. Otter that live threw the gauntlet of small conibears have learned to be masters at avoiding them. I have seen this on my own lines and on my competition lines. Otter in the real world will bypass most 220’s and a lot of the 280 sets they come in contact with. Secondly, The reason the 220 and 280 SEEM to get better neck cathes and again I say seem. Is that most trappers have loose sloppy long throwing triggers. Also straight triggers give the otter something to see and slink around. Crappy triggers = crappy catches. So the smaller traps give the illusion of better catches because the trap jaws are closer together and the otter have less room to wiggle around in the trap. So what happens in the field is that guys catch some otter and find them with perfect neck catches. Then the same guy catches a otter in a beaver set that is hip caught. The quick assumption is that the smaller trap makes a better otter trap. The best way to look at a comparison is with an open mind and spend some time thinking about all the angles. One common mistake when comparing two traps or situations is to try and validate ones own beliefs. If this is done the test and evaluation is all ready doomed. You need to keep an open mind and only look at the facts not only what one wants to see. This mistake can and will stop your progression. So lets look at what size conibear is the best size to be stringing out all over the country. The smaller traps usually gets a good behind the ears catch. This is good, but the end result is only half of the story. Like I said earlier, the better catch is from the trap being smaller and so the triggers are closer together. Now keep in mind that this comes into play more with standard straight triggers used most often today. Now lets compare this to a 330 size conibear. If one is using standard straight triggers there is NO way one can block up the traps opening to keep any percentage of otter from slinking around the triggers. A large percentage of otter that are caught this way are hip caught back on the body. Is this the traps fault or the triggers fault? I say its the trigger fault. There are a percentage that are good catches with the 330, but you will find that these are usally the traps that are totally underwater and ussally in dark murky water. It is just a fact of life that most of the time the otter will see and try to bypass your triggers. I don’t belive that all otter know what the triggers are, but treat them just like any other obstical that they come in contact with. If the 330 is in shallow water or on the ground and has straight triggers then almost all the catches will be bad catches. Another problem trappers have with 330’s is that a lot of otter are hip caught and a lot of these otter escape the trap. This has a lot to do with difference one needs in trap quality in otter conibears. You can go out and catch a pile of beaver with out many problems with junky week conibears. Beavers do not fight the trap hard and give up easyley . this is not the case with otter. Even if you do start off with a good catch in a weak trap, you probally don’t end up with one. In a week trap the otter will swim or fight the trap to the end of the chain or wire. When he gets leverage on the trap he will pull like a D10 dozzer. If the springs are weak and your lucky the jaws will catch on the otters hips and you will hold him. The other option is that the otter pulls and fights out of the trap and keeps going. All this is do to weak springs and not having a completely closing jaw. So agiain I ask is this the fault of the 330 conibear? Nope, it’s the weak springs fault.

Now lets turn the table on smaller bodygrip traps. The smaller the trap opening, the more one has to spend looking for the perfect spot or waste valuable time blocking down the location to meet the smaller trap size. The smaller size does fit in some locations. You will find banks that are full of rat and groundhog holes or small runs under and around root systems. You will also find trails that are tight between trees and roots. These are great locations to use a small trap, but in the real word this will not make up a lot of your locations. I see and hear where guys block down creeks with 220’s and 280’s, but why? The extra work to do it right takes a lot of time, that could be better spent with a larger trap. Lets be truthful, if you block down a four foot creek down to a 6 inch or eight inch conibear the hole in-between the blocking is hard to find. If you are going to make the trap opening hard to find then don’t be shocked when the otter hits land to go around the obstruction you made for him. If you have a hard time seeing the opening so does the otter. A great location is on the side of a beaver dam. Most of the time it is up to you to show the otter where you want him to go. So then why would you use a small trap to make him look for a way over the dam. The bigger the trap opening the easier and sooner the otter can lone up on your location. Always keep in mind that the trap has no pull on the otter and if you make it hard on him to pass threw your location, he will simply go around. In my otter video I show a guys sets in North Carolina. He is using 220’s on dry land and his locations are good. He took the time to grass over the traps. What happened is that the otter did not want to go threw the small opening and there where two warn out otter trails on each side of his trap. I just went on the other side of the road and set a 330 in the water and took several of the otter that was simply by passing his 220’s. I have also went into WMA’s in Louisiana and knocked off 4-6 otter in a couple of days with other trappers 220’s and 280’s set on every creek. My larger traps did not restrict the otter as much and I had no problem taking otter all around my competition. Yes I know the smaller traps are cheaper in the short term, but they can cost you thousands of dollars each season. So are they really cheaper to buy?

I am not going to say that you should not use the smaller traps, but keep the next statement in the back of your mind when you go and order some new body grips. There are a lot of trappers that take 80, 100 and more otter every year and they use 330 size conibears. Let me say that again, guys that into the 80-100 plus otter club use 330 size body grips not coon size conibears. If you want to catch like one of the big boys then you have to use big boy toys.

The next factor of a good otter conibear is that it has to have a completely closing jaw. Unfortunately this excludes most American made conibears on the market. It pains this veteran to say at this time you need to be buying Canadian made conibears. You can make any conibear into a tight closing trap and we will cover this in a moment. The closing jaw is not an opinion of mine, it is a absolute necessity for an otter trap. There are two reasons for this, but they are big non negotiable hairy reasons. First off in the real world, not all otter will not be the perfect catch. Some will almost get threw the trap and you will get some weird catches. If the otter ends up with a jaw to far back on the body and the trap does not have a completely closing jaw, the otter will not die fast enough. When this happens the otter will fight the trap and this might cause far more bruising than has to be. This could also cause your prize to not be there in the morning. Now if the otter tries to climb over your conibear he will often turn the trap over flat on the ground. If the otter puts any weight on the jaws when the trap is laid flat the trap will fire. With tight closing jaws, the trap will jump off the ground a grab something. This may be a foot, leg, head or tail, it does not really matter because if the jaws close tight and don’t loosen up a catch will be made. I would rather make a behind the ears catch, but if the otter is waiting on me in the morning, the mission is accomplished. The second reason may seem like the first one, but its really not. The quicker you put Mr. Otter to sleep the less he has a chance to cause fur damage to himself and not break week links in you gear. Plus everyone now days know what otter are bringing and a live 100 dollar bill may be too much to leave in the ditch. Dead otter are hard to see and steal.

You also need a conibear trap that has strong springs. This may not be as important with a beaver trap, but is necessary in the otter word. Weak springs will have otter alive and waiting on you. The biggest problem of having weak springs is the leather marks and bruises. You don’t have to buy new conibears just take the time to order a new set of springs and learn how to put them on. One thing I have been doing the last couple of years is to spot wield where the spring eyes come together. I have had to many aggravating times in the field when the spring eye spreads apart and slides off of a set of jaws. Some times you can strong arm the spring back over the jaw and some times you have to waste time walking back to the truck to replace the trap. Now I don’t have to worry about this little common problem. If you are only using a few conibears at a time this problem is not as noticeable, but if your running 100-200 conibears for a months at a time then the problem is more common. I have found that replacement parts can be gotten from Beliles. The springs will come with the spring safety catchers and once you use the good non- flopping spring catchers you will despise regular safety catches. Rich Kasper has come up with a non-flopping add on safety catches he calls them, I have not used them as of yet, but they looked like a good piece of equipment at the last convention I saw him at. If your not going to buy replacement springs from Belilse then at least order and use magnum springs. Not only are they stronger in the beginning they last longer before they get to weak to use.

Your trigger will make the difference on how the otter is caught. It does not matter if you use the circle trigger or a V shape trigger, you have to get the trigger throw down to a minimum. Most conibears on the market have good triggers most of the time. If you take a conibear out of the box and test the triggers throw, the distance the trigger moves before the dog is pushed off of the jaw and the trap fires. If you spend time really looking at your conibears trigger set up and test them you will find that the trigger fires easier the farther away from the dog. The reason is simple physics. The farther away from the dog, any movement of the trigger will move the dog out of the trigger slot sooner. So when you test your trigger, test the trigger wires in the middle of the set trap. What you will find is that most traps will fire in a good manner, but not all. You will have a certain amount of traps that will allow the trigger to move a very long distance before firing. You will find this to be more of a problem with triggers that are made out of thin metal where the dog connects with the trigger base. This problem can be fixed in one of three ways. One, you can file on the dog and try to get a perfect fit on the jaw and trigger base. This can work, but you will be on shaky ground. This sounds good and like I said it can work, but the end result is usually a super touchy conibear. The trap has a tendency to fire with any jarring or ANY water current. A touchy 330 is a dangerous trap to handle and use. If the trap fires in water current or because of any debris hits the trigger, what good is it. A touchy conibear is a fired empty trap more than a catching trap out in the real world. The second option is to buy replacement triggers and dogs. Don’t waste your money on cheap thin replacement triggers. If the trigger base is thin then you will have the same problem, the trigger will move to fare before the trap fires. You should buy one of each trigger on the market and give each one a good look over. Conventions are a great place to look over replacement triggers at no cost. The third option you have is to modify each trigger base. All you need is some key stock, #9 wire or a nut. What you do is, wield the key stock at the bottom of the trigger base where the dog meets the trigger base. What this accomplishes is more leverage on the dogs movement and allows the trap to fire when the triggers move very little. Let me warn you, if you wield the nut higher than the triggers notch you might have a trap that wont set. At the lest the trap may be to dangerous and touchy to set.

If you have a pile of old weak bodygrips and you cant or don’t wont to buy new traps, you have options I will describe what I call my junk yard dog, killer traps. Over the years I have collected a lot of cheaper conibears from beaver work. Most of the traps had weak springs, bad trigger set ups, non-closing jaws and crappie safety catches. So I pick up the phone and call Mr. Bailey at Bailey’s Trapping Supplies. I order Belisle’s springs that come with the good spring safety catches. I also get Belisle 4-way trigger and dog. Make sure your conibear is made out of 5/16 rod or you could have problems with the Belisle trigger and dog. Most 330’s are made out of 5/16 rod so it should not be to big of a problem. Next, the wielder gets fired up and some 5/16 rod gets bent to make a closing bar for two jaws. What you are looking for is to copy the closing bar on the Canadian Savage conibear. Yea you have to spend some money and put a little sweat equity in you old traps, but what you end up with is a very effective otter killing conibear. My junk yard dog traps may not have a pedigree, but they will bite the crap out of you or any critter and will not turn loose without a serious fight.

Just like I talked about in my Beaver Blitzkreig book, the color of your conibear matters. In case you have not read the book, I will cover this again. I know that the color black is the traditional in the trapping industry. It may be traditional, but it is NOT the color you want you conibears to be. You have to understand that animals don’t see in color, so what you see or that its at night when an animal comes in contact with your conibear. A conibear is nothing but a mechanical snare and you don’t want to draw any attention to your snare. The snare or conibear is made to be used in a blind set situation. The idea is to have an animal work threw the cable or the jaws by walking or swimming in a natural gate. You don’t want the target animal to stop and notice and change its course action by any means. If you change the normal patterns by any means your blind set is all messed up and in jeperty. If you use a black conibear for an animal, it would be like snaring a man with a bright orange snare. Me and you would see the orange snare from far off and probably go around it. You may be thinking I have been using black conibears for year and have caught otter. I have doubt you you have just as I have, but if you hang a orange snare on a side walk in New York city you would catch people who are not paying attention. You would catch people, but the question that matters is, How many people simply walked around the orange snare. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to catch SOME of the otter that come in contact with my conibears, I want to catch all of them. Since animals see in black in white you don’t want to have your trap in a color that catches the animals eye because the color is at the extreme end of the animals vision spectrum. The colors black and white are the most visible in shades of grey. So what you want is a color that is in the middle of the shades of grey. After taking many black and white photographs it becomes clear that some colors are better than others. I found that olive flat green or a light brown color blends in the best. In the photographs bright orange blends better than black. If you want the ultimate hidden conibear, use a base on brown or olive green and strip up the trap with different middle earth shades. This may seem like over kill on the color of your conibears, but when you see what happens in the field from animals and people you will be pleased. I always hear guys talking about the “small things” in trapping. I don’t think this color thing is a “small thing”, my line told me it’s a big thing. Don’t fall into the “this is how I do it” trap, if there is a better way to do something, then do it. If you decide to keep using black conibears don’t be surprised when your competition cleans your clock with properly colored traps. Does color matter? I can tell you from being knee deep in competition all over the country, absolutely with a big Amen!

There needs to be some thought into how one anchors his conibear. When I started out with conibears I would tie off with 16 and 11 gauge wire. For the most part I got away with it on beaver. You noticed I said “most”, I had problems with some breaking and having the wire knots slipping and coming untied. When otter started showing up in Tennessee I had some nice train wrecks with wire. The otter rolled and fought 10 times harder than the beaver. I had several otter that would pull so hard on the wire that the wire would pull into. The broken wire would pulled so hard that the end of the wire would be stretched to a shinny long thin point. Also during high water trash and logs would catch and hold on the wire and conibear and break or pull the wire loose from the bank and would be lost most of the time. I personally cant stand to have problems repeat themselves, I learn and fix the problem if possible. So I went to using chain then extension cables and now I’m back to chain. I first went to chain because I like the feel of chain and 3-6 feet of chain work great with T-bar’s. I had great results with chain, so why did I change to cable extensions? It is simple, guys I talked to said how quick and easy extensions worked. I used cable for a couple of years, but they did not exactly fit into my program. When I trapped within close reach of brush and trees things went well. Now if I was on a clean creek or a canal in the Delta, things would slow down to a painful grind. It is simple, if there is nothing for the cable to go around, you are wasting time. One thing becomes real clear, a good set location may not have a tree to tie off too. Sure you can add extensions, but just how many extensions are you willing to use and take time on before you start bypassing locations. Don’t get me wrong extensions work great in most situations, but not all. Plus cable has a tendency not to lay down and out of sight when you need it to. A small point I know, but sometimes an exposed cable will give a thief all he needs to find your set. I also got tired of closing and opening S-hooks by the hundreds. If I am going to use cable I would go to some kind of D-ring or a commercial fishing line clip. Both of these kind of devices would and do save a lot of time on the line. I know use chain on my conibears. This system works about everywhere in every situation. I set my conibear where it needs to be and extend my chain and slam home a T-bar threw the end chain swivel. Now it does not matter if there are trees or brush close to the location. I set my traps where they need setting and can stake my conibears where ever that may happen to be. Also the chain can be thrown into the water and the chain lays under the water out of sight. Does the chain add weight in the truck or boat, sure it does. But by not having to get creative with cable and since I can stake where I need too, the weight is a unwanted byproduct of speed and uniformity. About the only time I use cable now is if I am trapping a rock bottom creek or if I am trapping out of a canoe.

I have found that having a swivel next to the trap to be a big help. You don’t need to big of a chain when you use one or two swivels. The swivels help by not putting pressure on the chain and can also keep the otter from rolling up the chain. I have had a few otter wind up a non-swiveled chain in such of a mess that I could not get the chain straightened out. If you go with cable a swivel or two will save you on replacing extensions.


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  1. a very good artical,,learned alot.
    what are your thoughts on the round body grip ?

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