By Josh Boyd
When water trapping, few catches bring as much excitement to your day as that of a river otter. These magnificent creatures can be utterly difficult to catch at times due to their transient ways. Otters are known to travel rather large circuits, with some covering up to a 60 square-mile area during the winter months, when frigid temperatures and lack of food necessitates such mobility.
The time that it takes for a river otter to cover a circuit of this nature is highly variable and can range anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This level of infrequency drives home the value of making your otter trap sets count, as a missed opportunity can take a lengthy period of time to make up for.
Despite the tediousness often associated with river otter trapping, those that are detail-oriented can utilize any one of several time-honored trap sets to catch otters wherever they frequent. If you seek to achieve success when trapping river otter, check out the following sets that reduce misses and put more fur in your trap shed.
Beaver Den Sets
It is no secret that otters have a fondness for utilizing abandoned beaver dens as dens of their own. Once beavers move on from an area, it is usually not long before otters lay claim to their dwellings. A wise otter trapper can take advantage of this knowledge in a way that exploits this habit to their benefit.
As otters enter and exit their newly acquired dens, they traverse the same entrances and exits as those previously used by the beavers that once resided there. This serves as a pinch point of sorts that narrows an otter’s movements to a precise point. In knowing this, a trapper can place a conibear trap within the entrances of an otter occupied beaver dam.
Most trappers choose to use #330 conibear traps in conjunction with a beaver den set, although #280 and #220 traps can be suitable in certain situations as well. No matter the size of the conibear that is to be used, it is important to ensure that the trap is set at a depth that prevents an otter from breaking the water’s surface if the conibear trap does not prove fatal.
Travel Path Sets
Otters are notorious for their willingness to travel between waterways, either by land or by stream. In the majority of cases, river otter will use the same paths for their travel from one occasion to the next. If these travel routes are discovered, excellent trapping can result.
When otter commute from one waterway to the next via land, their paths are usually easily identified by the presence of their tracks or the subsequent slides within muddy areas that they leave behind. When such a path is discovered, a conibear of #220 in size or larger can be placed in the path of this trail. Brush can be placed on either side of the trap to force an otter to walk where desired.
Alternatively, if no land travel path can be located, nearby streams must be analyzed. If a small connecting waterway is located, a #220, #280, or #330 conibear can be placed within its path to catch otters that are in transition from one waterway to another. Catch rates can be increased by placing brush as necessary to direct the movements of otters transversing the given passage.
Latrine Site Sets
Otters have a distinct tendency to use common latrine areas. These areas are used as a communication hub of sorts by otters traveling through an area, as they deposit scent, as well as scat. Most otter within a given area will not pass these locations without paying a visit. Therefore, a trapper can take advantage of such locations by detecting their presence and setting traps accordingly.
Access points along the water’s bank, as well as viable trails that lead to and from such latrines, can be set using various size conibear traps. Conibear trap selection is much the same in regards to a latrine set, as it is to any of the other above-mentioned sets. Alternatively, foothold traps can be placed along these trails as well. Some of the most popular sizes of foothold traps for otter are #1.5 through #3 coil-spring traps.
As with many trap sets for otter, the placement of brush to direct travel through the location of the awaiting trap is key. This brush can consist of any number of objects, including limbs, branches, rocks, mounds of dirt, or decaying logs.
Additional Trap Selection Consideration
It is crucial to consult your state trapping regulations before utilizing conibear traps on land when constructing sets for otter. Some states mandate that no conibear over a certain size be placed out of water. While this is not the case in all states, the failure to consult location-specific regulations can lead to hefty fines and the confiscation of your traps.
There are also several items of consideration worth pondering when selecting foothold traps for otter. Beaver and otter trapping go together like a hand in a glove, and many trappers target both species simultaneously. If the opportunity to trap both species in one location exists on your line, trap selection must reflect so accordingly. Many trappers in this situation choose to utilize larger sized footholds, as anything smaller would lead to a missed catch if a beaver were to trip your set.
Additionally, foothold sets for otter should be wired to deeper water whenever possible. Pound for pound, otters are extremely hearty animals and can pull themselves from a trap and wreak havoc on equipment if not caught in a lethal manner.
Otter Taking Trap Sets
While trapping otter can often become a game of patience, those that make their sets count, stand a good chance of seizing upon the potential for success when a moment of opportunity arises. By utilizing the above-mentioned trap sets on your line this winter, you can place yourself in contention to maximize your catch and show efficiency when trapping the wary river otter.