Open Water Otter Sets With Conibears

With any kind of trapping you must first do some pre-scouting. This is even more important with otter. Otter leave very little sign. Most land trails that leave the water and go any distance from the water will probably have otter traveling them, especially if they lead to another water source. Look for otter scat or what can be called a toilet. Otter will use these spots and they can be very small or cover a large area. Look for scales and small bones, if there are crawfish in your area you will find undigested crawfish parts at these toilets.

In the following sets we are going to deal with conibear type traps: 330s, 280s, and 220s

So you, as the trapper, will be responsible for checking your State trapping regulations as to any size and or placement restrictions for conibear traps.


Stabilizing the Conibear

There are all kinds of manufactured conibear holders out there and they all work to some degree. I just never have seen the need to use them at beaver or otter sets. I have always been able to find a beaver peel stick, or some other type of stick, to use to stabilize the trap. I also use a lot of tobacco stakes. In most cases, two sticks pushed down through the springs and close to the jaws, with the springs pulled down tight to the bottom, will hold your trap in a solid position. I think it is very important to keep the sticks as low to the water as possible. This placement will keep the set looking natural and will also allow the animal to get the trap off the sticks and be out of sight. In most cases it will also keep the animal out of the channel or crossover. Anchor your traps so they will be secure, beaver and otter are very strong animals.

The Trap

For most all-around otter trapping, the 330 would be your best choice. But there will be times that a 280 or 220 would be the better choice. Size of trail or den entrance and State regulations will determine the trap size.

Cross Beaver Dams

Live Dams: Some crossovers will be very noticeable, you will have flow of water over the dam . Both beaver and otter will use these spillways. But not all otter will use these obvious spillways, so you must look for any secondary crossovers. These may not be so obvious, but in most cases there will be some secondary crossovers. Look closely at the ends of the dams, in some cases the otter will cross over on dry land at these points. If at all possible, you should set both the high side and the low side of the crossover . This will give you chances at doubles and if a beaver gets caught in one trap, you still have a chance for any otter with the second trap. If you have beaver at these dams donít try and change the upper side of the crossover. If you increase the flow of water you will just cause the beaver to plug the flow. Leave it natural.

The High Side of the Dam: If you donít have enough water to get the conibear halfway submerged at the crossover, you can dig down at the face of the dam and create a trench to place the conibear. Just donít increase the flow. When an otter or beaver is swimming it will be very low in the water so the trap should be placed about 4Ē to 5Ē out of the water. I always place the dogged jaw on the bottom, this will allow you to bend the trigger wires in the shape of a ďTĒ and allow them to be just under water. We donít want the wires to be visible. Make sure the dog can move freely so the trap will go off. I like to use a little guiding at these sets. I also think it helps to break up the outline of the trap. I take some dead branches and place them so the tops are just above the water by a few inches. I will place them about 8Ē to 10Ē in front of the trap and also on both sides. This will line up the otter or beaver as it approaches the trap.

There will be times when you will run into what I call square-shy animals and they will refuse to go through a conibear that is above water. We will deal with this when we cover foot hold sets.

Low side of Dams: At the low side we can arrange the spillway to fit our situation. I like ay to fit our situation. I like to keep the trap completely submerged by using two dive poles, one above the trap and one below the trap, this will ensure that a beaver or otter coming from either direction will dive through the trap. Have these poles about 8Ē or 10Ē from the trap. Make sure they are fastened in place so they wonít float away. In this situation the trigger wires can be arranged to close off the opening as best you can, and you can keep the dog on top.

The angle of the trap placement at these locations is very critical. If you are setting on the face of the dam, the trap should be placed at the same angle as the face of the dam. Donít place the trap straight up and down, what this does is close off the opening to the trap and will cause the animal to hit the jaws as it swims through. I think this is a big reason for sprung traps. If your trap is away from the dam, then the trap can be placed vertically.

If you are trapping a beaver pond that has gone dead, you can rearrange the spillway to your advantage. You can even create your own spillway.


Channel sets and pinch points away from the dam

The water below the dam may be 3 or 4 feet deep and there may be a channel leading away from the dam. Set several traps spaced out in this channel. Keep them on the bottom, you wonít need dive poles at these sets. These channels arenít big producers of otter but will take beaver and the occasional otter. If you have shallow water, letís say a foot or less, you can place the trap on the bottom and use the dive poles. Pinch points are narrow areas that are natural, or made by the trapper, to narrow the stream. If the stream is over 4 foot wide donít waste your time trying to narrow it down. If the stream is shallow and has a current, try and block the stream so the current will flow through your narrowed down spot. The otter will naturally follow the current as it swims.

Any small streams that flow into the main stream should be blocked with a conibear. Here is where your smaller 280ís and 220ís can be used.  In some cases these small streams will be very shallow and your trap will be half out of the water, This is okay, but some otter are square-shy . So what you want to do is place some brush on the front and back sides of the trap. The brush should be placed about 10Ē away from the trap and about 5Ē above the water line. This will break up the outline of the trap and it wonít be so noticeable to the otter. Donít over do this, just keep it subtle and natural. Just remember, donít overdo this blocking and camouflage.

Dry Land Crossovers

Your state regulations will dictate if you can use conibears on dry land, and what size. This is where the 220 might just fit the bill. You can place the trap anywhere in the trail, but use the narrowest place you can find. A small bit of camouflage can be used to break up the outline of the trap. Remember trap placement.

If the trail is flat, the trap can be vertical to the surface of the trail. If the trail or slide is very steep, then the trap needs to be placed so it is at the same angle as the trail or slide. If you canít use a conibear on dry land, you can place it in the water.

But, what if the bank drops off into 3í of water, and the law says your trap has to be completely submerged?  This is how to solve that problem:  Take your tile spade and shave down the slide so you have a U shaped hollow under water. This will get your trap closer to the bank when you place the trap. Take your stabilizer, or your sticks, and push them into the bank. Start them about 5Ē under water, and when they are pushed in solid, the ends should be above the water line. Place your trap on the stabilizer with the dogged jaw to the bank. Donít push it tight to the bank, there needs to be enough room for the dog to move so the trap will spring. Now push down on the trap until it about 2Ē under water. You have now created the perfect widow for the otter to dive through.

BUT, what if the otter comes from the water and is going up the slide? He would probably swim over the trap, most likely springing the trap with his hind feet, and you would probably miss him. Here is where you place your dive pole. If you have dug the U shaped hollow deep enough, the trap jaws will be about 5Ē from the bank. Take a piece of wood that is about 4Ē in diameter and about a foot long. Lay this wood up against the free jaws and, either push some sticks down in front of it so it wonít float away, or tie it to the bank with some wire. Now we have the otter diving under the dive pole and right up through the trap for a perfect catch. The 220 or 280 would be my choice in this situation but the 330 would work. You can use this trap placement at any slide as long as you have at least 12Ē of water.

Castor Mounds With 330s

You may be surprised at how many otter are caught at castor mound sets. This is the way I construct my castor mound sets. I like to find a natural indentation in the bank to guide the animal through the trap. But if you canít find these natural spots, just dig your own . You can also lay some large logs in the water to guide the animal. When you funnel the animal, try and pick spots or make them, so your trap will be about half way out of the water.

After I have found or built my funnel, I will place some mud and leaves about a foot from the waterís edge and directly in front of my funnel. Then I will place a lure on a dry stick and place it in the mound. This mound doesn't have to be very big, the beaver or otter will find it.

When you place the trap you want the dogged jaw on the bottom, this will let you bend the triggers in the shape of a ďTĒ and keep them just under the water. You donít want the beaver or otter to see the wires and you donít want them to have to push through them. When you stabilize the trap, keep your sticks short so they wonít be noticeable. The other reason for short stakes is when the beaver or otter is caught it will be able to get the trap off the stakes and be under water. A dead otter or beaver laying out of the water is a warning to other beaver or otter and also any passing bobcat or other animal may pull your catch up on the bank and destroy the hide.  Hereís where you can change your castor mound set and make it an otter toilet set. When youíre out on the line and you find these toilets, you will naturally set them up. But what you should also do is bag up some of this otter scat and create your own toilet at another location. However, these false toilets work even better if you carry this scat to another watershed and make sets. If you donít use the scat right away, freeze it for later use. The use of otter scat at the castor mound set will make it more effective for otter.

Trapping Beaver Ponds

If the pond still holds beaver, then trapping otter in the deep channels and den entrances will be a waste of time. If the pond has been abandoned for awhile, it will be a real otter magnet.

330s placed in the deep channels leading to the den entrances, or in the entrances, will make some very deadly sets. The use of deep channels in other locations is a fairly hit or miss situation.

There are other sets and tricks that will take otter, but the above mentioned sets and locations are very effective, easy to construct, and will fill your stretchers.