Fish traps are as old as humans themselves. They date back to pre-historic hunter gatherer groups, and like many primitive tools, remain perfectly useful to this day.
A stout fish trap offers a fisherman many similar advantages that land-based traps offer hunters. The main advantage of a fish trap is that it allows you to catch fish while you’re off doing other chores or gathering other supplies or food. With a bit of time, a few vines, and some strong reeds or tree branches, you can easily build a fish trap to gather fish for you. This kind of trap can be the difference between life and death in dire situations, or can make running a homestead much easier. Here’s how you can build a working fish trap out of easy to find materials.
Collect your materials
You will need a survival knife or a sharp arrowhead as your primary tool. The fish trap will be constructed from about 20-40 dowels, tree branches or shoots, or strong reeds; and about 100 feet of pliable vine. Wisteria and kudzu runners are particularly good options for your vine. You will need to cut them from the main plant about a week before you want to construct your fish trap so they can dry out and shrink. If possible, some thick cord and strong string or twine are also very useful for this project.
You can use any type of circular object for the frame of your cage - vines, branches, whatever. We use food storage lids in our pictures.
Build the shell
Using the thickest parts of your vines, make three hoops that are about nine or ten inches in diameter. We cut out the tops of food storage lids and used those instead.
The string will be useful for tying the ends of each hoop together, but if you don’t have this available, use more vine to secure the ends of each hoop. Be sure to tightly tie the ends so there is no risk of them coming apart when fish are in the trap.
Next, connect all of the dowels (or branches/tree shoots) at one end to one of the hoops using an alternating weave with more vines. Repeat this process with the second hoop in the center of the reeds, and again with the third hoop at the remaining end to build a cylinder-shaped trap.
You'll want to spread out the dowels or branches evenly after you've completed your weave.
Secure the end
Close off one end of the trap (it doesn’t matter which) by placing smaller dowels/branches across it and securing them between the ends of the lengthwise dowels. Then, weave more vine over and under these dowels to create a mesh that is too small for fish to escape through but that will still allow water to flow through it. Secure the mesh to the hoop with more vine (or use twine if you have it).
Build the funnel entrance
A cone-shaped funnel is the key to a successful fish trap. It will allow fish to enter the trap, but prevent them from leaving it. Using short vine, make another hoop that is slightly smaller in diameter than the cylinder so that you can push it snugly into the trap.
Attach short dowels/branches of irregular lengths to the hoop, securing them with twine or vines. Weave more twine or vines around the middle of these pieces to form them into a cone shape. Push the funnel into the trap, teeth first, and secure it by tying it to the sides of the trap with vines or twine.
Bait and set the trap
Bait the trap using a piece of rotten meat or fish or several worms. Tie the bait to a piece of string and then to the inside of the trap so that it hangs down near the center. If you find that you are losing bait without catching any fish, this is probably because small fish are able to enter and exit the trap. Build a small box using more vines around the bait, and hang this from the center of the trap.
Place the trap in a lake, stream, or river, and secure it to the bottom with a rock. If you are placing it in a stream or river, configure it so that the opening of the trap faces upstream; this will make it even harder for fish that enter it to swim back out. Check it on a regular basis. To harvest your catch, remove the trap from the water, allow the fish to asphyxiate, and then simply open the funnel with your hand, and dump the fish out.