To winnow some minnows

I haven’t gone fishing in a long time.  I remember the days when my family first moved to Arkansas.  At 10 years old, I fell in love with fishing.  Every day, when I got off the bus from school, I would put on my straw hat, grab my cane pole and a coffee can full of dog food for bait, and I would head down to the big pond by the road to catch some catfish.  The big ones I would take home to skin and put in the freezer or to have my mom cook for dinner.  I think more got frozen that cooked right up.  Somehow I guess my family got tired of catfish for dinner every night while waiting for me to tire of my new-found hobby.

In the years since college, especially the time we spent in New York City, I haven’t had many opportunities to go fishing.  I do remember one time in college when my friend Jason and I caught some blue gills and cooked them using our camp shovel as a frying pan.  But opportunities like that have not come often.

I would love to go fishing again, but having a 14 month-old at your side tends to make everything slower and more difficult, so I have started looking for projects that my son and I can do on our front porch or in our neighborhood.  That way, if he gets hungry or fussy or tired, then we don’t have to go far to find him some peace.

My friend Penny Scout over at the REWILD forum has started something called the Feral Failures Club, where the forum members try to work on experiments from a list of projects usually determined by Urban Scout’s weekly list of goals for his own self-rewilding project.  The club members expect to fail at most of their projects, but they also expect to learn some thing from their own–and each other’s–failures.  Most of the projects that the Scouts and the others started working on, though, seemed none too baby-friendly: boiling water with hot rock (which could explode–not to mention the boiling water and the open fire), making deadfall traps (falling rocks), making stone tools (more flying rock particles).  I mentioned that I wanted to join in on the clubs fun, but that I needed something less dangerous.  So Penny Scout shared this link about making a minnow trap from a couple of plastic soda bottles, and I realize that I could join the game.

“Plastic soda bottles?  Way to use your natural resources,” you comment with sarcastic indignation.

True, I’ll grant that these resources do not come naturally, but you can definitely find them readily available as a resource that we will continue to find in every neck of every woods for a long time after civilization has passed.  In fact, I did not have to go any farther than the creek in my own yard to find the materials I needed (Thanks, Civilization.)

According to the boy scout link that Penny shared, I would need 2 soda bottles (2 or 3 liter, as long as they match in size), some wire (I happened to have a lot of picture-hanging wire, but twist ties would work just as easily), a knife, a nail for poking holes, a lighter for heating up the nail to make it easier to poke holes through the bottles, and a pair of pliers for holding the hot nail (my knife and pliers came on the same $3 tool I bought at Wal-Mart.)


For the first step, you will need to cut the bottom off of one bottle and the top off of the other bottle.  You will keep the remaining bottle tops (on the right) and discard the bottle bottoms (on the left).

cut the bottles

If you have some extra bottles to cut up, you can also use them as an upright display stand for your friction fire spindles.

spindle stand

Make sure that only the larger bottle top has a lid and then fit the smaller bottle top into the cut end of the larger bottle top with both spouts pointing the same direction.

stick them together

Next, you will need to poke holes through both bottles at the open end in order to put the wire through and tie the two bottles securely together.  The boy scout article recommended using a nail heated in a flame in order to easily poke through the plastic.  I found that method difficult, unnecessary and more dangerous with my son around, so I just used the nail alone to poke through.  I tied the bottles together at 8 points.

tie the ends together

I decided to clip the wire ends to make them less pokey so that I don’t stab myself trying to get the trap out of the water.  And so my son couldn’t hurt himself as easily.

Behold the final product. 

final minnow trap

The trap works by letting the fish swim through the funnel end after some bait inside.  Once inside, the fish has a much smaller opening to navigate through in order to get out of the trap, which apparently they cannot do.  Once you catch something in your trap, you just have to open the lid in order to pour the minnows out.

You might also want to add some kind of string or cordage so that you can pull your trap up out of the water.  I would probably make one or more of the wire ties into a loop to attach the line to.  When pulling the trap out of the water, you want to pull the open end up first, as the water will leak around the joint otherwise.

“Well, what good do minnows do you, Rix?” you ask.  “You can’t eat them can you?”

You ask an excellent question, gentle reader.  While they may not provide much individually in the way of sustenance, in a survival situation you should welcome any food.  Also, Penny Scout plans to research the issue of minnow edibility to see if pickled, smoked, fermented, ground or stewed minnows serve well as an edible resource.  On the other hand, you can also always use your minnow catch as bait for larger fish.

A couple of the neighborhood kids and I tried out the trap in the creek that runs by my house.  We baited the trap with a piece of hot dog and submerged it in one of the deeper pools of the creek where we had seen fish swimming.  We waited a few hours with no success and then decided to leave the trap overnight.  Imagine our surprise when we discovered this little fellow the next morning.  He looks like a baby striped bass, perhaps.

one fishtwo fish

My son already wants to try to catch some more, and when I told him we’d have to wait until next weekend, he got very sad.

Poor little guy.  I better go tell him a long, boring bedtime story.

~ I wrote this post in e-prime ~


7 responses to this post.

  1. Did you eat the fish?


  2. I didn’t. The kids across the street that helped me wanted to keep it in their aquarium, so I let them take it home.


  3. Posted by mike on 05/01/2007 at 4:33 pm

    good to see that you are still trying to find the wilderness in the city.

    good luck



  4. i love this! i especially loved imagining a young 10-yr old rix going fishing every day after school. :)

    and i esPECially loved seeing the pictures of ADORABLE simon. wow. i cannot wait to meet him someday (and see you and susan!!)… :)


  5. Thanks for the insight!I’m going to add you to my favorites for future reference.If your members like bass fishing tales please send them my way.


  6. I made one of these last night from my own from found materials. I just used one jug with the lid cut and inverted, and used clothespins and Polyurethane glue dried overnight to secure the lid on inverted. Next I’m going to drill holes all in it so that the water and scent will go through it easily. Rocks in the bottom the weigh it down, and I’ve already found a minnow home at the base of a fallen stump where I will place it in the river.
    I’m also tying fishing flies and lures with found materials and it works great.


  7. i made one with a gatorade but instead of wire i used a stapler to close it i did try it but i have a feeling it going to work thanks for the idea and nice fish


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