Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Outdoorsmen Needed For New Survival TV Show

I get contacted a lot by production companies asking me to participate in different survival/outdoor shows. I personally don’t have an interest in a TV career, or the industry at all, so I decline the offers. Sometimes I refer the producers to guys who I know are interested in the shows. Some of the offers are very specific to me, but others are quite general. I just got one this week that was pretty general, so I figured I would share it with you in case anyone is interested in applying.

AOS flyer Jpeg engineer 

The show is being produced by RAW TV Ltd, a UK based production company. They currently produce Gold Rush for the Discovery Channel.

The show is going to feature three guys who are placed in different survival situations. Currently the goal is to have them survive using “the tools of the past”, although I don’t know if that qualification will survive the cut. The same three guys are going to stay on for the entirety of the show. They are looking for people with different outdoor backgrounds.

If you are interested, and want to apply or learn more about the show, email RAW TV at

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tenkara vs. Western Fly Fishing – A Beginner’s Perspective

This past year I started getting more interested in fly fishing as well as fishing in general. I’m not the type of guy who stays awake at night thinking about fishing, so my needs are simple. After some research I put together a spinning set up that I can easily carry into the woods, and I have been happy with it. Fly fishing however has been a bit more complicated. As a beginner, I have found it difficult to get good information on the subject. Almost all perspectives that I saw were absurdly bias towards one or other of the methods, to a degree where they seemed like bad infomercials… “Has this ever happened to you?!…Then buy our product!”… with the only answer coming to mind being “No! This has never happened to me, because I’m not an idiot!”

The main division, at least from the view point of someone who is new to the activity is between western fly fishing and tenkara fly fishing. Choosing which way to go when purchasing a first rod and fly fishing set up has been difficult.

From what I have been able to see, people’s views on any form of fly fishing are a dubious mixture of about 1/3 facts, 1/3 mysticism, and 1/3 fascination with the exotic. I found it very difficult to get straight answers from anyone who subscribed to a particular form of fly fishing. All the answers seemed light on facts and heavy on concepts of art, spirituality, purity of form, etc. Listening to someone justify why they tenkara fly fish, or fly fish with a western set up, is like listening to someone read from a sales catalog for a particular brand, or worse, as an orientation session for a monastery. As a simpleton, whose interest in fishing begins and ends with catching fish, none of the answers were particularly satisfying for me. As such, I figured I would share with you what I have been able to find and experience over the last year before I too get “spiritually” involved in any particular type of fly fishing and lose perspective. 

The first hurdle in finding any factual information about either style of fishing is actually figuring out what the style of fishing entails. It sounds like it should be simple, but it’s not. Once you move past the obvious, that western fly fishing set ups use a reel, while tenkara fly fishing set ups do not, the rest is not that clear. Many statements are made about what is required for western fly fishing and for tenakra fly fishing, but none of it seems to stand up to closer scrutiny. For this post, in order to get some perspective on the two forms of fishing, I figured I would find out a bit more about their history and evolution. As with all my posts that involve history, this is just a quick overview based on information I have been able to find. Do not take it as the definitive guide to the history of the activity.

Western Fly Fishing:

Western fly fishing, or commonly referred to as just fly fishing is defined as “a method of fishing in which an artificial fly is cast by use of a fly rod, a reel, and a relatively heavy oiled or treated line.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. At its very core, fly fishing is a form of fishing using an artificial fly as a lure. Western fly fishing can then be further delineated to reflect the use of a rod, reel and fly line to cast that artificial fly. None of this however popped into existence in a vacuum.

The first clearly recorded instance of fly fishing is that by the Roman author Ælian circa 200 A.D. in his work Ælian’s Natural History. In there he describes a method of fishing seen in Macedonia:

I have heard and can tell of a way of catching fish in Macedonia, and it is this. Between Beroea and Thessalonica there flows a river called the Astraeus. Now there are in it fishes of a speckled hue, but what the natives call them, it is better to enquire of the Macedonians. Now these fish feed upon the flies of the country which flit about the river and which are quite unlike flies elsewhere; they do not look like wasps, nor could one fairly describe this creature as comparable in shape with what are called Anthêdones (bumble-bees), nor even with actual honey-bees, although they possess a distinctive feature of each of the aforesaid insects. Thus, they have the audacity of the fly; you might say they are the size of a bumble-bee, but their colour imitates that of a wasp, and they buzz like a honeybee. All the natives call them Hippurus. These flies settle on the stream and seek the food that they like; they cannot however escape the observation of the fishes that swim below. So when a fish observes a Hippurus on the surface it swims up noiselessly under water for fear of disturbing the surface and to avoid scaring its prey. Then when close at hand in the fly's shadow it opens its jaws and swallows the fly, just as a wolf snatches a sheep from the flock, or as an eagle seizes a goose from the farmyard. Having done this it plunges beneath the ripple. Now although fishermen know of these happenings, they do not in fact make any use of these flies as baits for fish, because if the human hand touches them it destroys the natural bloom; their wings wither and the fish refuse to eat them, and for that reason will not go near them, because by some mysterious instinct they detest flies that have been caught. And so with the skill of anglers the men circumvent the fish by the following artful contrivance. They wrap the hook in scarlet wool, and to the wool they attach two feathers that grow beneath a cock's wattles and are the colour of wax. The fishing-rod is six feet long, and so is the line. So they let down this lure, and the fish attracted and excited by the colour, comes to meet it, and fancying from the beauty of the sight that he is going to have a wonderful banquet, opens wide his mouth, is entangled with the hook, and gains a bitter feast, for he is caught.Aelian On Animals, Vol XV, 1. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press (1972) p 203-4.

In short, Ælian describes a method of fishing where an artificial fly is tied to a six foot line, which in turn is tied to a six foot rod, and then the fly is presented to the fish either by casting or lowering down to the surface of the water.

There are sporadic references to fly fishing after that period, but no complete text on the matter until the publication of Treatyse of Fysshynge With an Angle as part of The Boke of St. Albans in 1496. The writing is often attributed to Dame Juliana Berners, but not confirmed.


The text is not the easiest to dead, but they say a picture says a thousand words. The above picture should give you a good idea of the set up. The book gives instruction on construction of a rod, a line made form braided horse fair, and it gives direction from twelve artificial flies, two for each month from March till August.

While the technique for producing the equipment is better outlines, and the rods seems to exceed twelve feet, the method appears to be very similar to that described by Ælian circa 200 A.D.

That starts to change in the 17th century with the publication of The Complete Angler by Izaac Walton in 1653. Other writers from that same time, including Charles Cotton, who wrote a chapter on fly fishing in the fifth addition of The Complete Angler, Thomas Barker who wrote Barker's Delight or The Art of Angling in 1659, and Colonel Robert Venables who published The Experienc'd Angler in 1662.

The tools and methods remained much the same. Rods lengths were extended, at times up to eighteen feet. The line was still made of horse hair, now twisted, tapering so that it thins out towards the front of the line (down to three horse hairs). While lines were most often tied to the tip of the rod, there are some references about anglers leaving the line untied and simply threading it through a loop at the tip of the rod, controlling the extra line with their left hand. That made the floating of the line downstream for considerable distances possible. “The typical seventeenth century fly fisherman used a twisted horsehair line, tapered from seven hairs or more at the thickest part down to three hairs or less at the point. All lines were home-made, and although horsehair was the rule, pure silk, and silk/horsehair mixes were used on occasion. The line was usually fixed to the top of the rod, in which case the length was less than twice the length of the rod. Some anglers allowed the line run free through a loop at the tip of the rod, the free line being held in the angler's hand..A Fly Fishing History by Dr. Andrew Herd

The availability of fly patterns, and differentiation by region significantly expanded during that period. Charles Cotton lists sixty five trout flies in his writings, covering every month of the year.

The following century brought about incremental innovations to different components. Untreated gut began to be used as a leader, running rings along the length of the rod became available, so that line could be fed, and rudimentary reels came into use.

The western fly fishing kit with which we are currently familiar did not come into full existence until the late 19th century. With improvements to line and rod resigns, false casting and the upstream casting of dry flies became possible. Reels finally began to resemble the ones we see today. The ability to cast the line over longer distance lead to shortening of the rod to lengths near ten feet and below. “The years 1851 to 1900 were a time of enormous change in the fly fishing world. In those fifty years, the conventions of centuries would be swept away. The false cast was discovered, the dry fly technique emerged, split cane rods were perfected, and reels that we would appreciate as "modern" appeared. In 1851, there were those who fished the fly and bait using the same rod. By 1900, specialised rods for dry fly fishing were on the market, and no-one would have dreamed of using a fly rod for anything other than its intended purpose…The wind of change began to blow in 1857, when Stewart, a young Scotsman, advocated upstream wet fly fishing with for 'a light stiff, single-handed rod, about ten feet long.' This, the discovery of the false-cast early in the decade, and the beginnings of dry fly fishing, began the trend towards shorter trout rods that led to the nine to ten foot split-cane rods of Halford's generation.A Fly Fishing History by Dr. Andrew Herd

Tenkara Fly Fishing:

Tenkara is “a Japanese method of fly-fishing, which uses only a rod, line and fly”. TankaraUSA. The basic definition of tenkara fly fishing is easy to give, i.e. it is fly fishing without a reel, but a more detailed definition presents a lot of problems. The reason is that there is a lot of debate about exactly what the defining characteristics of tenkara actually are. When it comes to both equipment and technique consensus is hard to find on what is “true tenkara” and what is not. The question becomes even more problematic because what is considered tenkara in Japan is not always the same as what is considered tenkara in the US.

The first recorded mention of tenkara fly fishing comes from Sir Ernest Satow in 1878. In his diaries on July 24, 1878 he writes “Last night we had for dinner capital fish called iwana caught in the Kurobe-gawa, with a fly made of cock’s feathers, weighing ¾ lbs.” A Diplomat in Japan Part II: The Diaries of Ernest Satow, 1870-1883, 2009. Combined with the fact that Sir Satow spent much time traveling in high mountain areas, including the time when the above passage was written, it is generally accepted that this is the first written account of tenkara fly fishing.

Now, obviously tenkara fishing did not originate with Sir Satow. It is speculated that it dates back to the 7th century, or even further back, but as tenkara was a fishing method primarily used by villagers and small scale fishermen in the mountains of Japan, who were largely unable to write, no record has survived.

It is also important to note that while records of tenkara fly fishing are rare, there are well documented accounts of other forms of fly fishing or kebari turi in Japan. The most prominent method was ayu fly fishing, which was practiced in the lowlands, and was adopted by many of the samurai. Those forms of fly fishing involved the tying of intricate flies, which elevated the craft to an art form. 

Even the term “tenkara” is an invention that originated in the 19th century. Clearly the form of fly fishing exited prior to that point, but the term can not be traced much further back, and was likely created to describe an existing for of fishing.

The equipment of the tenkara fisherman seems to have consisted of a long bamboo rod, of about fifteen to twenty feet in length. The line was made of braided horse hair.

It is difficult to speak of “true” tenkara because there probably wasn’t such a thing until very recently. Tenkara was a commercial form of fly fishing practiced in villages in high mountain areas of Japan. The defining characteristic of the fishing method during that whole period of its development was to simply catch fish. As a result, people did whatever produced the highest yield. There was little focus of the sporting aspect of the activity or any philosophy behind it. It is likely that after the 17th century, tenkara began adopting some elements from other forms of fly fishing such as ayu, which perhaps lead to some degree of stylization. Very likely however, tenkara did not emerge as a unified style of fly fishing until very recently when it could stop being a tool for commercial fishing, and could become a sport or leisure activity.

In an interview given by Yoshikazu Fujioka to Jason Klass on January 23, 2013, he states “Although this is my view, the history of fishing started in order to obtain food. Especially “kebari fishing” in the mountain village in Japan has been performed in order to obtain fish efficiently. (But I think “kabari fishing” that court nobles and a samurai performed at the Edo period had the element of game.)…There is the rule in fly fishing but there is not it in tenkara fishing. Young people are interested in flyfishing or lure fishing. I think that it is largely based on fashionability or the element of game. Those elements are not in tenkara fishing so much. I am thinking that in order for tenkara fishing to become popular, fashionability or the element of game become the key.”

The utilitarian nature of tenka fishing makes it difficult to speak of what it actually is without first turning it into a sport and adding stylized elements. That has been done to a large degree in the US, but from what I have seen, is not the case in Japan.

In our modern attempt to discover “true” tenkara fishing, we have distorted many elements of this very diverse form of fly fishing. For example, there has been quite a bit of talk about how tenkara fly fishing uses only a single fly, called the kebari. That notion is very far removed from the roots of tenkara. It is true that early accounts of tenkara fly fishing seem to imply that fisherman used a very limited assortment of flies, or even just one design. That however is not an element of tenkara, but simply a product of where the fishing was done. Most tenkara fishermen fished in the streams near their own village. As such, they knew what fly worked, and used it repeatedly. Additionally, as with all fly fishing, there is an understanding that if your presentation is poor, no fly design is going to help you. Again, that is not an element of tenkara, but rather is an element of all fly fishing. The reality is that there were and still are many different variations of flies used in tenkara fly fishing, and they varied from village to village and from stream to stream. Here are just a few examples provided by Yoshikazu Fujioka:


The notion that a tenkara angler would insist on using the same fly while fishing from the mountain streams of Japan to the waters of the Delaware River, despite of what the fish are actually biting on, is completely inconsistent with the origins of tenkara, i.e. commercial fishing, and is a modern element of sport that has been added in recent years. Conversely, the notion that a western fly fisherman continuously changes flies throughout the day is absurd. It is very common for a western fly fisherman to fish the whole day with a single fly for the same reasons why a tenkara fisherman may do so. 

Just like with western fly fishing, recent technological development have also altered the fishing method. The introduction of carbon fiber rods and monofilament line, have made things like overhand casting fully possible with a tenkara set up, something which would have been challenging with a bamboo rod and braided horse hair line.


So, why did I write all of this? My goal was to try to get to the core of each form of fly fishing by examining (however briefly) its origins and evolution. By doing that, it becomes easier to see what each form of fishing is all about, what it’s practical aspects are, and consequently, which of the things you read about each form of fishing are just fluff and hype.

Keeping that in mind, I will go through some of the relevant points I have seen made numerous times regarding both forms of fly fishing, and I will give you my opinion on them: 

  • Western fly rods take a very long time to set up compared to tenkara

Not true. Even as a beginner, it takes me less than 2 minutes to take out and set up my western style fly fishing kit. If it is taking you much longer than that, you have problems much larger than your fly fishing kit. Putting the reel in place takes about 10 seconds, and threading the line takes another 20 seconds. Even at a super relaxed pace, you should be completely set up in a few minutes. I’m sure that with a tenkara kit you can shave off a few seconds, but that’s about it. TenkaraUSA has a slogan “Only a rod, line and fly.” I suppose Orvis could have one that goes “Only a rod, reel, line and fly”. You have to look very closely to tell the difference. 

  • Tenkara fishing (as a set up) is cheaper than western fly fishing

No it’s not. The way people who make this point justify their assertion is to take a cheap tenkara rod and compare it to a top end western fly rod. If we look at comparable set ups, the two cost about the same. For example, the Patagonia Simple Fly Fishing 10’6” tenkara kit costs $280. An Orvis Clearwater outfit, including a 9’ rod, reel, fly line, backing, and case, will cost you the exact same amount. The Orvis Encounter outfit will run you about $160 for the same set up. Sure, I can spend thousands of dollars on a western fly fishing kit, but I can do the same for a tenkara kit. Sure, a tenkara set up made in China costs $300; how much would it cost to have a custom rod made in Japan by a respected maker and delivered to the US?

  • You can not cast a tenkara rod

Yes you can. You can cast a tenkara rod the same way you can cast a western fly rod. The main difference is that with a tenkara rod you can not extend the line during a cast (or at any other time for that matter). However, the same way you can cast a western fly rod with a fixed amount of line let out, so can you do it with a tenkara rod.

  • The fixed line limits tenkara rods to small bodies of water

Not exactly. It is true that the line is limited, but with a long tenkara rod (think 13’6” and up) you can cast just about as far as you would want to. All things being equal however, and using rods of the same length, the tenkara set up is at a disadvantage when trying to cast longer distances. The limited casting distance is indeed an issue, and can not be ignored, although in most cases it’s significance overrated.

  • Tenkara kit is simpler than a western fly fishing kit

No it’s not. Each kit can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Sure, western fly fishermen carry tons of gear, but that is not because of the method, or the set up used, but rather because they are looking for what works the best at any particular moment. You can fish a single fly on a western fly rod for the rest of your life just like you can do it with a tenkara rod. Similarly, you can make the tenkara kit as complicated as you want. The only real savings in terms of complexity of gear is the reel. However that’s one of those infomercial moments. Putting a reel on your rod is something that takes the average person under a minute and shouldn’t offer any challenge.

Similarly, selecting the equipment is just as challenging with either set up. It may be intimidating to walk into a fly fishing shop and start trying to select the right rod for you, so the slogan of “Only rod, line and fly” may seem very appealing. If you look however, you will see that there are just as many, if not more variations in tenkara rods than there are in western fly rods. Trying to balance the length, stiffness, and action index of a tenkara rod for your purposes is no easier than selecting a western fly rod.  

  • Tenkara kit is lighter and easier to backpack with

Somewhat. Just like with anything else, you can make selections to lower the weight of your kit, but neither kit is necessarily lighter. My western fly rod weighs 2.5oz, my reel weighs 3.2oz, my fly box weighs 1.7oz, and my rod case weighs 1.8oz. Together with line and a roll of tippet, the whole kit is under 10oz for a 5wt 9ft set up. If I wanted to I could make the kit even lighter. Can you go lighter with a tenkara kit. Probably. Can you make a tenkara kit much heavier? Of course you can. The tenkara set up saves you the weight of the reel, so if you are just as careful in your selections, a tenkara kit should end up being a few ounces lighter.   

  • Tenkara replaces gear with skill, making you a better fisherman

No it doesn’t. This now enters the realm of spiritual mumbo jumbo. A tenkara set up leaves out only a single piece of gear, the reel. That’s it. Everything else has a one-to-one equivalent on each set up. To compensate for the lack of reel, tenkara rods are generally longer. Whether you are skilled has very little to do with the rod you are using.

  • Tenkara allows for better control of the fly and for a better presentation

No it doesn’t. A particular person might be better with one set up rather than the other, but there is nothing inherent in the set up that makes control or presentation any better. Sure, if you are using a 13’6” tenkara rod, you will be able to more accurately place the fly at 15’ as compared to someone using a 8’6” western fly rod, but if we make things equal, and give the Tenkara fisherman a 8’6’ tenkara rod, the accuracy and presentation will be just about the same. Even with the different rod lengths, if we are talking about casting at 30’, the accuracy is about the same. On the other hand, I don’t see how it would be easier to position a fly five feet away from me with a 13’6” tenkara rod as opposed to a 8’6” western fly rod. If you have trouble placing a fly at a particular distance, then you can get a longer western fly rod just like you can a longer tenkara rod. Western style fly fishing variants like Czech nymphing are a perfect example where a longer western fly rod is used to present the fly using only the leader.


So, I’ve written all of the above to say the following: If your interest is catching fish, rather than participating in any sanctioned fishing related sport, then the differences between the two fly fishing methods start to become very vague. Each set up allows you to fish how you want to fish. If you like short rods, you can get a 8’6” tenkara rod as well as a western fly rod. If you like longer rods for better positioning your fly at longer distances, then you can get a 12” tenkara rod as well as a western fly rod. If you want to fish with a single fly for the rest of your life, you can do that with a tenkara set up as well as a western fly fishing set up. If you want to tie and use multiple flies, you can do it with either set up. By selecting the right gear, each set up can be specialized for fishing at close range in small bodies of water, or at long distance in large bodies of water. Each set up can be very expensive, or inexpensive (relatively speaking) depending on what quality you want. If you use the same techniques, each set up is just as easy or complex to use. Casting can be just as easy or just as complex with either set up depending on what you are trying to do.

The history of the two forms of fishing is very similar. A 18th century tenkara fly fishing set up is nearly identical to a 15th century western fly fishing set up. So, to claim that any particular characteristic is unique to tenkara fishing or western fly fishing is a stretch. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the same comparisons were being made by anglers. On one hand you had the older fly set ups (then western) of a long rod and line without a reel, and the more recently developed shorter rod and reel designs. The later won out for what I’m sure were complex reasons. Either method however can be used to give you the desired effect. How you fish and where you fish might guide you to one form or the other. If you fish at fixed distance, whether it be short or long distance, a tenkara rod will work just fine. If you want to make a lot of transitions between short and long distance then a western fly set up might be a better call. Everything else you can adjust and modify to suit your needs. The fish don’t know if your fishing style is “pure” and “true” or not. 

That is not to say that there are no differences between the two methods, or that both would be equally suited to every person and every situation. My point is that the dramatic disntinctions that are made so often in justificaiton for one’s gear choice don’t always line up with the facts. I know what set up I would chose if I could only have one rod, and it wouldn’t be a tenkara set up. That being said, I’m sure I can be just as poor of a fisherman with a tenkara set up.

This of course is just a practical perspective on the subject from the view point of a beginner. How special you feel, or how meditative your state is when you use either method is a personal call.   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trap Types and Selective Trapping Methods

There is a certain perception out there that traps are traps; that you just put them out there and wait to see what gets caught; and that a trapper will catch any animal that happens to be in the area and is drawn to the trap set. In reality that is far from the truth. Modern trappers are required to be very selective, and there is a wide range of technology and techniques which allow for such selectivity.

While it would be hard to explain in detail without making the post too lengthy, in brief, the type of trap you use, the size trap you use, how you adjust the trap, how you set the trap, where you set the trap, and what bait and lures you use will have a huge impact on what animal you will trap. Much like a hunter carefully selects the weapon he will use for the particular hunt, properly zeroes in the optics, and makes sure they are adequate for the desired shot, a trapper will use the appropriate type and size traps, placed in proper sets, and with proper bait to make sure the target animal is captured. Just like a responsible hunter wouldn’t go black bear hunting with a .22LR rifle, or take a 700 yard shot with iron sights, or go pheasant hunting with a rifle, a responsible trapper would make sure the trap sets are targeted towards the animal he intends to trap.

While accidents can always happen, much of the reports you see from anti-trapping organizations are the result of poor and irresponsible trapping technique, not of trapping itself. For example, there is absolutely no reason why a household cat would ever have its foot caught in a #2 foothold trap (a trap with jaw diameter of 5 1/2 inches designed for coyote, fisher, and larger furbearers). Either the trapper who set the trap did not bother at all to make a proper set, including adjusting the pan tension (the amount of weight you have to place on the trap before it triggers), or the example was staged by an anti-trapping organization for publicity, an act that happens with disturbing regularity.

As I mentioned above, it would be impossible to give a complete tutorial on proper trapping techniques for different animals, nor am I knowledgeable enough to give such a lesson. This post is just intended for those who are not at all familiar with trapping, to get some background on what traps, trap sizes, and basic techniques exist out there to make responsible and selective catches.

So, let’s start with a brief look at the type of traps that are commonly used.

Foothold Traps

Foothold traps have been around for a very long time. The mountain men used them to trap beaver, and they are my preferred way of trapping.

You may have heard these type of traps referred to as leghold traps, but the proper term really is “foothold”. The trap uses two jaws that slide up with the use of springs or arms on the side of the trap, and are designed to catch the animal by the foot. If the trap is catching the animal on the leg, then it is not properly sized for the animal.

Modern foothold traps use coil springs to push up arms on the side of the trap, which close the jaws. As a result, they are called Coil Spring Traps.

Coil Spring

An older version of these traps, but still very effective and in use are the Long Spring Traps. They get their name because instead of coil springs, they use two long springs on the side of the trap to push up the jaws.

Long Spring

Foothold traps come in different sizes, designed for different target animals. Just like you wouldn’t use a rifle chambered in .17HMR to hunt deer, or a rifle chambered in .308 to hunt squirrel, you wouldn’t use a #1 (about 4 inch jaw spread) foothold trap on a wolf or a #4 (about 6 1/4 jaw spread) trap on a mink.

The traps come with different types of jaws, ranging from padded jaws to offset jaws (jaws that leave a gap when closed).

Additionally, on most foothold traps (certainly on the modern ones), you can adjust the pan tension. The pan is the center portion of the trap where the animal has to step in order to trigger it. The pan can be adjusted to be triggered by different weights. So, if you are trapping coyote, you can put a pan tension of about 4 pounds, which would mean that a coyote will trigger the trap, but a lighter animal like a raccoon or mink or household cat will not.

Furthermore, how the trap is set will make a big difference in what animal you catch. Placing the bait the proper distance from the trap to account for the stride of the target animal will make a difference, so will the area where the trap is placed, as well as the bait used. While individually none of these solutions are perfect, combined, a foothold trap can be a very selective devise.

Lastly, there is a common perception that an animal will chew off its leg when caught is such a trap in order to escape. That doesn’t actually happen. A trapped animal will not just pick a spot on its leg above the trap and chew through it in order to get away. What does happen, if a trap is not properly sized is that an animal caught in a trap that is too large, will eventually have the caught part of the foot go numb. At that point the animal starts to treat it as part of the trap rather than it’s own body. If the trap is too large, the animal will be able to get its mouth into the parts of the trap where it’s foot is caught, and in an attempt to bite at the trap, it can bite off that part of its foot. That can be completely avoided by using properly sized traps for the target animal so that it can not get its jaws in the area of the trap where the foot is caught, or by using traps such as stop-loss or double jaw traps which similarly prevent the animal from getting to the area where its foot is held.

A properly sized and set foothold trap will not cause any damage to the animal. After all, these traps were originally designed to make trappers money from the furs they trapped. If the result was compound fractures and torn skin, those trappers would not have been able to  make a living.

Body Grip Traps (Conibears)

Body grip traps are a more modern innovation. They are sometimes referred to as Conibear traps after their inventor and came about as an attempt to address the concerns people had with the perceived cruelty of foothold traps. In effect, body grip traps are oversized rat traps designed to kill the animal outright when it is caught.

Body Grip 

The traps use one or two springs on the side of the jaws to close them when an animal passes through the trap. The jaws are supposed to catch the animal by the neck or spine, killing it instantly.

Just like with foothold traps, body grip traps come in different sizes. Manufacturers use different designations, but in general terms a 110 body grip trap will have a jaw span of about 4 1/2 inches, and be designed to catch mink and muskrat, a 220 will have a jaw spread of about 7 inches and be intended for raccoon and similarly sized animals, a 330 will have a jaw spread of about 10 inches and be designed primarily for beaver and otter. There are sizes and variations in between, and each manufacturer has slightly different sizing. A responsible trapper will use the appropriate trap size for the target animal. The same way you wouldn’t hunt turkey with 1oz #8 shot shells, you wouldn’t trap raccoon with a 110 body grip trap.

Body grip traps are generally ineffective on canines and cats because they are unwilling to stick their heads through the trap.

Just like with foothold traps, using the proper size trap is important, and it’s even more important with body grip traps where the goal is to instantly kill the animal. If the trap is too small for the animal you are targeting, it may not kill it.

Here as well, the way the trap is set makes a difference. For example, while you can bait the trap directly as you would with a rat trap, that can lead to unintended catches like birds. That can be avoided by placing the bait away from the trap, requiring that the animal walk through it before it can get caught. Similarly, placing the trap on a leaning pole will preclude canines from being caught as they usually will not climb up a tree. 

Other tricks like offsetting the trigger to one side can allow smaller animals to pass through while still catching the intended furbearer.

Dog Proof Traps

Dog proof traps are specifically designed raccoon traps that will not catch dogs. They are a specialized trap that gets used a lot in residential areas where raccoons can be a problem, but there are also a lot of domestic dogs.


The trap works as a foothold trap, but prevents dogs from being caught because it requires that the animal stick its paw inside the trap. Raccoons have opposing thumbs and will reach into holes to get the bait, while a dog will not. They are a very effective trap, and are a good tool when trapping needs to be done in populated areas.


Snares are one of the oldest methods for trapping. They work by getting an animal to walk through a noose, and tighten it when the animal pulls away.


Many states don’t allow snares. My state does not, so I don’t have experience with using them. As such I can’t give you many details or personal observations on their use.

Modern snares do incorporate safety features designed to avoid non target animals. Brake-away links and locks can increase the chance of an effective kill or the release larger non target animals such as a deer that might have gotten its foot caught in the snare.

Snares are rarely seen on trap lines (at least from what I’ve beet told by people who trap where snaring is allowed) because they are not very cost effective. They get easily damaged, and if you plan on running a line all season, replacing them can get costly.

Cage Traps

The last type of trap that is used with some frequency is the cage trap. As the name indicates, the traps work by catching the animal within a cage.


These traps can be very effective on some animals like woodchuck, and not others. They are generally used in residential areas where a particular animal has to be captured. Running a full trap line with cage traps would not be desirable, even if possible, just because of the size of each trap.

The benefit of cage traps is that they do not harm the animal in any way, so in residential areas where the land owners are worried about numerous pets running around, cage traps are a good option.

The above is just a quick run down of the most popular traps used, and some general background on the methods and technology utilized by responsible trappers to assure proper catches. When done correctly, a trapper will be just as selective about his gear, tools and techniques as a responsible hunter, to make sure that the equipment is properly designed for the targeted animal, and that the techniques employed will protect non-target wildlife.

State regulations further ensure proper catches. Many limit trap sizes that can be used, how the triggers must be set, or how the traps can be placed. Just as an example, in NY State I can use 220 body grip traps, but I must set them at least 4 feet above the ground or in box containers with limited openings. That regulation is designed to avoid the capture of dogs. Similarly because our otter season is shorter than our beaver season, when using 330 body grip traps for beaver outside of otter season, the trigger has to be offset to allow otters to pass through while still being triggered by beaver. 

There are many, many technical aspects of the trap designs and their use which trappers utilize and take into consideration. Many even modify their own traps to make them more effective. In later posts I will try to address some of the specifics.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trip Report: Neversink River Fly Fishing 8/15/14 – 8/16/14

Alright, so here is another short trip report. We’ve been trying to hit the trout hard this year, and this past weekend we gave the Neversink River a try. The crew consisted of me, Rich, and his brother James. Since they couldn’t stay out on Sunday, we decided to go up on Friday night after work, so we can have the whole day to fish.

By the time we got to the forest is was dark. We fumbled our way through the woods for a while, eventually finding a clear enough area to set up camp.


It wasn’t raining, so we did just a basic set up. I just put down my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Rich and James hung up their hammocks. The night was fine. Rich ended up being cold because he forgot his under-quilt. Temperatures were about 50F (10C). In the morning we packed up, ate, and headed for the river.


We weren’t sure what to expect from the river. I had read that further up river the Blue Winged Olives were hatching, but we were quite a bit further down on the river. All three of us tried some form of nymphing. I stuck with an emerging Caddis for most of the day. Rich and James tried a bunch of other combinations. Unfortunately, we weren’t having much luck. All of the Caddis flies appeared to be in pupa stage, and the trout weren’t biting on the nymphs.


I hooked one early in the morning after wading my way across the river to reach a spot I had my eye set on. Unfortunately he was a big one, and I wasn’t prepared. He jumped up, then quickly tucked into a fast current, and immediately snapped my line. I was using 6X tippet for a better presentation, but it snapped it clean through. I switched to 5X for the rest of the day, but luck wasn’t on my side. Rich and James each hooked once as well.


We did a lot of moving up and down the river. There was a lot of fast moving water, and a bunch of good spots, but the fish weren’t biting. Lunch was our only consolation.




The rest of the day wasn’t much different. A lot of moving around; a lot of trying; and not much luck.


And that’s it. Long day of fishing without much to show for it. I’m sure in a week or two the dry’s will be out, and things will change quite a bit.

If any of you are interested, I can try to put together a post on my fly fishing gear. I have just basic stuff, but so far it has been working out okay. My kit is also small enough that together with my waders fits inside my 40L pack, which has made reaching certain areas quite easy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trapping and The Modern Woodsman

Ooooh, trapping; the final frontier. I’ve been writing this blog for years now and have avoided the subject this whole time because it has become rather controversial. About a year ago I started writing a bit more on this blog about hunting. As I stated then, I consider it an important part of woodsmanship, and simply wanted to be able to share my trip reports when hunting was involved. So far there hasn’t been much controversy over that, so I’ve decided to introduce another aspect of my outdoor activities, trapping.


Yes, I am a licensed trapper in the State of New York. I am a member of The New York State Trappers Association. I would say I am a slightly better trapper than I am a hunter, although that isn’t saying much. It is however something that I do, and at times it overlaps with my trips into the forests, and in fact this overlap is the area that I am interested in exploring through this blog.

Now, I understand that most people are very far removed from trapping. In fact, even on a good year, in New York State there are less than 10,000 trappers all together out of a population of almost 20 million. As such, let me say a few words about the activity, and what I plan on writing about on this blog, which is more concerned with general woodsmanship than the details of trapping.

In its most common form (at least from what I have seen and experienced), trapping these days is rather disconnected from the wilderness as we envision it. The image of the mountain man traveling for six months through the wilderness to trap beaver that he then sells at a rendezvous somewhere in the woods is pretty far from the reality of modern trapping. These days trapping is most commonly done in rural and suburban areas of the country, close to the trapper’s home. In part that is the result of regulations which require frequent checking of the traps, usually anywhere from every 24 to 48 hours, and in part it is due to animals concentrating around rural and suburban areas due to easy access to food and ease of travel. The reality is that you are a lot more likely to trap a raccoon by placing a trap on your garbage can than somewhere in the woods. 

This is the type of trapping that I have generally become familiar with. I enjoy it as an activity, but in many cases it is quite separate from the rest of my travels through the woods. My goal this year is to change that, or at least explore ways to do it. Going with the concept of The Modern Woodsman, an individual who is able to undertake long term, long distance trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment; I hope to find a way to incorporate my trapping in the same way that I have tried to do it with my hunting and fishing. I don’t know how successful the attempt will be but I will keep you updated. 

Let me begin by addressing the question that most people usually have: why trap at all? Well, that is actually two questions. The first is why do I trap? The second is why should anyone trap?

As far as why I personally trap, I do it because I think it is an essential part of woodsmanship as a whole. If we look at woodsmanship as the ability to sustain one’s self for a prolonged period of time in the wilderness only with the resources one can carry, then trapping becomes an important skill. Food procurement is essential for longer term travel and living in the wilderness, and trapping is a very productive tool for food procurement. It also offers the additional benefit of learning other important woodsmanship skills like fur processing and tanning. That is true not only from the perspective of historical woodsmanship, but it’s also equally true for The Modern Woodsman. With the utilization of modern techniques, trapping is an effective and practical tool.

With respect to the second question of why anyone should trap, it is much trickier to answer. There is no reason for everyone to trap, and it’s not an activity well suited for every person. That being said, even though it is seldomly seen by the average person, trapping is essential as a wildlife management tool, and it’s important that there be people who continue to trap. The DEC licenses individuals to trap particular species during particular times of the year in order to control the population numbers of certain species. If individuals didn’t trap, the DEC would have to hire nuisance control operators to do the exact same thing. The alternatives such as chemical castration of populations of animals, electrified fences around communities, or simply forcing population reduction through starvation and disease, are typically less effective or less desirable. In fact, on a national level, according to their own statistics, in 2013, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) trapped 22,332,134 animals. The trapping was done by paid nuisance control operators. The need is there, and if not done by private individuals, it has to be done by the government on the taxpayer’s dollar. 

Lastly, no conversation about trapping can be had without a discussion of the moral implications of the activity. In short, trapping is seen as cruel, and as such unethical. While most of the “cruelty” is imagined rather than real, I have no interest in sugarcoating any of this. No matter what we call it, the reality is that whether I am hunting, fishing, or trapping, I am going out into the woods in order to kill an animal and utilize it as a resource. That being said, I personally believe that me procuring meat or other resources by hunting, fishing, and trapping is no less moral than purchasing a cut of meat from the supermarket. In fact, the animal I am dispatching has lived its life free in the wilderness. At most, it has been confined to a trap for a maximum of 24 hours. Compare that to an animal born and held in captivity its whole life, forcibly sterilized, shipped cross country in cages, before those that survive are killed on a production line, butchered, and delivered to the supermarket. Not only that, but I believe that me having to suffer the elements, track, kill, and process my own game brings me much closer to that animal than paying someone to do it for me and bring the product to my local store. I am not saying that everyone should do the same thing, but I just don’t see trapping as any less ethical than the alternative. 

In the process of writing about trapping I hope to dispel some myths and misconceptions about it. When talking about trapping most people picture jaws lined with razor sharp teeth, severing limbs, crushing bone, and ensuring unimaginable agony for any animal or person caught in a trap. In this day and age, where we have become almost completely disconnected from our food sources, trapping may appear to the average person as an unnecessary remnant of a barbaric age long past. I hope to show through my posts that it is nothing of the sort. Sadly what people picture when they think of trapping has very little to do with reality. Ultimately it is not an activity that is suited for everyone, so I’ll try to keep my posts on the subject constructive.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Trip Report: Delaware River Trout Fishing 8/9/14 – 8/10/14

I’ve been trying to get more on top of my fishing game lately, so this past weekend my friend Rich and I decided to go after some trout. Reports indicated that the upper west branch of the Delaware river had some good activity, so that’s where we headed.

We started out relatively early, picked an easily accessible spot, and got to work.

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I’m a horrible fly fisherman, so Rich had to babysit me for the first hour or so. He landed a trout in the process. Shortly after I landed one as well.

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Even though the morning started out well, the action didn’t last. It certainly wasn’t due to lack of fish. There were trout everywhere. There were a lot of insects hatching, and the trout were visibly feeding on the surface. The two catches that we did get were on dry flies. Whether it was the abundance of food, or that we didn’t have the exact pattern fly to match the hatch, we weren’t able to hook anything else for the rest of the day.

We fished until the sun started going down. We tried a few different locations, but eventually had to call it a day.


Camp was about twenty minutes away, but by the time we got there it was completely dark. We put on our headlamps and set up for the night.



I put my new stove through the paces. It worked out great.


I had been dealing with a cold all weekend, so I was very tired. I passed out as soon as I got in the sleeping bag.

The next morning we got up early, well, I got up early and eventually woke up Rich.


I occupied myself for a bit with picking raspberries. There were a few left, but they were good.


After that it was back to fishing. We picked a new spot with very little surface activity, and tried nymphing. Rich was first to hook up with a Czech nymphing set up.

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I had a few hits as well using a single nymph.

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We managed to get a fair number of trout, all of them below the surface. And when i say we, I mean Rich got about a dozen, and I got two.

After that we headed back home. We’ll give it another try next weekend.