How To Be A Successful Longline Trapper

Sitting down to write this I feel some guilt acting like what I know about longline trapping somehow came from myself. While I have tweaked a few things over the years, the skillset I have (and am writing about) came from trappers with far more ability than I would ever have on my own.

Longline trapping is not for the unprepared, or feint of heart. I was lucky to have some truly great mentors helping me along my trapping journey and I owe everything I know to these men and the ones who taught them.

So now that credit has been given where its due, let’s get on to the good stuff and learn how to set a successful longline trapline.

Longline Trapping: Art And A Science

Most of my longline trapping has focused on mink, muskrats, and otter but this article will help with other water species and the guidelines will also apply to most land predators.

Longline trapping is some of the hardest work you will do as a sportsman but it is undeniably the most rewarding. So if you love running a short trapline but have dreamt about a long trap line then now is the time to get started.

Running a longline will require a significant time commitment so be prepared to put in the time. Check your state’s regulations as some allow a day between checking water traps which will greatly increase the distance you can cover with your trapline.

Tip: If you can take every other day off for vacation during your trapping season you can easily check all your traps in that time.

I tend to run my line on a 14 day timeframe so I use a combination of vacation time and holidays to get my trapline worked.

The first thing you need to do to make the most of your time is preseason scouting. It takes a well thought out plan to run a longline so scouting is crucial. Do not skip this step!

Preseason Scouting

I start my preseason scouting at home with my maps. I mark out locations that look promising for my particular target. For more species specific tips on this check out my other articles.

My goal is to plot out a potential trapline without having to zig zag around too much. As you get more seasons under your belt your preseason scouting will take less time. But this skill will come in handy if you broaden your trapping area in the years to come.

Over time you will also learn where your targets are located. But at first you want to focus on the points that show the most potential. And to do this you need to get out there and scout in person.

Take the time to scout the points you mapped out at home and look for signs of your target species. When you find the places that show the best signs mark them on your map.

Always mark out more locations than you can hit in one season, because you will run into unexpected situations. High or low water, trapping competition and a ton of other things can happen that will make some of your planned locations untrappable.

Learn how to make a longline trap log

Physical Preparation

You don’t have to train like you’re going to run a marathon but you do need to be physically prepared to run your longline without having a heart attack. Or running out of steam before you check all your traps.

Doing some moderate aerobic exercise at least three days a week for a half an hour each time should get most trappers ready to run a longline. You should start at least a month before the season opener and don’t skip any workouts!

On the bright side, your preseason scouting will take up a good chunk of your physical fitness preparation.

Get Your Traps Ready

The most common mistake I see new longline trappers make is not having enough traps ready for opening day. To avoid this pitfall always have more traps than you think you will need.

Even if you don’t underestimate how many traps you need you will have some stolen. It’s an unfortunate fact of life for the trapper. So instead of keeping your fingers crossed that everyone out there will suddenly become ethical, get enough traps to cover all possibilities.

You also need to keep your traps tuned up during the offseason. Check out my guide on getting your traps ready for action.

You will also need to check your stakes, grapples, snares, slide wires, and trapping clothing.

Next check your trappers tool box. I like to have a couple of every tool handy in case I lose something (which I have done more times than I care to admit).

That means two each of hatchets, hammers, shovels, sifters etc.

To keep the double theme going, make sure you have twice as much bait as you think you will need.

About a week out from opening day, I rig up about half of my foothold traps with a chain and grapple then I take a few feet of 14 gauge wire and attach my bodygrips.

This doesn’t take long to do ahead of time but it saves you a lot of time out on the trapline. And that means more fur harvested.

Handle Your Fur The Right Way

Ok, so if everything goes how we expect you’re going to have a lot of fur to handle. So if you’ve run a standard day trapline in the past a good rule of thumb is to plan for five times more fur than you are used to harvesting.

You need to decide before opening day how you will handle your furs. Some trappers like to freeze their hides until the season is over. Then they process their hides whenever they have the time. Other trappers like to prep their hides as they go through the season.

Both are fine ways to do it, but the point is to know what you will do before you snag that first hide.

Checking Your Traps

Like I said at the beginning, longline trapping is a big time commitment so you need to be prepared to spend enough time to check all your traps. There are a number of factors that will dictate how fast you can go, such as terrain and your physical fitness.

The general rule of thumb here is that you will be able to maintain about fifteen to twenty sets an hour. So if you haven’t skipped out on your fitness prep you should be able to check around 150 to 180 traps in a nine hour day on the line.

Keep in mind that this is just checking your traps, it takes a good deal longer setting that many rigs.


And there you have it. You are ready to go knock out your first longline. Well, after your preseason scouting, physical training, and equipment prep.

But in all seriousness, running a longline is well worth the extra effort. There are few things I do outdoors that equal the thrill of running a longline. The key to success, and enjoying yourself, is to take the proper time to prepare. Don’t rush and short change yourself on any of the steps.

For more trapping tips check out these articles

Written by Fred

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