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Five Days, Two Fishers!

April 1, 2013
By Ralph Scherder - PA Field Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Shortly after Thanksgiving, my friend Rich Faler emailed me asking if I was planning to run a trapline for fishers. Up till that moment, I wasn't sure. After all, fishers have big ranges and the season's so short in Pennsylvania and then I realized my non-commitment was merely a fear of failure. I didn't want to invest a week of time and energy into something and come up empty.

Sometimes, though, fear can be a great motivator. In his email, Rich suggested we team up to run a trapline, and I agreed. As a team we could cover more ground, set more traps, and split expenses. In essence we'd be doubling our chances of success of catching a fisher.

A week before the season, Rich and I met up to spend a day scouting locations in Jefferson County, PA. With no snow on the ground, we found no actual fisher sign, but that was no surprise. In many ways, a fisher is simply a bigger version of a mink. Both are relatively secretive animals and don't leave much sign except for an occasional track here and there they're not as bold or visible as raccoons, for instance. However, no matter where we went, we decided to assume that fishers were present until proven otherwise. It's an assumption that paid off.

Article Photos

The author’s first fisher, a large male, approximately 12 to 13 pounds, taken with a #2 coilspring trap.

Prior to scouting, Rich and I both studied numerous books and videos about fisher trapping. Our goal was to learn as much as possible about their behavior and hunting habits as well as the type of habitat they preferred. When scouting for an animal that leaves very little physical sign, habitat becomes number one. As long as we were in prime habitat, we believed we had a good chance of success.

Fishers prefer dense ground cover for hunting. Their primary food sources are grouse, rabbits, and rodents. They're also one of only a few animals that actively hunt porcupines. As we scouted locations, we looked for areas with dense stands of pine that had lots of underbrush such as mountain laurel, scrub oak, and grass mixed in. In other words, cover that looked good for small game.

Fishers hunt in a zig-zag pattern and tend to have fairly large ranges, so we also chose locations where there was lots of cover, not just small patches. Many of our actual set locations were along likely travel routes within these covers, such as trails and edges. By the end of our scouting trip, Rich and I had settled on a dozen locations to set up on opening day.

Fact Box

When scouting for an animal that leaves very little physical sign, habitat becomes number one. As long as we were in prime habitat, we believed we had a good chance of success.

Fisher season opened December 15th and closed on the 20th. Trapping that time of year can present weather challenges, but overall we lucked out. Temperatures stayed warm enough so that we didn't have to bother too much with antifreeze on our sets. However, we did experience quite a bit of rain. I dealt with it by using wax paper to cover my trap pans before sifting dirt over the set. The wax paper prevented rain from packing dirt down around my trap and exposing the pan. I also sifted a little more dirt than usual over the trap. Instead of a quarter inch of dirt as a covering, I used about half an inch, enough to withstand some rain.

Rich used buckwheat hulls to bed and cover his traps, which eliminated the need to find dry dirt to make sets. The buckwheat hulls are naturally resistant to water and allowed the rain to drain through the set without exposing the trap. Needless to say, next year I'll be using buckwheat hulls, too.

We both used #2 coilspring traps on grapple drags with six to eight feet of chain. When using grapples, long chain is better. The longer the chain, the quicker the animals tangle up in nearby brush. I always want the animal to be within a few yards of the set location.

Dirtholes were our mainstay. A dirthole is basically made by digging a hole three to four inches in diameter and about six inches deep. The trap is placed in front of the hole and bait is placed in the bottom of the hole. We used meat-based baits at every set.

As far as lures and scents, when it comes to trapping fishers, "louder" is better. Unlike canines, fishers are cold-nosed animals, and it takes an extra smelly lure to catch their attention. We used lures with a strong beaver castor smell directly on the set, and we didn't skimp on the amount used. Fishers are also attracted to skunk essence, so we also used large doses of long distance call lure at every set. If we approached our sets from downwind, we could smell them at a fair distance away, which is exactly what we wanted.

After setting traps on opening day, we felt good about our system and methods. We had about 30 sets scattered throughout the county. The biggest factor against us was time. Five days just isn't very long to catch an animal that can have a range exceeding 10 square miles.

The first two days of the season produced nothing but a few possums on the bright side, we caught no skunks! On day three we decided to re-lure and bait all of our sets to counter the rain. When we pulled up to our third location that morning, I glanced to my left and saw a furry black tail bouncing up and down in the laurelour first fisher!

The fisher was a large male, approximately 12 to 13 pounds. Most impressive, though, were its teeth and claws no wonder they're such efficient predators!

Two days later, the last day of the season, we pulled up to our second stop of the morning and found our second fisher, an average-sized female. It weighed approximately seven pounds. Catching one fisher in five days was an accomplishment, but catching TWO had us totally stoked.

In retrospect I realize that anything can seem overwhelming when you've never done it before, but that's no reason to not try. The best way to learn is by doing. Also, preparation is often the best cure for any fear. The well-prepared trapper is a fearless trapper.

In our case, Rich and I did our homework by reading as many books and watching as many videos about fishers as possible. We learned about the animal and its habits, and then we put in the time scouting for the right locations. For our efforts, we each got to fill out a fisher tag. I love when a plan comes together!



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