Bringing Back the Slat Trap: What I Learned by Building a Catfish Basket

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It was my Aunt Ann who first stirred my interest in wooden catfish baskets. Her father was a commercial fisherman on the Apalachicola River and his livelihood depended on them. When I was younger, she actually had one in her living room.

I grew up fishing trotlines and bush hooks, but recently I got to thinking that building a catfish trap would be a fun project. If it worked, it might even be more productive than setting lines. What’s more, I feel like it’s one of those pioneer skills that are gradually being lost to time.

With that in mind, I got busy building.

I realize, of course, that you can buy slat baskets from a few manufacturers online, but I’d consider that cheating. Also, I’m cheap. As a result, I didn’t have a set of plans or a guide, so I’ve spent the past several weeks working by trial and error – with an emphasis on the error.

In our tiny post-kids house, I also don’t have a garage, so a lot of the planning and construction work happened in my dining room or on the tailgate of my truck. That alone should tell you that this wasn’t going to be a Bob Vila quality effort.

Ultimately, with help from my brothers Bill and Steve (and, without his knowledge, Hentz), I ended up with a workable model that we tested in Blountstown last weekend.

It was obvious before the launch that Catfish Trap 1.0 has some issues that are going to have to be addressed in the next release. Here’s what our testing revealed:

·      Steve’s table saw worked great for ripping 2x6s for the slats. However, his nail gun probably needs to be set to “stun” rather than “kill” as some of the brads went all the way through the wood.

·      I used a jigsaw to cut the wooden rings for the upstream ends. That didn’t work out very well. Hentz suggested using a band saw and a pivot board instead. But since I don’t have either, Version 2.0 may end up being a square model.

·      Version 2.0 also is going to be four feet rather than five so it will be less flimsy and take up less room in the boat and, per Mary, in the living room as well.

This could work as a lifeboat.

This could work as a lifeboat.

By far, the most surprising issue turned out to be the buoyancy of the trap. The wood was completely dry and I put the slats a little too close together. As a result, even with the 10 pounds of weight we added, I could have jumped on top of the trap and paddled it back to the Clubhouse. I’ve owned boats that didn’t float that well.

Fortunately, my nephew Ben and I were using Hentz’s boat so we had a couple of anchors at our disposal.  Once we attached them to the trap, we finally got it down on bottom. (By now, Hentz has probably realized that his anchor lines are each a foot shorter.)

The trap didn’t catch any fish on its inaugural trip. I blame the wrong placement and a poor choice of bait. But, as I suspected, it was a lot of fun to build and it was a great learning experience.

Two anchors later, we get it to sink.

Two anchors later, we get it to sink.

For example, I learned that there may be a good reason why building wooden catfish traps is a dying art. And there’s definitely a good reason why people charge so much to build them for you.

 

 

 

 

Lisa Golden Bristol was nice enough to share some pictures of an authentic Apalachicola River catfish basket with me. This one was made by my Aunt Ann’s uncle, Seab Larkins.

Amazing craftsmanship.

Amazing craftsmanship.

Look at the attention to detail.

Look at the attention to detail.

And a touch of humor for good measure.

And a touch of humor for good measure.

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