How to Make a Fish Trap

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This is a fun project to do with the kids (while also learning a great survival skill!) We're going to share with you a bunch of videos we have found about how to make a fish trap - and this one is by using a water bottle. A plastic water bottle, that is! The way the videos show it, it's really meant to help you catch small fish like minnows, because the big ones you want for food are going to be too big for this. BUT, you can use the tiny fish to help catch big fish!

Again, this is a fun project - where we live in the winter, the folks who catch their own bait fish are serious, and they use casting nets. And, learning to use a casting net is a great skill too!

But before we show you these videos that will help you learn this skill, gather up the stuff you're going to need to build your own trap.

Stuff You Need to Build a Fish Trap

As you look at this list, you'll see why this may be a fun activity! Of course, if you're doing this with the kids, make sure you are the one doing any of the cutting!

  • 2 Plastic Water Bottles (Use a 1 liter AND 2 liter bottle - WITH CAP on the larger bottle)
  • Cutting Blade (Knife, razor knife etc) and Scissors
  • Thin String (give yourself enough to work it inside the bottle - you'll cut it when the time comes)
  • Glue (glue gun works well)
  • Roll of Twine (or long shoelace for more of a "survival activity")
  • Large Metal Hexagonal "Nut" - the type that would go onto a big screw (enough to act as a weight to keep the bottle submerged once in the water)
  • Optional Bait to Put into the Trap When Done

Make Your Own Glue as Another Project!

One more project you can do before starting on this one, is to make your own pine resin glue - assuming you live in an area where you can get pine pitch. This would REALLY be a wilderness activity! Here is the instructional video:

General Steps

You may have to watch the video more than once in order to follow along since it goes fairly fast - but you can pause it and rewind to watch again as you follow along! (Ah, the beauty of YouTube videos!)

You need 2 bottles, because you will be cutting ONE, and using pieces of the CUT bottle to fit into the SECOND bottle (which will act as the trap). KEEP THE CAP ON THE LARGER BOTTLE.

Step 1: Cut the 1-liter Bottle in Two Places 

Again, you'll see this below in the video at about the 20-second mark, you're going to cut through the SMALLER (1-liter) bottle towards the top (they use a utility knife) - then use your scissors to complete the full cut around the bottle.

Then, you'll see where they take the TOP part that you just cut off, and trace the part you cut around the bottom of the SECOND, LARGER bottle (Pictures are better, so follow along with the vid), and cut the bottom of the larger bottle out. It's very important to TRACE the exact outline. Don't guess! You'll see why in a minute!

Step 2: Tie the Nut to the Inside of the LARGER Bottle

Now, you should be at the :45-second mark in the video. Now, working with the larger bottle (the one you just cut the bottom out of) you'll poke 2 holes about 1/2 inch from one another, slip one end of the string INTO the bottle, put the nut into the bottle and thread the string through it, and then thread the string back out the other hole. Knot the string tightly and cut the excess string. You will see that as you lay the bottle on a flat surface, it automatically rolls to the side where the nut is weighing it down.

Step 3: Insert the TOP part of the FIRST bottle into the BOTTOM of the SECOND bottle

At this point, you will be at the 1:15 mark of the video. You'll see that here, you take the TOP part of the bottle that you initially cut off, and put it into the BOTTOM of the 2nd (larger) bottle - but with the spout of the bottle pointing up into the bottle - almost like you are putting a funnel into the bottle. The fish will be swimming into this part, through the neck and into the bottle. You'll see now why you TRACED the part you initially cut! You want a tight fit, because now...

Step 4: You will Glue the 2 pieces at the Seam!

Now we are at 1:23 of the video, where the demonstration shows the person using a glue gun to run a bead around where the 2 pieces of the bottle meet. the We already talked about how to make your own survival glue, and you can use that if you are having fun with the wilderness experiment!

Step 5: Poke "Air Holes" All Around the Bottle

If you have been following along with the video, you will see that we are at the 1:34 minute mark. Here the demonstration shows the guy using a hot point (maybe a soldering gun or similar tool) to poke a series of holes all around the bottle. This helps keep the water flowing to keep the fish alive once they are in the trap. If you are doing this with kids, supervise this carefully and do this part yourself if they aren't skilled enough to safely poke the holes.

Step 6: Use the Twine (or Shoelace) 

At the 1:54 mark, the demonstration shows how we attach the twine to the top of the trap (larger bottle), after which we are ready to head outdoors and put the trap to work!

Step 7: Set the Trap with Some Bait!

The 2:19 minute mark shows the demonstration having moved outdoors to the water source. Here, they demonstrate using some smushed up bread and shoving it through the mouth of the larger bottle, then re-capping the bottle. At that point, they "cast" the bottle out into the pond as though they were casting a net or a regular fishing line.

NOTE: Don't let go of your end of the twine! Of course you can choose to simply place your trap at the edge of the water and secure the other end while you watch the action.

You'll see your trap begin to fill with water and sink below the surface. 

At 2:56, the magic happens! They film all the little minnows that have entered the trap.

Finally, at 3:24...

Step 8: Pull in the Trap!

In a true survival situation, where this is far beyond a fun family teaching activity - at this point you may need to consume the fish, or use them as bait to catch larger fish. As you can see from the video, our demonstrator is not in that situation. 

The 4:00 minute mark shows his sportsmanship. :)

How Does the Trap Work?

Remember the "funnel" at the bottom? The fish enter a LARGER space at the bottom and can easily get in, but the top of the bottle is capped, so they can't get out. COULD they escape through the same entry point? Yes, but they will have a harder time since they aren't "zeroing in" on a small opening. 

In a Real Survival Scenario...

Obviously, the way this video lesson was presented showed how to do this with plenty of resources at hand. In a real survival situation, you hopefully have enough tools in your bug out bag or emergency kits to create a similar trap using the same principles.

In some cases, you might be able to scrounge and find old bottles to work with. If you are lost in the woods, you may not have access to such items. What would you do?

Let me leave you with one final video that will help you see this a different way. The video is entitled: Primitive Technology: Big Fish Trap in The Forest.

Watch how he puts together a large fish trap made from bamboo. It would be a good idea to go ahead and practice this - even on a smaller scale - long before you ever need to make one!

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