No one likes shelling out their hard-earned dough for live bait when there are perfectly good minnows in the water! A good minnow trap will enable you to be self-sufficient while fishing. You’ll be able to catch your own bait – so you won’t be out of luck if the bait shop is out of minnows.
Minnow traps also enable you to catch bait from the same body of water that your target fish lives. That means you’ll be using the fish’s natural prey, which will result in a more aggressive response from most fish.
Beyond just catching minnows, some traps can also be used to catch a wide variety of bait species. Crawfish, shrimp, and even crab can all be caught successfully, depending on the trap style.
I’ll break down the different types of minnow traps, how to pick the ideal one for your needs, as well as explain how to use one effectively.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Minnow Traps
Minnow Trap Types
Minnow traps come in a variety of different types, from torpedo-shaped galvanized steel traps to lightweight collapsible mesh netting traps that fold up to the size of a small notebook. Let’s take a look at the different designs and their intended uses in detail.
Steel traps are typically made from either galvanized or vinyl coated steel, making them durable and tough enough to withstand prolonged use. The design is fairly straightforward. It’s essentially a steel mesh cage with bait suspended inside, and one or two narrow funnel entrances that allow minnows, crawfish, and other small critters to find their way inside.
These traps are highly effective in catching a wide variety of bait, and depending on the bait used, can be tailored to target minnows, shiners, crawfish, and other small species. In fact, they can be so effective that larger fish and even water snakes can find their way inside!
Depending on the design and materials, some can also be used in brackish and saltwater environments without corrosion.
Collapsible Mesh Traps
These traps are typically made from light and durable polyethylene netting and will collapse down to a compact and convenient size. The collapsible design makes these traps ideal for backpacking, camping, and anytime you won’t have the space for a solid-bodied steel trap.
These traps often feature multiple entrance holes – with some having up to a dozen. Traps with additional holes enable fish to find their way into your trap faster than those with fewer entrance holes. This results in less time needed to ‘soak’ the trap, so you can fill your trap with minnows much faster.
Keep in mind that collapsible mesh traps aren’t nearly as durable as steel traps, and will eventually break down over time. Luckily they’re fairly inexpensive, so you can easily replace a broken trap on the cheap.
Fishing Net Traps
Net style traps are made from two concentric rings with mesh netting connecting them. The trap is baited with bait lashed to the center of the trap, and then dropped down to the bottom of a lake, river, or stream.
The bait attracts minnows and other baitfish inside the circumference of the trap. When enough minnows are inside the outer ring, you quickly retrieve the trap by pulling on the rope. This causes the outer ring to rise above the lower ring, trapping any minnows inside the net. It’s important to retrieve the net rapidly, as any minnows inside the trap could swim out the top if you’re too slow.
The advantage of net style straps is their speed and precision. Because you’re actively ‘casting’ and retrieving the trap, rather than passively waiting for minnows to swim into your trap, you can quickly and effectively score enough bait for the day in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
Top 5 Minnow Traps – Reviews
This well-made 2-piece galvanized steel trap is both simple and deadly effective. The design actually dates back over 100 years, and it remains one of the most effective ways to catch minnows to this day.
The trap is manufactured with 1/4-inch galvanized steel wire, which makes it the ideal size to trap minnows, crawfish, shiners, bream, and other small bait fish. Two tapered entries on either end allow bait fish to easily find their way inside the trap – but not back out. This design works well equally well in calm water or in current. Modifying the trap by widening/narrowing the entrance holes is simple to accomplish with some snips or pliers, so you can easily alter it to your exact specifications.
The galvanized steel frame works equally well in fresh and saltwater, and contrary to what you might think, the shiny steel exterior actually seems to help attract fish to the trap. The 2-piece design allows you to collapse the two sections and stack them on top of one another, making transportation and storage a breeze.
- 2-piece semi-collapsible trap is simple and highly effective.
- Measures 16.5-inches long and 7.5-inches in diameter.
- Durable galvanized steel construction.
- Made in the U.S.A.
Best Heavy-Duty/Saltwater Trap
This heavy-duty vinyl-coated steel trap is the ideal solution when you’re looking for a trap that can hold up to the wear and tear of frequent use. It features a single cone-shaped entrance on one end, and a spring-loaded easy-access sliding door on the other end. The sliding door allows you to easily remove bait and minnows from the trap without taking apart the trap.
The stainless steel cage is coated in a sturdy black vinyl coating. This makes it ideal for use in tidal and saltwater conditions, as it won’t corrode or rust over time.
The trap measures 18” x 8” x 8”, making it an excellent size for catching minnows, crawfish, and other critters. Keep in mind the traps frame is not collapsible, so it may not be ideal if space is at a premium.
- Heavy-duty vinyl-coated trap is tough and durable.
- Ideal for use in saltwater.
- Spring-loaded sliding door allows you to access inside of trap to add bait and remove fish.
- One-piece trap measures 18” x 8” x 8”.
Best Collapsible Mesh Trap
Light, collapsible, and highly portable, this mesh trap is the perfect solution for catching minnows on the go. It collapses down to the size of a large notebook, and will easily fit inside a standard 5-gallon bucket. The trap collapses and opens up with a 360° accordion-style opening, measuring 27” x 10” when unfolded. A zipper closure seals the trap open and shut.
Six entrance holes surround the circumference of the trap, allowing minnows to quickly find their way inside the trap. It’s made from lightweight nylon mesh, making it highly portable and ideally suited to camping, hiking, and any time you need to cut down on excess weight. If you’re planning to use it in water with a strong current, adding a few lead weights around the edges will ensure it stays put.
Minnows, shrimp, crawfish, and even crab and lobster can all be caught effectively. Keep in mind that these collapsible mesh style traps aren’t as durable as metal traps, so they’ll eventually need to be replaced when they break down.
- Collapsible nylon mesh trap is lightweight and highly portable.
- Measures just 13.5-inches x 10-inches when collapsed flat.
- Six entrance holes allow bait fish to quickly enter the trap.
- Works for a variety of bait fish and crustaceans.
Best Minnow Net
While it may not be a minnow ‘trap’ in the traditional sense, this collapsible braided nylon and stainless steel fishing net is highly effective when you need to score minnows or other bait fish in a hurry. It’s great for catching minnows, crawfish, crab, and shrimp, and is large enough to get a lot of bait quickly.
The trap design is fairly straightforward – it’s essentially two steel rings with mesh netting between them. You deploy the trap by attaching bait to the built-in bait pocket and dropping it in the water until both rings fall flat on the waterbed. Then as minnows or other fish swim inside the trap’s circumference, you pull the rope attached to trap – which raises the outer ring above the inner ring – trapping any fish inside.
There are two different sized models available, a 31.5-inch diameter model and a 39.4-inch model. Both are fairly large, and allow you to fill up a minnow bucket in short order.
A gaff or long pole can come in handy when using this net from shore, as this will enable you to easily get the trap into deeper water.
- Highly effective fishing net allows you to quickly catch minnows and other bait.
- Simple and efficient way to catch minnows, crab, crawfish, and more.
- 2 diameter nets available: 31.5” and 39.4”
This torpedo-shaped minnow trap is an excellent option when you want an effective minnow trap at a very reasonable price. Its design is similar to the Geets Feets trap above, but with a black plastic coated metal finish rather than galvanized steel.
The trap’s two-pieces come apart easily for storage and transport, while a handy spring clip allows you to securely shut the trap. Two inch-wide entrance holes on either end of the torpedo allow minnows, crawdads, and other small baitfish to enter the trap – but won’t let them back out.
At 16.5 inches long, and 9 inches in diameter, it’s in the middle of the pack as far as size goes. Like other traps of this type, they can also be used for trapping other critters like grasshoppers, insects, and even snakes!
- 2-piece black plastic coated trap is durable, effective, and affordable.
- The two pieces come apart and stack for easy storage and transport.
- Measures 16.5”x 9”
- Spring clip secures the trap shut and prevents accidental opening.
How to pick the right minnow trap?
The best minnow trap for your needs will vary based on several factors including the exact species you’re targeting, current, available space, and your local laws and regulations.
Minnow traps can be used to catch a wide variety of bait fish, from bream to crawfish to crab. Just as with regular rod and reel fishing, you’ll want to tailor your trap presentation to the exact species you’re targeting.
Traps will feature different sized entrance holes, typically 1-inch to 3-inch. They also have different sized mesh, usually 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch. If you’re going after crawfish and other slightly larger bait, then going with a larger trap makes sense. Otherwise, smaller traps will work well for the majority of smaller bait fish.
Minnow traps can work well in a variety of water conditions, from still water to fast-moving current. If you plan to use your trap in constantly moving water, then you’ll want to make sure it’s properly weighted down and won’t get turned on its side. Some lead fishing weights or even a piece of rebar lashed to the trap bottom can work well for this.
Another modification you can do in swift current is sealing off the trap’s entry hole that faces upstream. Then you attach your bait to the same end. This will allow minnows to enter the trap by swimming upstream into your trap. Check out this method in detail here.
How often you plan to use your trap will largely determine how durable it needs to be. Galvanized and vinyl-coated steel traps will be far more durable and long-lasting than traps made from nylon mesh. These traps can last for many years if you take decent care of them.
Luckily, most traps are fairly inexpensive, so they’re cheap to replace if they break down. Plus you’ll always get your money’s worth in terms of catching bait vs. paying for it in a store.
Available space is another important consideration to keep in mind. If you’re fishing from a small boat, or otherwise are limited in available space, then take a look at collapsible or folding traps. These traps can be just as effective as solid-bodied non-collapsible traps but will fold up into a compact package for easy transportation and storage.
Another feature to look out for is stackability. Many ‘torpedo’ style traps can be taken apart into two halves, and then stacked on top of one another. This can be a great space saver, and free up space for other gear in your boat.
Laws and Regulations
It’s important to make sure your trap complies with your local laws and regulations about bait trapping. The last thing you want to do is run afoul of your local fish and game warden!
How to bait and set up a minnow trap?
Setting up a minnow trap to catch bait effectively is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind to increase your odds of success.
Here’s how to set up a typical 2-part torpedo style minnow trap:
- First, you’ll want to open the trap by separating the two halves. This is usually done by unhooking the latch that connects the two sections of the trap.
- Fasten your bait to the inside of the trap. This can be done in several ways and will depend on the type of bait you’re using (more on that below). Food can be stuffed inside cheesecloth or pantyhose to keep it from floating off. The important thing is to ensure the bait can’t be accessed from the exterior of the trap so that minnows will be forced to enter the trap to get to it.
- Secure the trap shut and attach a length of rope or string to the exterior of the trap. A fishing weight or rock placed inside the trap will ensure it stays secured to the bottom.
- Find a spot with shallow water and plenty of cover like tree stumps and rocks (minnows tend to congregate in these locations). Drop your trap in the water, and make sure to tie the other end of the rope to a nearby dock, tree, or large rock.
- Wait several hours, until the minnows have found their way inside your trap. This can take a while, depending on the season and time of day. Generally, once a few minnows get inside the trap, others will follow. Once your bait is eaten up – be patient – more minnows will often enter a trap just because of the others already inside.
What’s the best bait for a minnow trap?
This one’s certainly a hotly debated topic. Ask ten fishermen what the best bait for a minnow trap is; you’ll probably get twelve different answers!
In reality, minnows aren’t all that picky when it comes to bait. They’re attracted to strongly scented bait like canned tuna, cat and dog food, fish carcasses, squid, chicken livers and other food.
Many anglers also have a lot of success with fried chicken bones, as well as balled-up white bread.
If you’re planning to leave the trap in the water overnight, then it’s a good idea to use bait that the minnows can’t eat easily. Stinky baits stuffed inside a nylon sock will attract minnows by giving off a strong scent while preventing them from actually getting to the bait.
Other Supplies Needed
There are a few other items that can make your traps more effective, as well as making the entire process much easier.
- Bait bag: A bait bag or bait pouch allows you easily pack a good amount of minnow bait into a drawstring bag. They also typically have a clip or hook for hanging inside the trap. Check out the KUFA Sports Commercial Style Bait Bag for a good bait bag option.
- Rope: Some traps will come with string or rope built-in, while many others don’t. Make sure you have a good length of durable rope on hand.
- Minnow Bucket: Once you score all those minnows you’ll need somewhere to keep them! Check out the Frabill Insulated Bait Bucket with Built in Aerator for a great way to store your minnows. If you’re interested in setting up a larger bait tank, check out my breakdown of the best bait wells.
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I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.