Veteran trapper leads the way to his first fisher

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Sentinel photo by ZACH KNEPP
River Knepp, left, and Nelson Hosler show the fisher they trapped.

My son and I catch a few raccoons each year, but we are definitely not what most would consider seasoned trappers. When I have questions or want advice, I usually consult my friend Nelson Hosler. Calling him a seasoned trapper is an understatement. The veteran furtaker has traveled throughout North America trapping everything from wolves to nutria

Last winter I picked his brain before I tried to catch my first fisher. During that conversation be informed me that he had never caught one in Pennsylvania.

When I caught mine days later, I had to jokingly rub it in that I was a better fisher trapper than my mentor. At that time I also stated the two of us would set some traps in 2017 to help him get one.

This fall I kept tabs on fishers that were spotted on my property. Between my own sightings, reports from family members and trail camera photos, I had a good idea where to set traps.

A week before fisher season began, I invited Nelson to my property to check out the spots I had selected. That afternoon we chose three locations that would ideal for making a cubby using natural crevices.

I filled any secondary holes with rocks and sticks in an effort to make sure the fishers would only enter the front where the traps would be set the following week. Nelson deployed bait in each one in hopes of getting a fisher to keep checking the cubby until the season started since they are notorious for coming back to a bait site regularly until it runs out.

I also set up a trail camera at each location to see what exactly would be eating the bait. I had a feeling we may have trouble with raccoons finding our bait before the fishers.

When I pulled my camera a few days later I was happy to see a fisher indeed visited one of our sites. In fact, it was the location where I had predicted we would catch one first. A raccoon was on another camera taking our bait.

When the season finally arrived we picked a morning to put out the traps with a goal of catching a pair of fishers. Snow on the ground showed fisher tracks at the same site that was active earlier on my camera.

I was confident it would only be a matter of time once a trap was hidden in some wax dirt at the entrance of our cubby. Over the next hour Nelson, River and I did the same at the other two spots I had selected. We put in a second trap at the spot with the raccoon that was baited with cracklings while trying to keep the fisher set strictly for our intended target.

That week our traps had plenty of action and it did not take long until our first fisher was caught. I had a feeling the previous evening’s weather would have them on the move. That confidence persuaded me take River along to check the traps in hopes of showing him a live fisher.

When we arrived at the set where I assumed there would be a catch, I was shocked to see there was no disturbance in the dirt. Feeling dejected, Nelson went to check on the trap and found it was not there. We then noticed the cable a few feet away stretched into a pile of large rocks.

After some quick cheering, we tried to pull the fisher out of the hole. Upon noticing we only had it by two toes, it was apparently it would not be a simple end to this catch. Eventually I walked back to the Nelson’s four-wheeler and grabbed a catch pole. Once we had the other foot in the noose inside the rock cavity, we were able to tag the first fisher of the season.

I once again joked with Nelson that my master fisher catching skills had helped him finally get an animal of his checklist. In reality, I definitely learned a lot from him during out time on the mountain.

Our luck continued as we got a raccoon at the location where the extra trap was set. However, no fishers ever made an appearance at this spot.

The next catch ended our fisher season as a nice one was picked up at a location nearly two miles away from our first catch. That site was selected because a fisher was spotted there two months earlier.

Filling my fisher tag the past two seasons is a nice accomplishment for a trapper. In doing so, I have realized, just like in real estate, it is all about location. If you have a fisher population and know where to trap, you have a great chance of being successful. On the other hand, you can be the most skilled trapper in the area, but if there aren’t animals where you set, you are likely wasting your time.

Two weeks after fisher season ended River and I put out a few coon traps in a different area when some warmer weather arrived. That increase in temperature meant River’s favorite furbearers would likely be on the move. That week the youngster was happy to catch four ringtails.

Wouldn’t you know it, we also caught (and released) another fisher. My guess is that one still hanging around that part of Middleburg. It will be another location I will keep in the back of my find if I indeed try to fill another tag in 2018.

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Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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