No Muskrat Love
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No Muskrat Love
(Reprinted from above link)
Muskrat Trapping at the Pond,” read the subject line, which is not a collection of words that typically lands in the email inboxes of most Washingtonians.
Of course, I immediately opened it, curious to find out what was going on at my local Izaak Walton League of America club, just outside Leesburg, Va.
“Over the next few weeks you will see signs at the pond warning that trapping is in progress. We are trapping muskrats which have proliferated over the past few years. These rodents burrow under the banks of the pond and cause them to recede,” it said.
“Professional trapper and chapter member, Jim Canter, has been authorized by the board of directors to eliminate these pests. He will be checking the traps on a daily basis. Please do not disturb the traps and avoid them while fishing or boating,” it concluded.
I saw that it was sent by our club’s pond manager, Paul Kreingold, and knew instantly that it was both needed and likely to be handled right. Since he’s taken over the pond, Paul has turned it into a delightful place to fish and visit, and has, to boot, even stocked it with some fat trout.
I have some experience with muskrat trapping. Back in 1981, when I was a cub reporter for the Salisbury, Md., Daily Times, I spent a day trapping “marsh rabbits” with Wylie Abbott on the muddy banks along the Nanticoke River near Vienna, Md.
The Abbott family is famous among trappers, for muskrats especially. He was a 13-time champion skinner at the National Outdoor Show, cleaning five in one minute, and his kin have followed in his hip boots. Just last month, another Abbott, Bruce Abbott, won the show’s “premier competition” again.
Back then, Abbott told me he had caught as many as 100 a day in 600 traps, selling the fur to coat makers and the meat to local fire halls that host annual oyster and muskrat feasts.
“There is nothing I like more than animals,” he told me. “But it is like farming. If you don't farm this year's crops, there won't be any next year,” he said.
After a long day on the water, he asked me if I wanted to stay for dinner. I was expecting muskrat, typically served with slick dumplings.
“Whatcha having?” I asked. He pointed to a pot cooking outside that had a bluish smoke coming off it that looked like exhaust from an old Buick. I didn’t get any closer and made up some story about being behind deadline and left.
Trapping has changed since I went on that trip. There are fewer trappers now, for one thing, and much less interest in the pelts.
But trapping is just as essential today as it was 38 years ago when I got in that jonboat with Abbott, as seen by the destruction at our Walton Club pond.
On a recent rainy day, I walked around the pond looking for Jim’s traps. He uses an assortment of box traps, including some baited with carrots.
For a while, his traps placed on the edge of the pond remained empty. Big orange signs encouraged anglers to stay away. “Caution! Muskrat Traps — Do Not Disturb,” they screamed.
“We haven't caught any yet. I really haven't seen any fresh sign either though. They may have moved on or predators may have got them. I saw a bald eagle Tuesday when I came by,” Jim said.
But a week later, bingo, he got one. “We caught our first muskrat today. It’s 23 inches from nose to tail,” he cheered.