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Set to trap a catfish

Eugene Hendrick displays some of the catfish traps he’s built.

When this Brantley, Alabama native wants a fish fry, he grabs one of his fish traps and heads to the river.

Story and photo by Ben Norman

Several years ago, Eugene Hendrick decided he would try his hand at fishing with wire fish baskets.  But he had very little luck.

“One day I was checking my wire fish basket and when I pulled one up, someone had thrown a wooden slat box trap over my basket and they had become entangled,” says Hendrick. “His trap was full of fish and I had nothing in mine.  I had my measuring tape on my belt and so I measured the dimensions and decided I would build one of my own.  The first box I built was the same dimensions as the one tangled in mine.  I soon realized that this box was too big and bulky and I could catch just as many fish in a smaller scaled down version.”

After much experimenting, Hendrick settled on a box 14 inches square and 4 feet long with a built-in bait box with double throats or muzzles.  “These are what the catfish go in to get into the box but the limber slats close up and prevent the fish from getting out,” he says. “I build all of my traps with either red oak or white oak strips.  I actually like red oak better because it is tougher wood and retains the bait odor longer.  I use galvanized staples, as I found they are better than nails or screws.”

Hendrick is a well-known sign painter in Crenshaw, Covington and Coffee counties area. Those who know him well know that he is quite a perfectionist especially when it comes to painting signs or building fish traps.  Hendrick says when he sells someone a fish trap he likes to give them a lesson on where to place them and how to use them before they leave. 

“I like to use an old head from a V8 motor for an anchor and about 50 feet of green nylon cord attached to the trap,” he says.  “I construct a simple three-prong grab hook that I can throw out and draw across to snag the line so I can retrieve and pull the trap up to the boat.  I like to fish my traps in water that is 10 to 12 feet deep.” 

Hendrick says it is a fallacy that you can’t put them on sandy bottoms, but you do have to check them more often to make sure they don’t sand in. “For bait, I recommend spoiled cheese that I purchase at Ron Smitherman’s Bait Shop in Clanton.  Although I think cheese is by far the best, some people have good luck with cotton seed meal cake, rotten cabbage, lettuce, bananas and other produce.”

Hendrick says after much experimentation, he builds a small bait box to put his cheese in that slowly oozes downstream and attracts the fish.  He also says rather than having a small door, he builds his traps so that one complete side can be removed to facilitate baiting and fish removal.

“I fish my traps year-round but the best time I have found for catching catfish in a trap is October to April.  If you fish them in the summertime, you need to check them every day, but you can get by checking them once or twice a week in the winter.”

Most Alabama counties permit the use of wire fish baskets after you purchase a tag for each basket.  But state law requires you to have a commercial fishing license to use a slat basket in the public waters of the state.

“I keep my muzzle tapered down to 4 inches and I have caught fish that would weigh seven pounds that were able to get through the muzzle,” says Hendrick.  “I have caught close to 100 pounds in my traps on occasion.  They are constructed in a way that game fish can escape through the required one and one eighth-inch gap between the slats.  I recommend being a good conservationist and if you catch more fish than you can use, release them back into the river and catch them again another day.  And everyone knows a needy family that can use catfish.”

Hendrick invites anyone interested in purchasing his traps to contact him at 334-303-9389 or at Hendrick Signs, 673 Elba Highway, Brantley.  He charges $60 for a single trap and $50 for two or more traps. Contact your local game warden if you have questions about fishing with fish traps.