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There are very few activities more relaxing than spending the day drowning worms at the end of a fishing line. While fishing can be relaxing, and fun, anyone who has ever wet a line can tell you the reason the sport is called fishing rather than catching. While fish traps may not be the sexiest of fishing methods, there are few that are better at catching huge numbers of fish for your dinner table.

The premise of a fish basket is quite simple; it is a holding basket with an inverted conical funnel in one or both ends. Fish swim down the cone and through a small opening into the basket where they are unable to find their way back out. When I first taught my son, Stone, how to make and use a fish basket he asked why the fish don’t just swim back out through the same hole. I explained to him that fish are a non-sentient species, meaning that they are unable to reason or learn. He asked, “So you mean they are stupid?” I could not argue with his logic. Depending upon the size and spacing of the weave, a fish basket can provide a steady supply of fish and crustaceans of just about any size.

Fish Basket Weaving DIY lead

 

Basket Anatomy

When selecting the materials to weave your fish basket, any strong, flexible, woody plant will work. I have used grape, honeysuckle and just about anything else available. My favorite wood to use, however, is willow. Of the approximately 400 different species of willow in North America, most grow in wet areas. They should therefore be readily available near just about any water you plan to fish. Aside from availability, willow is also an excellent choice for weaving a fish basket because it is flexible and extremely strong. Thin or split branches can be woven with little risk of breakage. To construct my fish basket, I used the branches of weeping willow, Salix babylonica. Braiding and using the thinnest branches made it easier to fill in the weave near the ends of the basket and cones. Thicker branches were extremely difficult to weave in these tight areas.

I have seen fish baskets that rival the finest rattan furniture. As the name implies, some are basket shaped while others are cylindrical or conical. Once you master the basic techniques required to construct a fish basket, the size, shape and form of yours is limited only by your imagination. It is important that you familiarize yourself with some basic terms before you start your own basket. The parts of a fish basket are the rim, the spokes or staves, and the weavers. Rims create the circular openings of the basket and the cones. The spokes or staves are the long ribs that are lashed to the rims. The spokes and rims make up the framework of the basket. The weavers are thin, flexible branches that are woven over and under each of the spokes. In order to maintain the integrity of your weave, it is important to always use an odd number of spokes for the body of the basket and the cones.

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The simplest fish baskets are nothing more than a large open cone at one end, into which is secured a smaller cone that is open at both ends. It is important to size your basket according to the fish you might find in your area. This article will outline the methods used to build a quick fish basket. Once you have mastered these simple steps, I recommend you take the time to design and build a number of baskets for yourself. If you exercise care, and attention to detail, your creations will reward you with protein for years to come.

Over the years, I have come to rely on a cylindrical style fish basket. It consists of a long, woven cylinder that’s open at both ends. A small, inverted cone is wedged into each open end of the cylinder. I love the functionality of this trap. The cylindrical design allows prey to enter from either end; this allows it to be used as a barrier trap as well.

woven fish basket
The skeleton of the cylinder is pictured here along with the two completed cones.
Notice the thin, flexible willow branches all ready to weave the body of the cylinder.

 

Make The Cylinder

I started out by making the two rims necessary to create the cylindrical body of my fish basket. Each rim consisted of a thin, flexible branch about 0.25 inches in diameter and about 30 inches long. I then wrapped the branches around themselves a number of times to form two circles approximately 12 inches in diameter. I secured both ends of the branches to keep the rims from unraveling. I followed the same steps to make the four rims necessary to construct the two inverted cones of the fish basket. The 0.25-inch branch for each large cone was about 30 inches long, and each was wrapped around itself a sufficient number of times so as to form two rims approximately 11 inches in diameter. The 0.25-inch branch for each small rim was about 14 inches long, and each was wrapped around itself a sufficient number of times so as to form two rims approximately 3 inches in diameter.

To make the cylinder, I started out with nine branches about 0.75 inches thick and 36 inches long. Using bank line as my cordage, I lashed one 12-inch rim approximately 1 inch in from the end of one of the 0.75-by-36-inch spokes. You can also use natural materials, or even zip ties, as the cordage for your basket. I then lashed the other 12-inch rim to the opposite end of the spoke in the same manner.

Making sure to space them evenly, I lashed each spoke to the two rims in the same manner. Secure each branch in such a manner that its natural curve faces out. Doing so will create a trap that will be slightly wider in the middle than at each end. It is important to note that I started out with the thick end of the first spoke to my right, and the thin end to my left. I then placed the thin end of the second spoke to my right, and the thick end to my left. I continued alternating thick and thin in this manner as I went around the rim. This ensured that all of the thin ends of the branches did not end up on one end of the basket, causing it to be weaker on that side.

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The Cones

To make the first of the two inverted cones of my cylindrical fish basket, I started out by placing one 11-inch-diameter rim to my left, and one 3-inch-diameter rim to my right. Using bank line as my cordage, I lashed one 12-inch spoke to the small rim and the other end to the large rim. Making sure to keep them spaced evenly, I continued lashing the other six spokes to each rim to form the framework of the first cone. After the first frame was completed, I constructed the second in the same manner. It is not structurally necessary to alternate the thick and thin ends of the spokes for the inverted cones.

After completing the framework of the basket body and the two cones, I wove thin, flexible willow branches over one spoke and under the next. I continued in this manner until I had filled in the entire field of the basket with closely spaced weavers. Starting at the small end and working toward the large, I did the same thing with each of the two cones. Once I had finished all of the weaving, I inserted the smaller end of a cone into one end of the basket body, and pushed it all the way in until the two rims met. I then used zip ties to secure the rim of the first cone to that of the basket body. I followed the same steps with the second cone, although in order to make it easier to remove future fish caught in the trap, I did not lash the two rims together. Instead, I used a friction fit to hold them securely together. If your cone does not fit as tightly, you can lash it loosely so that it will be easier to get apart to remove your prize. Your fish basket is now complete.

fish basket bait
A baited fish basket

 

Trap Setting Tips

While fish traps typically require bait to draw the fish in, a cylindrical basket allows me to also use it as a barrier trap. The process is really quite simple. You place it in the middle of a narrow stream or ditch. You then place rocks on either side of the trap extending to each bank. This effectively barricades the stream. Any fish moving up or down the stream is forced into your trap. You can also accomplish this barricade by pushing thick sticks closely together into the soft stream bottom. This barricade method is highly efficient with or without bait.

With a little practice you can become proficient enough to build a few of these fish baskets within the span of a day. Just as the terrestrial trapper sets multiple traps in a line, constructing and using more than one of these fish baskets will definitely increase your yield. I can tell you how to weave a fish basket, but there is no substitute for personal experience. I promise you, the more you work at it, the better you will become. I urge you to get out there and have some fun practicing in a stream or pond near you.   

This article originally published in AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  Issue #191. Print and Digital Subscriptions to AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  magazine are available here.

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