Living on the coast of a tidal stream, I appreciate the ability of setting up a bait fish trap to catch fish. I can then use the bait to catch other species of fish and then use the carcasses to catch more bait. I can also recycle the carcasses to catch more bait or blue crabs. I can then eat the bait or use it to catch even more gamefish. It is a wonderful, symbiotic way to reuse and use resources.


While I use lures for inshore fishing for striped bass redfish and spotted seatrout, as well as other species, I have had success with live bait under a popping corn to catch redfish and seatrout. Since moving from the mountains to the coast of Virginia ten years ago, I have been setting up a bait fish trap from spring through fall. Sometimes, there are two or three.


To catch eels, I set up an eel trap. The rectangular eel trap, which is nylon-coated, measures 24x10x10″ and has a circular entrance at its non-lid end.

I began catching baitfish with a standard wire funnel trap. This trap is also known as a minnow trap. It has a small conical opening at one end and has matching halves that can be clipped together. They caught killifish and mummichogs, as well as minnows, with no baiting.

These traps are too small for larger fish species like the largest minnows. They rust easily and I ended up using three each year.

The eel trap was catching eels occasionally, but it also caught mummichogs. I switched to this bait fish trap for smaller fish. I later used a square bait fish trap made of coated nylon, 24x24x12″ in size with four rectangular side entrances. This trap captures larger minnows, pinfish and other bait fish, as well as eels such as silver perch, spot, pinfish, pigfish and a variety of bait. Eels can escape so I always remove any traps that have an eel in them.

Also, the square bait fish trap can catch crabs. The square bait fish trap is not designed to catch crabs. I have also made large crab traps, which don’t capture bait due to the size of the coated nylon webbing. The square trap attracts plenty of baitfish and crabs when baited. However, I avoid baiting it to catch crabs.

I can use the eel trap as well as the square baitfish catch simultaneously. I will bait or not bait them depending on the type and amount of baitfish I have or anticipate using.

A cautionary note: Make sure to check your state regulations. These regulate how bait is collected and used, as well as what species are allowed that you must release for size or any other reasons. Also, make sure you have a fishing license.


Sometimes, the traps catch bait fish even without bait. They may not catch baitfish for a while, but they will eventually catch something if it isn’t. Whole fish and fish carcasses are great trap bait options. Small bluefish, menhaden, and bluefish make excellent whole fish. Bluefish and trout carcasses are also good choices. However, other fish are acceptable.

If I’m in a pinch or if there are no carcasses or natural baits to use, I might put a can or two of cat food into a trap. Minnows can also be caught by using the leftovers of shellfish and cooked crabs.


I place traps on my dock, where there is good current flow. The eel trap is placed under the dock, near a piling. The square bait fish trap is placed a few feet from the dock, with one side facing the current. It should not be angled. Although I don’t have to place traps anywhere else, I know of a friend who is very good at catching minnows by using a minnow trap. He leaves it overnight in a drain close to a road.

There are many types of fishing bait traps, some for shrimp and others for specific baitfish species. If you already know what you want, you can purchase a trap online. However, I prefer to inspect the trap and check the quality. I pay particular attention to nylon coating, which will last longer and how the bait will be removed. For example, some eel traps have a small opening at the top that is harder to empty than one with a front door.

The article was written by a professional charter captain at Salty Knots Fishing Charters with 15+ years of experience in the Gulf of Mexico. Salty Knots Fishing Charters is a local fishing charter service based out of St. Pete Beach, Florida. “We know what it takes to catch a giant trophy fish!” Salty Knots Is the best when it comes to St Pete Fishing.