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Beaver on the Elm Flats Line with Dad


Cody Johnson

I sit and warm up in an Alaskan trapper outpost, just off the snow machine. As I watch out the window the snowflakes drift memories back from many childhood experiences. One in particular sticks out and I replay it. It was the first week of beaver season in the Adirondacks of New York. Opening day was always on a Monday in the northern tier, which meant my annual day of missing school each year. I had looked forward to this opener for weeks, knowing that this year we would hit the trap line harder and I would make some extra income. I awoke on November 1st to the voice of my father (Dennis Johnson) and the light of my bedroom being turned on. Instead of the slow get up of a normal school day, I burst from my bed and immediately put on my trapping clothes and hip boots. This consisted of my heavy flannel shirt, hip boots, and canvas pants. I always felt so proud wearing that flannel and it gave me the feeling of being a real Adirondack trapper, a driven and skillful breed of trapper, which I could say I belonged to. Breakfast was eaten readily fast, and before long we were in my father’s white ford ranger heading to the dirt roads leading to state land. We drove up Beecher Road, through Graves Ville, and to the beginning of the dirt roads. After driving down many dirt roads for about 20 minutes, we parked the truck beside a large section of state land. It was just starting to get light out, and we proceeded into the boreal forest scene, with a wooden weaved basket full of beaver traps. The spruces and pines were covered in water, as it had rained the day before and I walked with dad in anticipation as we walked past beaver ponds that old trapper friends and mentors had trapped in their youth long ago. I remember my father telling me how grand this beaver flow would be, as he had scouted it from his ultralight airplane, along with many other spots we would trap this season. As we walked through the thick spruce, surrounded by swamp, I remember telling my dad that this would be a great place for a fisher set, but there was no time, as I had important classes to attend to on this beaver opener. We came to the beaver flow shortly and as we entered, it was lit up by the ever increasing sunrise. The scene would rejuvenate any trapper, upon first sight. Mallard and black ducks were flying around, heading for unknown parts to feed before their annual flight south. My dad and I briefly discussed hunting this next fall, as we had always been skilled duck hunters. There was an ancient dam standing high and wide on the downstream side of a small stream about 6 feet in width 50 yards in front of us, surrounded by beaver meadow grass and swamp. The old beaver house stood enormous before me and I thought it was really neat to walk on the bottom of an old beaver pond, although some of the mud came up to our knees and was difficult to trudge through. I stood on the beaver house trying to imagine what this pond looked like in its former glory, but none the less, it was trapped many moons ago.

My father led me to the active part of the flow, about a100 yards downstream from the first big dam, through the spruce trees. After that he let me do my part as upon seeing the beaver sign I proceeded to do what I was born to. The first dam was new of that year and it stretched through the spruce, and yellow birch stand of trees. Yellow birch stumps dotted the flooded coniferous forest. It brought great joy to both of us to see the flooded forest, knowing that these were always our favorite types of beaver ponds to set. There was also a big channel dug right into the woods, many yards in, where the beaver were logging yellow birch for their feed pile. Its walls were lined with black excavated mud and it really stuck out in the forest. The forest floor was covered in new and old beaver cuttings, many yellow birches were felled into the pond, still attached to their stumps by a thread. It was a delight to see these birch trees, as they were bright white from having there bark partially stripped and this was the sight of a true Adirondack beaver pond for sure. I waked out on the monstrous dam and observed the big beaver lodge and its feed pile. The size of the feed pile indicated a big family, greater than four beavers in the colony. Immediately, as if instinct, I set the bottom of the main crossover with a 330 body grip trap submerged under water. I then made two castor mound sets with MB-750’s on the same dam, all of this done within 50 yards of the first set. I placed the big foot traps with practiced precision having learned how to trap beaver through experience with foot traps; I knew the deadliness of these that many strict body grip trappers would never know. I felt invincible with this tool, as if it was an extension of my will. Below the dam my father and I spotted a deep channel going through grass hummocks.  I carefully placed a 330 body grip on the bottom with some dive sticks on top, and blended it all in with beaver meadow grass. I then rubbed a little castor on the tree leaning over the set, knowing this would entice the beaver to swim under, into the waiting trap. We proceeded to head 100 yards down the beaver flow and found another big dam and three old houses, which were still being used on occasion by beaver. This pond was twice the size of the previous and showed signs of beaver families that had come and gone over time.  My father assisted me in placing a castor mound on the dam with a 4 ½ sleepy creek long spring, my favorite trap at the time. A prized possession with engraved beavers in the springs, bought for me by my grandfather, a muskrat trapper in his youth.  I set it deep for a hind foot, finger tips to elbow from the bank, as I had read someplace in my research. This would give me a good chance for a hind foot catch with the big foot hold trap. We then found a dam of about 6 feet in length surrounding a small beaver hut. We both thought it odd, but we set a channel leading to the dam from the house, only 20 foot in length. It was a deadly set, we both agreed. We finally ended the setting with a bank hole set that my father had spotted walking on the willow covered shore. A 330 was placed here and we knew that this was the end for some wandering beaver in the flow, as the bottom was worn rock hard, a sure sign of the beaver. My father asked me if I was satisfied. I asked him what he thought of my work and we agreed that it could not have been set up any better. Eight traps in place, these sets would surely produce our desired results. The flow was very beautiful, with full sunlight against it and as we headed out of the woods, flocks of ducks flew overhead trying to land. I remember us getting to the truck after the half-mile walk out and excitingly discussing how many beaver we would catch and how effective our sets would be. Needless to say, I was late to school that day, but all my classmates and teachers new what time of year it was and how important it was to me, so no questions were asked. My excuse for the attendance records was that I was sick. I lay in bed that night not being able to sleep all night; I was so restless thinking of the beaver we would catch tomorrow.

We awoke early the next morning, started a fire in the wood stove and quickly made our way to the beaver flow. I anxiously walked up to the first beaver dam. The first two castor sets held young beaver on the end of drowner cables. I pulled the cables up in excitement and quickly reset the traps, laying the beaver on the bank to pick up on the way out. I caught another one in the channel below the dam and it was a big adult beaver, dad congratulated me. I admired its prime pelt for a few moments and laid it with the other beaver. I was so ecstatic and dad jokingly said me, “ if you catch any more beaver, we won’t be able to haul them out”. I responded, “let’s hope we catch more”. The next castor set showed the results of a large beaver pulling out of the big # 4 ½ long spring on the second dam. I couldn’t believe anything would pull out of that monstrous trap. We took another near the beaver dam and then we walked up to the bank hole set. It contained a large adult beaver in a 330, and its foot indicated that this was the beaver that pulled out of my previous set. We took note of this beavers escape move for future trapping expeditions, as we both figured it was using the hole as an escape route. As seasons went by, we found this to be a regular occurrence when snapped traps presented themselves. We took 5 beaver and we decided to cut a small spruce poll and lashed them by the feet to the poll. We figured this would be the fastest way to get them out, if I was to make it to school that day. We put the poll on our shoulders and the poll was so heavy I thought it was going to snap as it flexed with the weight of the beaver, while we walked. As we walked through the spruce, I observed a fisher hanging from a body grip on a leaning pole. I admired its size and prime coat, and took a break right there with my dad. Our shoulders were both sore from the pole digging in. This moment really washed an aurora of Adirondack trapping heritage over us. What we were living was the stuff I read about in local books as a young child. We picked up the pole and trudged another half mile to the pick-up truck. We loaded up the beaver and drove home talking of our accomplishment. We stacked the whole catch together in the work shop and dad took photos of our catch. He congratulated me again on the fine catch and told me he was proud of all my outdoor accomplishments. This meant a lot to me, having worked hard to come this far in my trapping career. We caught one more the next day when we went to pull the sets, at the little dam surrounding the beaver lodge, and called it a job well done. There was lots of skinning to be done between this catch and catches’ made from my other trap lines that week. This trap line always stuck in my head, as it was a good time spent with my dad, doing something that got us in our native woods. What a time we had. Priceless is the time we spend with our families and how fortunate some of us are to be able to do it outdoors. Although I am now in Alaska at the moment and going to forestry college in the Adirondack’s, my father and I still run trap lines together, and I hope to keep trapping with my best friend, my father.