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How to Make a Fish Trap Out of a Bottle

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.


Last week our lakes were high as we had a lot of rain in a short amount of time. This caused the lake to flood up onto the lawn in front of our house and with it came some small fish feeding on what was before unreachable for them.

I took that opportunity to grab the swimming pool net, and start scooping some out. My neighbors across the lake must have seen my feeble attempt at catching small fish because later that day they came over and showed me how to catch them using a plastic bottle.

Using an Exacto knife, they cut a small opening down the side of an old 2 liter Coca-Cola bottle, about 1.5" x 3". The important part is maintaining the flap. The flap is still attached and pushed inside the bottle. This keeps the majority of the cornmeal (the bait) from floating out and helps to keep the fish in the bottle.

How to make a fish trap

How to make a fish trap

Selecting a Bait for the Fish Trap

The neighbors asked if I had cassava flour, which I didn't, so we used some old bread. Daylight was fading, and we didn't catch any fish, and I was getting disillusioned with their fish trap. They told me to start earlier in the day, and it would work. I decided to try cornmeal as I always have some at my home.

I placed the cornmeal in the bottle and submerged it on the top step, only a few inches deep. The cornmeal floated inside the bottle like a well-shaken snow globe. I decided to go low-tech, using a piece of broken concrete to keep the bottle from rolling off the step and into deeper water.

The fish I am after are called Piaba, and there are a lot of them. They are small, pretty silver fish with orange on their tail. Whenever I fish, they steal the bait. Therefore, I have no qualms about removing these from the lake.


Choosing the Location and Observations about Fish Behavior

My neighbors put the bottle on the step, so I guessed it was a good idea to do the same. What I have noticed is at different times of day, it is in a shade of a near by mango tree.
I have a theory that the fish don't want to swim into a dark hole, so I position the bottle, so the sun shines on it. This way, the fish can see the cornmeal or bread inside and are more likely to enter the bottle. After watching for some time, I can deduce that having the cap towards the wall is better. Once the fish are inside, they will swim towards the wider portion, which is the bottle's bottom. This is the section that is behind the flap.
After watching the fish, they seem to swim in and out of the bottle and treat it more like a feeding station. A hand placed over the opening when pulling the bottle out traps them inside.

It Works!

It Works!



Things Worth Noting

I check the bottle several times a day which is no hardship as it is only 20 feet from the house.

I have a deep bucket that I use to keep the fish in, and this I keep in the shade. Several times throughout the day, I empty this and put the fish into the freezer. There are a couple of items you should be aware of regarding using this method.

  1. The fish need oxygen, and if they are left too long in a bucket, the oxygen will soon become depleted. You'll know this is the case if you see them gasping for air on the surface. Don't let this happen; although they will be killed, you don't need to make them suffer.
  2. Don't fill the bucket more than half full with water. Some fish jump and can propel themselves up and out of a bucket and wiggle their way back to the body of water. I learned this the hard way. I had caught about 40 fish, and half of them were missing when I went back to check. Their jumping skills will also be evident when you get them out of the bucket.
  3. I put a colander in our outside sink and poured the bucket of fish into it. It is a good idea to use the sink strainer as an extra security measure as you don't want any small fish to get stuck in the plughole.
  4. If you want to do this regularly, it's a good idea to feed the area, so fish become accustomed to going there for the food.
  5. I recently noticed a predator called a wolf fish sitting on top of the bottle near the entrance. Not only was this keeping the small fish from coming near the bottle, but he might also have eaten any trying to escape the bottle. Using a live fish for bait, I solved this problem and caught the predator using a line and hook.

Uses of Small Fish

There are many things we could do with these little fish. My neighbors will fry up the larger ones which grow to 3-4 inches. I also have seen them for sale at our local corner shop. I, however, feed them to my cat and one of the dogs and the chickens, they love them and they're fresh.

If I don't want them jumping out of the cat's food bowl and onto my kitchen floor, I will transfer them into an old ice cream tub and put them in the freezer which kills them humanely. After they are dead but still pliable, I put them in the fridge, until the cat decides she should be fed.

Update on Design

After looking for more inspiration on YouTube, I have found some interesting adjustments or tweaks I can do to my fish trap. We don't consume soft drinks so I need to source some bottles from my neighbors.

My modifications will include drainage holes along the bottom. Not only will this allow the water to drain before I remove the fish, it will also get the air bubbles out when I place it on the step.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 20, 2018:

It is quite fun and there are so many you're almost guaranteed to catch some.

I don't care how old I get, being near water is always entertaining for me.

It's really easy to do, and if you have a nearby lake (and a cat) then you should give it a whirl.

Margie on March 19, 2018:

Oh my gosh Mary, I want to come catch fish with you! Thanks for the tips on making the fish trap! I think I could actually do this!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on June 12, 2017:

Hi Shauna,

Thanks for your kind words.

We are using our bottle most days and getting fresh fish for the cat, dogs and as bait.

Last week we had someone from the UK here for the day and he couldn't believe how quickly the fish go in the bottle. Those piaba are little devils for stealing my fishing bait so I have no problem catching them en-masse.

Great to hear from you.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 12, 2017:

Fascinating stuff, Mary! You come up with the most interesting articles. You really are a joy to read.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 09, 2017:

Hi Dora,

Although I do swim in our lake, it seems lately I am working in it cutting grass around the edges or reeds (cattails) from the banks. It is all good exercise. When I think of the amount of time I spent going to the gym riding an exercise bike which didn't go anywhere, I roll my eyes. This is fitness for a real life.

Thanks for your comment.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 09, 2017:

Hi George,

Thanks for those ideas. Where we live, it is rural and the people here still use many of their traditional ways of fishing. They showed me the bottle method. There isn't anything like a bait shop here because if they catch it, they eat it.

I did Google that gardening system because I had never heard of it, so thank you for that. It is an interesting concept and one which I have spoken about with a Swiss friend I have here. She is adamant that hydroponically grown food is less tasty and less nutritious. I, on the other hand, am willing to try most things. For us, growing vertical is a problem as we are in a region famous for its wind. In fact, we have wind turbines quite close to us. Where they recommend sawdust, we could use coir from coconuts (we have 430 +/- coconut trees). Even the inside fibers of a coconut tree could work as a growing medium.

I read about a company in Australia who are growing tomatoes hydroponically in coir. The brilliant thing about this, it was run by solar panels and the water was achieved using a desalination system. It was completely self-sufficient (no electricity needed). I have another site called small farm ideas which you might want to look at, I am fascinated by the way homesteading has made such a comeback as a lifestyle choice.

Regarding the salmon loaf. I have never seen canned salmon here. Our shopping choices are rather limited in my region, no canned soups, no mushrooms except in a jar, no canned beans. We live quite basic lives. I make bread virtually every day and we don't buy soft drinks or alcohol.

Most westerners would be surprised at how little is needed to live.

Thanks again for your suggestions.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 08, 2017:

Mary, you're becoming expert at farm life. This is a cool way to get rid of fish in the swimming pool. So thoughtful of you to share!

Georgeetaylor on May 08, 2017:

obtain a few tilapia/other types of fingerlings. Place them in the lake and catch and grind the piaba and use for feed for the tilapia. Make sure you stock ONLY male tilapia.

place them live in the trenches where you are growing duck weed.

also, use them as feed for the chickens and ducks/swans/geese??

Barter them with the neighbors??

Give some to a group that is helping teach children to catch fish for feeding their individual families.

Place them in the box with the worms you are growing for fishing/selling/bartering/feeding to the chickens.

Sell them as LIVE bait to the local fish bait supply company/store.

Use them as fertilizer in your Mittleider Gardening System. (google that term)

grind/mix them in with the canned salmon when you are making salmon loaf.

Take two/three/four of the 2 liter bottles and cut them so you may glue them together and have a much larger trap. glue a screen into the 1.5 x 3.0 inch slot that is recessed and whose opening is just large enough for the fish to enter. Try making the entrance of the larger bottle on the bottom. Sell/barter these bottle(s) to the locals?


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 08, 2017:

You never know, you could be camping by a lake and forgotten your fishing pole.

Thanks for reading.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 08, 2017:

Well I'll probably never use this great idea, but it's cool to read about. I do like your lifestyle, Mary! Have a great week!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 07, 2017:

We have helpful neighbors who are eager to help us. They enjoy showing us traditional ways of doing things.

I am going to ramp of my fish extraction with more bottles.

I guess cat food will be off the shopping list. LOL

Great to hear from you.

diogenes from UK and Mexico on May 07, 2017:

Fascinating: I wish I had known how to do this in the past when I lived near water...and I see any size could be made.

You certainly find some interesting subjects...