The most abundant, easy to catch furbearer for anyone to catch would be the muskrat. They are found in all size bodies of water from large lakes all the way down to the ditch along side the road. Chances are, if you are trapping in water you will catch quite a few of these little critters no matter what set, trap or animal you are after. If they are in the area, a raw rookie that has no trapping experience can catch quite a few muskrats in his/her first sets.
Most of the areas you are trapping for muskrats you can pretty much bet that you would have at least a 50% trap per catch ratio each days, some extremely thick areas it could be 50% every 6 hours. Area where you can find the highest concentrations of muskrats, and the easiest of times catching them, are marshes. This is because of the usually large size of these water ways and the abundance of food. Creeks and streams that are common in my part of Ohio have rocky bottoms and have very little vegetation that the muskrats like but the small, roadside ditches are more appealing because of the better vegetation, which is mostly grass.
Traps and Equipment
Most trappers rely on the 110 conibear and the no. 1 longspring for most of their trapping, though you could reuse dirty traps from your canine lines that way you don't have to have such a big supply of traps and while in the water they are getting cleaned. Some trappers add colony traps to their arsenals because they can catch more than one rat at a time. For those trappers that have poor drowning sites and can't use conibears effectively, they add the no 1 stop-loss trap. These traps hold the muskrat in such away that they can't wring their foot off.
Next to the traps, wire is an absolute necessity for water trappers. Where a trapper doesn't have to worry about catching anything but a muskrat they could use 16 Ga. wire but when raccoons or even beaver are present, 14-12 Ga. wire would be the wire of choice.
Gloves, boots, and waders are what all trappers have with them to keep them dry and even to keep them from going hypothermic. For a stream trapper you may only need a pair of knee high boots and could forget about the gloves but when you are trapping larger, deeper bodies or water, shoulder-length gloves, hip or chest waders depending on water depth.
Trapping Large Bodies of Water
Most large catches of muskrats comes from trapping lakes, marshes and ponds and other similar larger bodies of water. As mentioned earlier, muskrats prefer these areas for their abundance of food and cover. In these bodies of water, with the exception of farm ponds, you can find muskrats in the hundreds and scouting them boils down to finding the best muskrat houses, runs and feedbeds to set while eliminating the less frequently used ones as potential set locations.
Unless the water you are trapping doesn't have deep enough spots to fill up your chest waders, a canoe or johnboat would be the most effective way to trap muskrats, again with the exception of ponds since most muskrats live in burrows instead of huts, since the best locations would be out where you could not reach them by wading. The other advantage of a boat is that you can haul around a lot more traps and muskrats than if you where trapping out of a packbasket and bucket.
The best thing about trapping muskrats in these large bodies of water is that you only need a couple different sets to catch most of the muskrats you will take. Unlike land trapping, the sets you make should only take the time for you to set the trap, stabilize it and anchor for drowning and leave which to the more experienced trappers can be a matter of seconds.
Where legal, muskrat houses can be the most effective set locations in your area than any other set location you use. Muskrats are always adding on to there huts, repairing it, feeding on it, and going in an out of it. Thus, you could have so many trap locations to choose from that if you felt like it, but is not recommended unless your getting bored, you could set as many as 10-12 traps at a single 'rat hut.
The easiest set you can make at a 'rat house is to locate a depression on the side of the house that indicate where muskrats have been using to feed, rest, add-on, or to repair the house, or you can make your own depression. When making your own depression make it large enough to place your trap, which usually should be a no. 1 of any kind, securely, then tear out a little piece of the hut but not enough to scare the 'rats away. At a pre-existing depression just place your trap as above, anchor and leave. Simple right?
The den entrance set is an almost sure-fire set locations if there ever was one, unless its an abandoned house that even a mink won't venture inside. All you do to make this set is to take a 110 conibear, tunnel trap, or colony trap and set it next to the den entrance, remember to always check local regulations regarding setting traps around a muskrat house. At most 'rat houses, there are multiple den entrances and if you are short on traps picking the right one is a troublesome and time-wasting effort. The simplest way to set this house is to look at each entrance and pick the ones that so the most disturbance, not your disturbance but the 'rats, which usually there is a cleaner run with little debris, if any, and a possibly a plume of dirt in and above the run.
If setting directly at muskrat houses is illegal in your State, there is a set that can make up for this. This set is a run set, a run being where there is carved channel by which muskrats carve through routine and frequent channel, but this run does not have to lead into a muskrat house either. Here just move out from the house the legal distance, locate what appears to be the most active run(s) and set a 110, tunnel or colony trap.
Other sets that can be productive are feed bed sets, slides, pockets, log and tile sets. Feed beds sets are sets made on feed beds, collection of left-over food that is piled together and maybe used by many muskrats. Simply locate or make a depression, set a trap of your choice there, anchor it and go. Slides sets are sets made where muskrats have been entering and leaving the water, usually an obvious trail is formed. After locating the slide, dig out a shallow depression at the base of the slide underwater and place and anchor your trap there, if you like you could add some muskrat gland lure to get the 'rats attention. Pockets sets are simple depressions or den-like excavations in the bank that are guarded with a trap. Tile sets are sets made where a tile pipe drains into the body of water that muskrats commonly use and is guarded with a foot-trap of a 110 conibear. Log sets are a little harder to make than most sets. These sets are where muskrats have been climbing on a log of other object and leaving doppings. A foot hold trap is placed barely underwater and is secured to the object lightly so that the trap won't fall off the object and will pull off the object once a catch is made.
Trapping Ponds, Ditches, Creeks and Rivers
There are a lot of trappers that lack the luxury of being able to travel to a large body of water like the ones mentioned above and are forced to target muskrats on small stock ponds, ditches, creeks, and rivers. Trapping these bodies of water involves a lot more work in scouting and setting. In these bodies of water a trapper would be very lucky if he/she can locate a muskrat den, let alone being able to set it. So trappers have to find slides, droppings and tracks to be able to trap these critters. I purposefully left out feed beds, runs, and dens due to the fact that in most of these bodies of water, a trapper would be hard pressed to find them, feed beds and runs are almost non-existent on bodies of water that have any kind of current, and then to set them.
Most trappers catch a good amount of muskrats in sets that where originally made to take beaver, mink, raccoon, and otter because they are all found in the same area and use the same exact spots most of the time. To the trapper that knows what to look for he can catch more muskrats on purpose than on accident.
The pocket set is a very reliable set for muskrats when slides and droppings are scarce or on every stone you see. To have an effective pocket set for muskrat you just need only to kick a depression in the bank and add a little muskrat gland lure or bait and you'll have almost every passing muskrat visit your set. If I could dig a full-length pocket I will if I have the time too for a couple of good reasons. First, muskrats tend to check any kind of new digging that wasn't their own thinking they may have new neighbors. Second, there is a better chance catching a mink or raccoon in a full-length pocket than a simple depression in the bank. So instead of kicking the banks, which could end in some very sore or broken toes by the end of the day, I will dig a pocket that is about 6-8 inches in diameter, about 18+ inches deep with just an inch or two of water at the entrance with the back of the pocket above water level, add the anchored trap and I'm done except choosing the lure if I want to use any.
A special set that I read about in an article from the late Charles Dobbins is a real killer on muskrats but can also be equally deadly on coon, mink, beaver and otter. This set is called the Alcove set. Basically, it is the same as a pocket set but instead of the hole being dug into the back it is carved out of the bank forming an open-side tunnel. First, locate a fairly steep bank with a lot of overhanging grass and dig out a tunnel so that it is about 6 inches deep, about 2 inches of water on the shelf and about 2 feet long, at the entrances to the alcove, shave them corners to funnel the 'rats into the set. Next, take a piece of sod that has all dirt removed from it and then torn apart and place this in the middle of the alcove. Finally, add two traps, one on each end and fastened strong enough to hold a beave, otter or coon, and add some muskrat lure to the torn up sod, let the overhanging grass back down to provide 'rat protection.
Channel sets or the bottom-edge set is an effective 'rat killer in streams and rivers. This set is made by locating a fairly vertical bank and where it meets the creek bottom is the place to make the set. Just set a 110 conibear, tunnel trap or colony trap right up against the wall and the creek bottom and if muskrats are using that part of the creek you can bet you will have a 'rat waiting for you or better yet, a nice mink.