An Interview With Trapper Art Simmerman of Wisconsin
By: Trap and Trail Staff
T&T: What year were you born and what state did you originally start trapping in?
Art: I was born in 1941 and started trapping when I was ten years old. I’m a Wisconsin native and started trapping about ten miles from where I live today.
T&T: Who taught you how to trap?
Art: I was in a ditch with another kid and we were trapping gophers with some number 0 traps. We had a neighbor named Amel Jensen. He was a big rat trapper. He saw us and asked if I wanted to learn how to trap muskrats when fall came. Being a ten-year old kid, I jumped at the chance. A year or so later they flooded lake Holcombe, and the rat population went crazy. My job was to move all the equipment, hand Amel traps, and skin the rats. I can remember coming into the landing with two inches of clearance between the water and the top of the boat with a giant heap of rats between us. I can’t remember the number, but for that time period it was phenomenal.
T&T: Did you come from a big hunting, fishing, and trapping type family?
Art: All my brothers were hunters. A couple of my brothers trapped a few rats in ponds or creeks, but no one in my family was a canine trapper.
T&T: How many siblings do you have?
Art: I have four brothers and a sister. They’re all gone now except for me and my sister. I was the baby of the family.
T&T: What year did you get married and how many children do you have?
Art: My first wife died of cancer, but we were married on August 31st, 1963. We got married in Minneapolis because that’s where I was working at the time. We have three children, two girls and one boy. My wife passed away in 1975. I’m re-married and we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. She’s a good woman. She’s not a trapper like my first wife was. My first wife was one heck of a mink trapper. She could out catch most men on the mink line. She was a blind setter, and I taught her how to trap.
T&T: How did Trapper Art Trapping Supplies come about?
Art: I started it in 1990. I started making lure for myself and for a few other people back in 1979. I made it for ten years in limited quantities for myself and I gave some to fellow trappers who were friends. It just got the point where I could catch more with the lure I made than with what I could buy. Lure making is an addiction. Once you start, you can’t stop even though there’s very little money it. I’ve thrown away thousands of dollars worth of product that just didn’t turn out.
T&T: Have you ever been a full-time trapper or longliner?
Art: I’ve always been kind of a longliner, but I started working as an electrician and I always wanted to be self-employed. At one point in time, I owned seven different businesses. I always hired good employees so that when trapping season rolled around they could take care of things. I would run a full trapline, skin until midnight or later, and then get up the next morning and do it all over again. I couldn’t do that anymore, because the juice just isn’t here anymore. There were years that I would catch a hundred mink and a hundred fox. My wife would pack me a three-day lunch in a cooler, and I would sleep in wayside rest stops. I was running a three-day mink line because there were no check laws back then. I ran fox and coyote the same way on drags. I would eat out of the cooler, make my own coffee every morning, and sleep with those flea-bitten foxes at night.
T&T: How many traps were you running in a season when you were longlining?
Art: I was in my 30’s running 150-160 mink traps. There was one line I never seen in the daylight. I prospected it, checked it, and pulled it in the dark. There was just no time, I always got there when it was dark. I’ll tell you a story about that line. I pulled up to the bridge to check where I had two stop loss sets. I shined the first set and the trap was gone, and I looked at the second one, and that was gone too. I looked a ways upstream and there was an otter. I thought oh boy, I have him in both traps. It’s cold, dark, and snowing. I finally got the first trap off him, and he slipped out of the catch pole. Getting an otter into a catch pole the first time is tough but a second time is even worse. I messed around another half hour and decided I was too cold I would come back in the morning. When I turned to leave, I kicked something, and there was the second trap. It wasn’t even on his foot!
T&T: What year did you start trapping in North Dakota? Do you trap by yourself in North Dakota or do you have a partner?
Art: I believe it was the 2006-2007 season. I have a young partner. See that’s the secret to being able to trap when you’re old is to get yourself a good young partner. We started in Kansas together and we caught a lot of cats and coyotes. We caught a cat down there that had “rosebuds” all over him. He was the most beautiful cat I had ever seen.
T&T: Did someone teach you how to make lures?
Art: I read Wyshinski’s book and Caman’s later on. The best book out there is Carman’s Musks Myths, and Misconceptions. To start out with, that book is too advanced. You have to start with the basics or you’ll never get it right. If you follow Wyshinski’s recipes, you’ll catch fur. It won’t be anything outstanding, but the recipes he gives are good starting points. I test all my own lures for a minimum of three years on my line before I put my name on it and sell it to the public.
T&T: How many lures and baits do you guys make with the Trapper Art name?
Art: I would say thirty to thirty-five with all the lures and baits combined.
T&T: What is the key to making lures and baits in large quantities?
Art: A person should make all your baits and lures in a five-gallon quantity. That’s the smallest batch you should make. If you make two quarts, or a quart, the smell from one to the next won’t be the same. It’s far easier to get an accurate amount of ingredients and a repeatable product in a five-gallon quantity.
T&T: Do you guys still make and bottle all of your own lures? How do you keep up with demand?
Art: I only make my personal stuff now. I help Adam when it gets busy. When the fur prices are good, we are selling thousands of bottles a year. I love making lure, but I hate bottling it. A trapper can’t get legitimately test a lure with a one ounce bottle. If I was to make lures again, I would only bottle in four ounce bottles.
T&T: Tell us about some of the big catches you’ve had.
Art: I don’t remember the year for sure, but it was a 41 day catch and we had 49 coons, 60 red fox, 56 mink and 296 rats. You gotta have good legs to do something like. I don’t have them anymore.
T&T: What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
Art: Every business I’ve ever had has been successful, and I’ve basically been able to do whatever I’ve wanted to do. I have a wonderful family and three great kids. Out of the three kids my son is the only one that’s ever been in any trouble and that was because he shot a neighbor’s rooster because it was crowing beneath his window at five o’clock in the morning!
T&T: What year did you meet Leo Hoeft and how old were you guys?
Art: I knew of Leo when I was in high school. Leo is almost twenty years old than I am. I’ve known Leo for almost sixty years now. We’ve always been friends. Leo is hard guy not to like. Leo helped me a lot. When he knew I was serious, and wasn’t just screwing around he really helped me out. He never gave me any recipes, but he did always give me the do’s and don’ts of how to make a good lure.
T&T: What is the key to living a long life as a trapper like you have?
Art: Well, I think being successful helps a lot. The real key is staying active. I’ve had both knees replaced, both shoulders replaced, a fused ankle, and a fused back, and I’ve never thought about stopping. You have to keep doing the things you love.