Newt Sterling of New Jersey Interview
By Trap & Trail Magazine
1. What state did you grow up in and how old were you when you started trapping?
I grew up in Pennsylvania and we moved to New Jersey when I was fourteen years old. Up in Pennsylvania though I trapped muskrats with my dad ever since I could get up and walk.
2. Did you have siblings or family that trapped?
I’m the oldest of six. My dad and uncles trapped during the depression for skunks and stuff. Back then, they would run them down at night and club them. A skunk was worth a weeks pay back then! My cousin was a big competitor of mine. We competed on everything we did including hunting and trapping.
3. Did you snare at an early age or were you a steel trapper first?
I started with steel traps. I can still remember the year the first conibear came out. I looked at it and said, “This will never work”. (Laughs)
4. What age did you start snaring at?
When we had to! Steel traps were outlawed completely in New Jersey back in 1986. And now we face the risk of losing everything.
5. What’s your favorite animal to snare?
Over the past few years, my favorite animals to snare and trap have become otters and cats.
6. Were you a professional trapper your entire life or did you have a nine to five job in the early years?
I’ve always been self-employed whether it be cabinetmaking, boat building, trapping, commercial clamming, or commercial fishing, I’ve had two or three jobs over the years. One may have lasted a year, the others maybe six months.
7. Were you ever married and do you have any children?
Bout three years ago Sally whom I’ve lived with for twenty seven years ago said, “You need insurance, we’re getting married!” We don’t have any kids together. She has two and I have two. We have nine grandchildren between us.
8. Tell us about you commercial fishing life.
My dad bought a motel in New Jersey and we moved there when I was fourteen. That summer, I met the guys I would be going to school with in the fall. They all clammed and fished. Every fourteen year old had a bicycle and a boat back then. If you didn’t have a bicycle or a boat, you didn’t do nothin. We took our dates out in our boats. Without a boat there was no transportation, and you didn’t get the cute girls!
9. How did you get started in commercial fishing?
When I got older, I got married and bought a house eight miles up the road from where my mom and dad were. It was 1973 when I met a neighbor named Wilson who was a charter boat captain, commercial fisherman, and commercial trapper. That’s where I got started with commercial fishing, turtle trapping, and commercial trapping. I was twenty two years old at the time. That’s when I really learned that you could make a good living off the land here.
10. Tell us about your turtling trapping experiences?
Turtle trapping paid off real good. We would start in May for turtles when the water would warm up. As the equipment changed and got modified, on my best days, I was averaging 500 pounds a day. One day about five years ago between Massachusetts and North Carolina and a few states in between I was buying turtles and re-selling them live. I had to have paperwork for every turtle I bought. I bought 89,000 pounds of turtles. We were mainly shipping to China and they were using them as grow-outs to start turtle farms over there. The federal government stopped that. Out of 89,000 pound only five turtles went 50 lbs. or above. None of them made it to 55 pounds. A few years before that the biggest turtle I’ve ever caught was right here in my home waters and went 68-3/4 pounds.
11. Are you or have you ever been a longliner?
When otters were bringing big money, I would start trapping them in October in Maine, and I would still be trapping in February in East Texas or Mississippi. I would follow the warm weather. I’m not a cold weather trapper. I used to be a longliner, I’m too old for that now. I can’t keep up with the young guys. I’ll be 70 in a few weeks, and I can’t trap all day skin at night and do it all over again the next day for weeks on end With the way the fur market is, the only thing bringing any money is high dollar cats. Even with that along with all the beaver you could trap there’s very few that can do it anymore.
12. What year did you start your Snare One business?
I officially started it back in 1986. Snare One the business encompasses everything trapping. The snares, lures, books, DVD’s, and everything trapping. My commercial fishing business and boatbuilding is under Sterling Marine. I build my boats out of wood and fiberglass. I also do repairs. I got into restoring old antique boats. With trapping falling off, that’s what I plan on doing this summer is restoring antique boats. I have four in the yard waiting to be brought back to life.
13. Who taught you how to snare?
I went to the Trappers College in Lagrange, Indiana back in 84′. That’s when Tom Miranda was an instructor. That winter, I tried snares. I ended up going back in 86′. They didn’t work and the light bulb hadn’t come on. The snares we used back in the 80’s compared to today’s equipment is total relic antique junk! The winter of 86 the light bulb came on it was go. I call it foot trapping mentality, and you have to completely get rid of that and switch over to a snaring mentality. Once you do that, snaring becomes easy, and you can catch any animal you want!
14. Do you build your own Snares or do you have someone else build them?
I build all my own snares. They are made right here in the shop. On year I trained a buddy of mine to build them exactly like I made them. You literally couldn’t tell them apart. I was just too busy that year, and he ended up making 3000 dozen!
15. What year did you put out your first book Newt and what was it called?
Master Land Snaring was my first book. It came out in 2002. Ten years later things changed a little, and I revised it and re-released it in 2012. It’s still probably the top selling snare book today.
16. What year did you start offering private snaring instruction and how many clients do you take in a season?
It kind of depends on the year. I get five or six clients a year. I don’t chase it too hard.
17. What was your best year ever for fur?
It all depends on what was bringing the most money. Back in the mid-80’s we had a lot of animals. In a sixty day time period, I was averaging ten “long hairs” a day. By that I mean red fox, gray fox, and raccoon. That was big for here! I was selling them in the round so I could spend more time trapping. I remember selling fur one day to a guy who was a friend of mine. I threw the animals on the floor and collected my money, and my friend said, another guy came in after you left yesterday, and asked who caught all those animals, and he said Newt Sterling. The guy said, “Wow, that’s a lot of animals for the week”, to which my buddy replied, “Hell that’s a day’s catch, he’ll have that much tomorrow again if not more”! My biggest day on otter was six. It was all muskrats here. Heck I was 24 or 25 before I learned how to catch fox.
18. Tell us about your association with Clint Locklear. Have you done any projects with him?
Me and Clint got together when the otters were bringing big money and we longlined together. We were trapping together down in Carolina and we were in the trailer eating supper watching tv. We popped in someone’s turtle trapping video. We watched the video, and looked at each other and said, “We have to make a turtle trapping video”!
19. What is your biggest personal accomplishment to date?
To be a Born Again Christian and love Jesus. How’s that? To walk in Jesus’ shoes is a huge challenge. I was one heck of sinner and I still am today. (Laughs)
20. Do you still make and bottle all your own lures?
Yes I do, but my lures aren’t big sellers. I’m a snareman, so when I start talking about snares and telling people you don’t use lures, I can’t hardly promote my lures. My invention of Formula One probably made me the most money. I travelled all over the country promoting it at conventions and had a lot of fun doing it.
21. Who taught you how to make lures or are you self taught?
I learned a little bit at the trappers college. I talked to a few guys here and there, but it really came around when I took a lure making class by Gary Jepson. It was a three or four day class. He didn’t give me any formulas, but taught you what works and what don’t and how the ingredients work together. I also talk to Mike Marsyada. He’s a friend.
22. Have you ever had any close calls in the field or on the trapline?
Yeah, look up the January 2004 issue of Trapper Predator Caller. There’s a big story about me and couple of guys having our boat flipped over while trapping and we were in 43 degree water for three hours.
23. How many books and DVD’s do you have?
I have two books and seven DVD’s. My favorite book to write was the Master Land Snaring book. I’m doing another one now, but I won’t talk about it because it’s not released yet!
24. Newt you’ve been around forever in the industry. What do you think your key to success is?
Being versatile and willing to change. Going with the flow. You have to know how to do a little bit of everything and be willing to do anything if you want to work for yourself.