My writing schedule has been unusually hot and heavy for this week. Today though, I’ve found myself in an “Info Gathering Traffic Jam.” Jeff Reed, MN DNR Fisheries, noticed a comment on “social” media, responding to my story on the walleye egg take at Cutfoot Sioux. The comments prompted Reed to alert me about a walleye fry survival rate study that was conducted on 4 lakes, including Winnibigoshish. The report, 40 plus pages long is taking me into territory above my skill set, so I’ve contacted the authors for an interview aimed at helping me parse the information and then summarize it for you.
Other readers asked questions about the same article that also requires interviewing DNR experts. Some of these happen to blend in with related questions about walleye stocking, walleye stamp sales and funding related issues that came in over the winter. At the time, finding an expert to interview was nearly impossible, but I think my chances are better now and I’ve made contact. So, updates should be coming soon, if I get some responses.
Minnow supplies are on my mind now too, but the timing is still early. Most of the best shiner producing lakes in our region still have too much ice for setting up minnow traps. But as the satellite images show, Upper Red Lake and Lake Mille Lacs are both getting very close to being ice-free. Eight days is not much time, but my guess is that there will be a trickle of shiners coming from one, possibly both of those lakes. The satellite image of Winnibigoshish is very poor and blurry, but from what I can see, it will still be a few days before anybody can set minnow traps there.
I’ll be contacting bait dealers and trappers over the weekend, and Monday morning should be the time for more serious updates about bait supplies.
I know that this is a hectic time of the season, but if you are in the bait business and are willing to provide updates about your stock, please let us know. Folks email frequently and tell us how much they appreciate the updates, but I can only cover so much ground. With your help, the more information we can put out there, the less often your phones will be ringing off the hooks.
Today, the sun is shining, and I have a garage full of stuff that needs to be installed on my new Alaskan. So, while I’m waiting to hear from the industry experts, I’ll use the free time to chip away on boat rigging. More on that, and everything else later. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
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Grabbing the attention of one reader was Tuesday’s update about minnow supplies, or the lack of them in the north central Minnesota region. In my opinion, his text message to me speaks to the comments (9-20-22) I made about the new era of complacency in America. I thinks reading the exchange of texts between us might be illuminating.
Reader) “I’ve seen your post (about minnows). I have a large holding pond with tens of thousands of fatheads. Know anyone interested?
Sundin) “If they’re good ones, I bet we can hook somebody up with you. Let me know your contact information and I will start asking around.
The reader then sent the photo you see above. His comment, attached to the photo simply says, “1 minute soak”. As you can see, he was not bluffing about the minnow supply or the quality of them. If he can trap that batch of minnows in 60 seconds, my guess is that he can deliver enough bait to keep more than a few FishRapper readers happy during the upcoming fall walleye season.
So, if you’re one of the live bait dealers who couldn’t get, or believed you couldn’t get any decent fatheads, this might be an opportunity to improve your bait store's bottom lines. The peak of the fall fishing season is just now gaining momentum, and the demand for good minnows will remain high for several more weeks. If you’re interested, email or text using the contact information you see here, and I will get you some more information. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"This summer, questions about the bait supply, or more specifically what’s wrong with it, have come up periodically and fall into the “need more research” category.
On September 6, 2022, Michael Carlson wrote, “I was in your area a few weeks ago heading for Winnie and stopped at the local bait stores looking for minnows, particularly larger minnows. When I asked to see the fatheads, what I saw was mostly crappie minnows with very few wart-nosed fatheads in the mix. I was told nicely that "this is what we get this time of year".
Is this a new phenomenon to the area or do larger minnows arrive in the tanks later in the season? Are the larger minnows, like red-tails available in the area later? It has been more than a few years since I have been at these bait shops after opening weekend, but I don't remember this mini-minnow dilemma. Thanks for your help, Mike Carlson”
A) Mike, thanks for your patience in waiting for my reply. The truth is that issues with bait supplies in the region are more complex than I can answer in one sitting. But you are correct, the politest way to say it is that the quality of minnows in bait store tanks this summer was “well below average.” On the Thursday morning radio show, I used the term “stupid fatheads” and that caused a momentary stir, but soon after, dealers went back to business as usual.
Minnow dealers in Minnesota point to the MN DNR’s ban on importing minnows from other states as a big part of the problem. The MN fisheries officials do not want water borne diseases like VHS, arriving in the state via imported minnows, more specifically imported “minnow water”. There are good points on both sides of that issue and parsing out the most accurate details will require some significant study.
One sentence from your question, “I was told nicely that "this is what we get this time of year", reminded me of some anecdotal observations I made at different times this summer. The attitude, “this is the best we can do, so don’t bother me with stupid questions” is part of the new American complacency, I think. As a society, we have become less and less concerned with great customer service, and more liable to pin our problems on phantom external causes. That’s problematic, but it’s a discussion for another time and venue.
“Minnow Dealers” typically depend on outside providers for their minnow supplies. The pitfall is that if their wholesaler is having problems, then so will they. Bait shops who have their own minnow trappers on staff are the ones who typically have the best quality bait. The trappers who go out and catch the bait, are in a better position to find decent minnows. The problem is that there are relatively few trappers in Minnesota, they are over-worked and under-paid and seldom appreciated.
Competition for bait supplies is another concern. You mentioned redtails, and I agree, they have become difficult to get. I recall when they used to be sticked in the main tanks, in the retail sections of most bait stores. Now, they are often kept in the back room, in tanks that are reserved for “special customers”. Tournament anglers, high end retail customers and minnow fanatics will often strike special deals with the retailers, reserving minnows in advance, often knowing that they will pay more for them, but willing to do so because of the importance of having good bait in their boats. Some have installed elaborate, professional grade minnow tanks in their home workshops. Oxygenated, temperature-controlled water allows them to babysit their minnows all summer long. These folks will snap up good minnows every chance they get.
As usual, especially in fishing, identifying the problems is easy, fixing them is unfortunately more difficult. Minnows are not the only bait of concern, night crawler regulations are about to change soon too, and these will impact bait dealers and anglers alike. I’ve been working for a while now on a deeper dive into the subject of bait supplies and will provide updates as they become available.
In the meantime, there is some good news. Minnow quality has improved greatly in recent weeks. Fatheads in particular look better than they have all summer and at some shops, Fred’s Bait at Deer River in particular, I’ve been buying what I’d call good to excellent chubs. Most stores are getting “river mix” minnows now too, a hodge-podge of dace, rainbows, leatherbacks, fatheads and even some shiner varieties.
This is the time for me to call on our fellow anglers for assistance. If you’re in the bait shop, see some great looking minnows and the dealer reports having them in good supply; share the discovery. As much as we love having our little fishing secrets, anglers depend on each other more than we realize. Good dealers should be rewarded, in my opinion, for keeping high standards and providing good service. We should support them in every possible way, otherwise we’re gonna be hearing the phrase “that’s all we can get this time of year” a lot more. — Office Cell Call or Text 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
In the June 11, 2022, article regarding the U.S. ban on black dirt packaged Canadian Night Crawlers, I wrote, “To be sure that the night crawler harvesters are “qualified” to package the worms properly, they’ll need to first obtain a special permit from the government. It’s hard to imagine how any of the larger operators will be able to obtain the permit, complete the 2-step packing process and get the worms shipped before July 1st, 2022, but I suppose some of them will accomplish it.”
Yesterday, June 21, 2022, Bill Powell at Fred’s Bait in Deer River gave me a heads up that implementation of the new law has been delayed. October 1, 2022 is now the deadline for Canadian night crawler suppliers to stop using black dirt and start using non-organic worm bedding instead.
Relieved over the short term, US bait dealers will find it easier to keep up with demand for nightcrawlers this summer. Speculating about the impact, if any, felt by Canadian exporters is another subject and one that we need to look at. I’ve been studying the issue and have calls in to some of the larger bait operators. Soon, I’ll provide an update about with more details, so stay tuned. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
“What do you use those bobbers for?” Customers sometimes ask. The question references this supply of inexpensive Thill "Fish'N Foam" clip-on foam floats that can be seen through the top of my tackle box (photo left). My typical reply, “well, you never know when they might come in handy, sometimes I run into situations where a fast change to a bobber can help put some extra fish in the boat,” could not have been any truer than it was yesterday.
Moss covered rocks and gravel can be hard to fish, especially during early summer. Later in the summer, it becomes more coarse and easier to manage, but the moss, name unknown to me, is super fine and silky right now. When somebody allows their jig to drag the bottom, even for a second, it fouls their lure and ruins the presentation. It’s especially hard to work with when the rocks are in shallow water. Even an expert can have trouble keeping their lure running cleanly, in the fish catching zone.
We drifted into a spot like that on Sunday, a rock pile located in 6 to 7 feet of water, covered with a layer of the ultra-fine moss. The fish don’t mid the moss at all and our first pass produced a couple of keeper walleyes and a decent perch or two. The spot had potential and we knew it, but on almost every cast, everybody in the boat, me included, was bringing back strands of silky smooth, slippery feeling moss. After a short while, the process of casting-cleaning-casting-cleaning became more trouble than it was worth, so we left the rocks and began exploring.
Southeast winds at 20 MPH took some of the fun out of that process too. So, after trying a couple of other spots, I drove the boat back to the rocks, set the spot lock and clipped bobbers about 4 feet above our 1/8-ounce Lindy Live Bait Jigs tipped with either shiners or fatheads. Set shallow, they were easy to cast, and the floats held our jigs suspended above the moss. Yesterday the fish loved that presentation! With the wind howling, schools of fish came milling in and out of the area frequently and that provided action all day long. By the end of our trip, we had released dozens of small walleyes and harvested 13 “keepers”. There were perch on the rocks too and 10 of them came home with us.
For a total investment of $6.36, I'd say the 4 floats earned their keep.
I know that fishing with bobbers is no new idea, but often, advisors tout the notion that the rigs need to be more elaborate. Obviously, fishing in deep water forces a change to using slip-floats and then it’s better to go out with separate rods already rigged and ready. But when you’re fishing in shallow water, having a supply of clip-on floats is a great idea too. Like I said, you never know when they might come in handy. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Beginning on July 1, 2022, all night crawlers coming into the United States from Canada must be packed in “clean”, non-dirt worm bedding. The 2-step process will begin with first removing the worms from the dirt and packing them into an approved bedding and allowing them to live in it until they have passed all of the dirt from their systems. Then the worms must be removed from the soiled bedding and placed into another container filled with clean bedding.
To be sure that the night crawler harvesters are “qualified” to package the worms properly, they’ll need to first obtain a special permit from the government.
It’s hard to imagine how any of the larger operators will be able to obtain the permit, complete the 2-step packing process and get the worms shipped before July 1st, 2022, but I suppose some of them will accomplish it. But the new system will surely cost more money and of course, be passed along to US, U.S. Citizens.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the Wiggle Worming presentation will now begin with a flashlight in the back yard. Just sayin', “Here wormy, here wormy.” — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
After running the June 9, 2022, story about Minnesota’s leech shortage, I received an email update from Arrowhead Outdoors in Ely, MN.
“Jeff, I was just reading your article on leeches. According to my leech trappers, they are in the process of “seeding” the pond that dried up last summer. This means they are simply taking the small leeches they trap and throwing them into the ponds that dried up last summer.
Last summer’s drought was uncharted territory for leech trappers and restarting these leech ponds is also uncharted territory for leech trappers, so no one really seems to have a answer to how long before large and jumbo leeches return to normal.
The good news is that my mix leeches started out as mostly a small, medium and some large mixed in. Now they are more of a medium, large mix. Hopefully next summer large leeches will start to return in good enough numbers to sell by the pound again."
"Yes, you’re reading the price tag correctly, it does say $4.99 and yes, you counted correctly too, there are exactly 12 leeches in the cup. And if you really love fishing with them, you’ll be happy to pay the price, that is if you can get them at all.
For a few weeks now, I’ve thought the leech shortage we’re experiencing now was because of the cooler, higher water levels. I’ve also thought that when the water warmed up, leech trappers would begin finding their traps filled with lively leeches and the shortages would be over. But yesterday, I learned that I was wrong.
Apparently, today’s shortages have nothing to do with this year’s water levels or the weather either. The big problem actually occurred last summer when drought conditions turned the best leech trapping ponds into dry, cracked dirt. When the ponds dried up, the leeches died, so now, even with an abundance of water, there simply aren’t any leeches left to trap.
It appears that the shortages are going to be with us for a while, but big questions are how long it will take for ponds to recover and how does the recovery happen? Researching any story takes time, and that’s precious right now, but I’m on it. I’ll be comparing notes with as many industry experts as I can find and have updates posted as I learn more.
In the meantime, if you must have them, stock up on leeches now. Otherwise, this would be a great time to explore alternative presentations and start experimenting." — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Starting right now, north central Minnesota walleye anglers will notice a dramatic easing of the previously restricted Spottail Shiners supply. Just in time for the Memorial Day Holiday, bait trappers found their traps teaming with the silvery bait fish on Wednesday morning. Overnight, the situation changed from bait retailers rationing customer purchases, to offering anglers “all the minnows they want”, within the legal limit, of course.
The good news didn’t come along on its own though, it took intervention. Under MN DNR rules, the shiner trapping season was already closed on May 22, 2022. The closure, aimed at preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species, specifically Zebra Mussels, is based on the historical average date for water temperatures to reach 55 degrees.
This spring though, the actual water temperature has deviated significantly from the historical average. Shiner minnows had barely begun spawning before the May 22 closure and few, if any bait trappers were catching enough minnows to supply even a modest portion of the retail market.
Bemidji area bait trapper, Chad Benson was concerned. “The minnows hadn’t even started running and the water was still cold, nowhere near the 55 degree mark. It just wasn’t right.” Benson told me in a phone call Wednesday morning. But Benson, with help from his friends set out to make it right and to me, what happened next was impressive.
Benson, “I thought the MN-Fish group might be able to help, so I called MN-Fish member Duane Peterson. He’s the one who got the ball rolling.”
If I have the story straight, Peterson, former co-owner of Northland Fishing Tackle, called on his brother, John Peterson, Vice President of MN-Fish who called on, among others, MN-Fish executive director, Mark Holsten.” Holsten, a former Minnesota DNR Commissioner himself, contacted Benson for an update on the situation, then agreed to set about the task of getting MN DNR to issue a one-time extension for the shiner trapping season.
If you're not already familiar, I've written about MN-Fish before (See Article March 2019), and could probably write another entire story on whatever hoops Holsten and the MN-Fish organization had to jump through to accomplish the task. But let’s cut to the chase, whatever it was they did, they did it. Shiner trappers now have until May 31, 2022, with One caveat, if DNR records show a temperature of 55° or warmer, two days in a row, that will trigger an earlier closure.
But after what happened on Wednesday, the point may be moot. In a follow up phone call, Benson said, “Hey Jeff, I just got to the lake and my traps are full. You know anybody who needs to get their hands on some extra shiners? The spawning runs hit down south too and now we’ve got more shiners than we know what to do with!” Prior to the May 22nd closure, Benson had caught a total of 100 to 120 gallons of shiners and that’s likely better than almost any of the other trappers had accomplished. Yesterday alone, Benson delivered 100 gallons to bait dealers, has more in stock and will likely find more in his traps today. Benson, “The minnows “hit” big time for everybody today (Wednesday) and the word spread fast. By the weekend, every bait shop that wants shiners will have them.”
Editorial: Who says that the "little guy" can't influence the system? One phone call from a concerned citizen lead to a major breakthrough for folks who depend on live bait to produce a living.
I’m not the foremost authority on DNR rules process, but I’ve been around a while and know how difficult it can be to get any response, let alone one this quickly. So, if anytime soon, you happen to cross paths with Benson, Peterson, Holsten or any of the MN-Fish board members, I’d strongly suggest giving them a pat on the back. In fact I'll go first, THANK YOU TO ALL WHO WERE INVOLVED! You really got the job done this time! Pass The Shiners and Happy fishing this weekend! — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"My audience is the greatest! There were a couple of small, but important ommissions in my May 20, 2022 article >> Preserving My Prescious Shiners. Messages from 2 readers, each pointing out a seperate ommission came in yesterday and their comments will help make the article more valuable.
Q) First, Mark Hager wrote; " (I) Read your article on having two near identical coolers for minnows. How do you move them from one cooler to the other? Some kind of netting or metal basket inside?
A) Mark thank you for the note. Yes, there is a nylon mesh basket (photo left) included with the Engel coolers. The basket fists the cooler perfectly and lifts out all of the minnows at one time. Besides making it easy to transfer from one cooler to another, it saves on unnecessary handling and allows minnows to survive even longer.
Second Steven Renneberg wrote, “Jeff, great topic! One thing to add is keeping a clean bait cooler! We commonly see and smell some really nasty bait coolers and bait containers. Simple cleaning of their bait containers will go a very long ways to better bait and less bait loss.”
A) Steve, yes you're right. I guess I figured that keeping the coolers clean went without saying, but judging by your comments, maybe not. The cleaner and cooler the water is, the healthier and happier my mionnows are. The timing between cleanings depends on how clean I keep the water; changing it daily extends the time between full cleanings. I'd estimate that I fully empty and wash my coolers about once every 10 days. Another thing I do to keep the water both cooler and cleaner is to avoid using the cooler as the main boat container. Instead, the cooler is used only for storage. I put a small supply of minnows into a seperate pail and use that supply for fishing. Occasionally replenishing that supply from the main cooler.
Did I miss anything else? I hope not, but I know you'll let me know if I did. — Office Cell Call or Text 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Last night I was talking to a friend. “The minnows didn’t trap very well last night,” he said. “I think the cold front and the water temperatures dropping was the problem. I’m pretty sure that a couple days of sunshine will help get the minnows moving again.” Was his conclusion. So, sandy stretches of shoreline will begin filling up with spottail shiners and bait trappers will be up to their eyeballs in fresh supplies; just as soon as the weather warms enough to trigger spawning runs en masse.
For that to happen, minnows in “Zebra Mussel infested waters” must start running prior to the arbitrary closing date set by MN DNR Fisheries. I’m not sure the exact day, but unless the DNR provides an extension, it is within the next week. One caveat, if the lakes happen to be within the Leech Lake Reservation, the one trapper who can access them needs to catch a supply of shiners large enough to fulfill the needs of all the bait dealers who depend on those minnows within that time as well. Talk about betting on a long shot!
My minnow trapping buddy was right about one thing, there was a significant temperature drop between Saturday and Sunday. Fishing on Winnie, I had 49 to 50 degrees readings everywhere in the morning and by late afternoon 50 to 51 degrees. This year, the water levels are a lot higher than they were last year and the weather has been a lot colder. Not helpful, that means it will take even more sunshine and more calm weather to produce the needed warm up.
I’m not usually a predicter of gloom and doom, but the situation doesn’t look good. At best, anglers should expect both rationing and high prices to continue though the Memorial Day Holiday. At worst, minnow tanks at some bait shops will contain nothing but crappie minnows and small fatheads or other substandard baitfish. Most will fall somewhere between the two extremes.
As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, watch for updates about which bait suppliers have the best minnows; we’ll do our best." — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Paul Plinske emailed with this question. “Q) With all the talk of a limited supply of spot tail shiners this year, I was just wondering if you had any tips for keeping them alive once you leave the bait shop? They seem to sometimes die if you just look at them the wrong way.
A) Paul, you’re right Spottails can be tricky to keep alive, so can some of the other popular fishing minnows like Red Tails. Your question reminds me that it’s been a long time since I’ve written about keeping live bait alive, so I thank you for the lead into this fresh update.
In my experience, keeping minnows alive for extended periods of time involves addressing 3 main issues, the first 2, involve what the minnows need to survive: space, and environment. Space, to me, means having enough water so that my minnows are not over-crowded. Environment includes temperature, aeration, and ..." Read >> Minnesota AIS Legal System For Preserving My Prescious Shiners and Live Bait Cargo Sundin May 20, 2022
"Right now we are stocked with leeches, crawlers, fatheads, crappie minnows, sucker minnows, and golden shiners. Spottails are few and far between. They’re going to be hard to come by this opener due to cool water temps. It might be a week or so before they start to really shop up." — Northwoods Bait & Tackle Bemidji, MN
"We have lake shiners, golden shiners, sucker minnows, crappie minnows, fathead minnows." — Ben's Bait Shop, Battle Lake, MN 218-864-5596
"We have fatheads, crappie minnows, sucker minnows, wax worms, crawlers and leeches in stock now. Later today, we expect a delivery of shiners." — MD Pawn & Bait Cass Lake MN
"Late breaking updates about live bait supplies continue trickling in. You will see them appear below as they roll in throughout the evening.
Firsthand, I’ve been in touch with Tutt’s Bait in Garrison, MN and they did receive a shipment of shiners yesterday afternoon. Right now, they are not imposing limits or rationing the amount customers can purchase.
I stopped in at 1000 Lakes Sports this morning too, Grant Prokop reported that their minnow tanks were filled yesterday afternoon as well. Today, they have shiners, rainbows, fatheads, and crappie bait. Leeches and crawlers are also available for anybody who wants them."
— Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Big B's Bait and Tackle We will be stocked up on golden shiners if people are looking for those ... very nice ones! We will have the more common bait too. crappie minnows, fat heads, medium suckers, leeches (no Jumbos yet), nightcrawlers, green crawlers, angle worms and wax worms." — Jodi, Big B's Bait & Tackle 763-383-8830
"We are having the same issues that you are seeing and laid out in your article on Tuesday. Our shiners came off Mille Lacs and we are seeing a challenge with the leech ponds along with low numbers of Rainbows. Fatheads are solid and will be our go to for Live Bait in addition to the beautiful selection of Walleye plastics." — Drew Arnold, Reeds Sports, Walker, MN 800-346-0019
"As of right now, we have fatheads, crappies, small suckers and med. suckers. Also, we have a med. large mix leeches which we are selling by 1 pound, half pound or by dozen, also nightcrawlers and leaf worms and waxies." — Travis Smerud, Four Seasons Sports Redwing, MN 651-388-4334
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Travis Verdegan wrote; "Since you brought up the subject of bait shortages I thought I’d pose a related question that’s been on my mind for a while. Q) Have you ever with any success used preserved dead bait, specifically walleye sized minnows?
I asked because after a few of the Covid era shortages I started thinking about a way to use left over bait. I’ve had some success with an aerator to keep minnows alive but inevitably they tend to die off slowly or I forget to change the water in which case they die off quickly. I found some info online including one on the Wisconsin DNR website.
Ultimately I chose to experiment by brining them in a 50/50 salt borax mix for a day then after brushing off as much of the mix as I could, I placed them in a quart freezer bag with a thin coating of mineral oil. I did this early last winter and honestly haven’t even tried them yet. I carried them around in my ice fishing gear all winter and they seem to have held up well. Maybe I’ll give them a try this weekend (maybe I won’t have a choice). Either way I think it’s a practice I’ll keep toying with if only to waste less bait and be prepared in case of the event that lbait is hard to come by."
A) Travis, when it comes to fishing with preserved minnows, I still consider myself a dabbler. While I do use frozen minnows quite often, I discount the value of my field experience because of where and when I’ve used them. Lake of the Woods walleyes do respond very favorably to frozen shiners. When we fish the Minnesota side, frozen minnows purchased locally almost always makes up part of our bait supply. The thing is though, fish in that system respond well to stationary, and ultra-slow presentations. Frozen minnows, delicate and fragile, work out okay because there isn't a lot of action that forces them off of the hook.
At times, I’ve tried to stretch my bait supply by freezing some of the extra minnows I buy at my favorite local shops. But when used on lakes closer to home, frozen minnows produce far less impressive results than they do on Lake of the Woods. The problem is that frequently, walleyes in my region seem to prefer more aggressive presentations. Hopping, snapping, and sometimes even ripping a jig tipped with minnows can be the best way to trigger walleye strikes. Frozen minnows, under those circumstances, don’t hold up on the hook very well.
Hoping to “toughen up” frozen shiners, I once tried the borax method that you mentioned. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that this is not at all good for fish; here’s what happened.
Way back when my kids were little, we, along with one of their primary school teachers had permission to keep a live bass as a class project. That bass survived well in the fish tank and was fed with minnows that we bought at the bait store. One day, we ran out of live minnows on a day that the bait shop was closed, so we fed that bass a shiner minnow that had been preserved using the borax method. The fish ate the minnow, and everything appeared to be fine. But the bulge in that fish’s belly never went away, day after day, the bulge stayed there and as long as it did, the fish would not eat. In every possible way, the fish appeared to be fine, but apparently, the fish felt full, had no urge to eat and began losing weight. We started counting the days without feeding and after 64 days without a meal, the bass died of starvation, with the bulge still in its belly. Thinking about how many times in a typical day, fish strike our lures and eat the bait without getting hooked, I swore off using borax for preserving minnows.
What I figured out is that when freezing minnows, water is the enemy that makes them soft and mushy. That's why they are harder to use for more some of the more aggressive presentations. These days, I still do freeze some of my local minnows but I use a different method to help toughen them up. Removing all the water first, I lay 12 to 18 minnows on a paper towel and roll it up. The small, dry paper rolls are then placed in plastic bags and frozen. As shown in the accompanying photo, the finished product isn’t pretty, they often appear to be wrinkled and over-dried, but on a jig head, they work a lot better than mushy, wet frozen minnows.
I followed the link you sent for the Wisconsin DNR website and viewed the >> Video about preserving minnows without freezing . It piqued my interest because I’ve never tried either of their liquid preservation methods before. I can’t see any reason not to give their liquid preservation methods a whirl. Considering my previous experience with borax though, I plan to skip that suggestion.
The video piqued my interest in another way too, it left me pondering the legality of transporting either preserved minnows or frozen ones. So, I checked the Minnesota DNR website and read; “Most bait that originates in Minnesota can be used as fresh, dead, or frozen bait. This bait does not have any specific labeling or preservation requirements.” But this is Minnesota and as usual, there are myriad exceptions, exclusions, and conditions, so before you start packing your freezer full of frozen or preserved minnows, read this entire section of the MN DNR site titled >> “Fishing with dead, frozen or preserved bait.”
Personally, I’ve never used any of the commercially prepared preserved minnows, but coincidentally have a package of them ready for this weekend. Due to the late ice out we experienced this spring, most bait shops were already closed for the season, but the ice was still good, and I wanted to keep fishing. On my last outing, I completely cleaned L&M Supply out of their last few minnows and feared running out of them and I bought a package of commercially preserved shiners as a backup plan. As it happens, I never needed to use them, but do intend to try them this weekend and will report about their effectiveness once I’ve used them.
For now, that exhausts my working knowledge of using either frozen or preserved minnows. But I’ll bet that readers might have other tricks for producing preserved or frozen minnows that works well. So, folks, if you do, we’d love to know about it. I know that I say this a lot, but you do not need to wait for a gold engraved invitation! Share your thoughts and help out your fellow anglers, you know how it works, today you help them, tomorrow they help you and, in the end, we all come out ahead. — Office Cell Call or Text 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Whatever you do for a living, there are probably days when the workload is so daunting that you just don’t know how you’ll make it through the day. Imagine that today is that day, you’re at the epicenter of your busy season. This morning, your email box is full and the phone is already ringing off the hook; you already feel like if it rings one more time, you’re gonna throw it in the toilet and pull the handle!
That my friends is the scene at most of Minnesota’s better bait and tackle stores right now. That’s one reason this page exists, to help save them a few phone calls so they can focus on getting ready for the large crowds that will be arriving in the next few days.
I just got off the phone with Lacy Ferris at Full Stringer Bait and Tackle in Longville. “The phone has been ringing all day long, every day.” Ferris says. Anglers are checking about the prospect of buying Spottail Shiners for the fishing opener this weekend. The news from Full Stringer Bait is better today than it is from most, Ferris; “We have a load of shiners coming in later today and the trappers are supposed to be bringing in some good leeches too. We’re not sure how many we’ll get, of if it will be enough to meet the full opening day demand. So, for the weekend, we’re probably going to limit customers to a pint of shiners.”
At Full Stringer, they’re holding prices steady at 2020-2021 levels. Shiners will sell for $7.99 per dozen, typical of the pricing at most of the better dealers last summer. “Since our first year, I’ve been amazed at how important a minnow can be to walleye anglers. Friday is the biggest traffic day, there will be folks lined up around the block, but as busy as it gets, we always have fun with that.” Ferris said.
Optimism about having full minnow tanks is growing but varies wildly depending on which dealer I’ve contacted. The trend is that dealers who depend on bait trappers in the southern portion of Minnesota are doing best. A text from Chris at the Prior Lake Bait Shop reads; “We just got shiners and sucker minnows in today and should have plenty for the opener.”
Contrast that with the morning report from Tutt’s Bait and Tackle in Garrison. Tyler told me that as of this morning, minnow tanks contain crappie minnows, but nothing else. “We are expecting to get some shiners later today, but I don’t know how many or where they’ll come from. I’m pretty sure that we’ll have some for the opener though, we’ll have an update later today or today.”
I’m on the phone right now with my friend Chad Benson, who traps shiners on Upper Red Lake. “It’s looking good for today; I got the traps set up yesterday and the south wind is really helping. Water temperatures already reached 50 degrees and I’m pretty sure that minnows will start running fast.” Benson says.
All this adds up to an optimistic outlook for weekend supplies, but the flow of information is slow. During the day today, I’ll post more updates as they come in, so stay tuned and remember, your reports and updates are welcome too! — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"A field update texted in from reader Joe LaHood; “Just spoke with Frankie’s Live Bait, Chisago, MN. They have shiners on hand right now, (about 10 dozen) and their trappers are checking traps every day. So, they should have some on for the fishing opener. $13.00 per dozen for a medium-small mix of minnow sizes.
Fish Lake Bait has some, but she is not selling quarts or gallons. She should have some for the opener, but don’t hold her to that, she says. $11.00 per dozen will be the price, if they are available.”
“Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” We’ve all heard that that phrase before and this spring, getting what we wanted, ice-out before Saturday’s walleye season opener might be one of those times when “wishes” didn’t work out the way we’d hoped.
For those of us who love to fish for walleyes, the term “Spottail Shiner” is synonymous with the term “Minnesota Fishing Opener”. Having shiners for the opener is so important to some folks, that they will storm out the door of their favorite bait retailer in anger whenever the proprietor is temporarily not able to provide them. Try not to get mad, but this spring, the tradeoff for the “just-in-time” ice-out will almost certainly be that most of us will have to hit the lakes without shiners in our boats on Saturday.
Ordinarily, I’d shrug it off and switch over to rainbows, fatheads or most any minnow in the right size category. But apparently, even that philosophy is going to get complicated this weekend. Not that there won’t be any minnows anywhere, but suppliers are struggling, even to lay in basic supplies of live bait in all forms. At best, supplies of good live bait will be spotty.
When I started my spring assessment of which bait stores will have shiners and which ones won’t on Monday morning. I didn’t travel far before I figured out that for 2022, that is not the right question to ask. This year, the correct question is which stores will have any minnows at all. “It could get ugly; we don’t have a single shiner in our tanks yet and the rainbow and fathead dealers aren’t reporting good news either. If we get lucky, the rainbows will begin moving on Wednesday, when the temperatures warm up again. But there’s no guarantee that the trappers can move fast enough to get the tanks filled for the weekend.”
I am giving the gift of anonymity to my friend who spoke those words because this is not a 1 store, or a 1 bait trapper problem. The circumstances, tough as they are, will affect everybody and every lake in the northern tier lakes areas of Minnesota, the best regions for natural shiner production.
As a natural born optimist, I’d like to hold out hope that there might be an exception. Lake Mille Lacs ice went out earlier than it did on many of the good spottail trapping lakes further north. The warm weather has had a chance to work its magic on that lake and with luck, minnow trappers there will be able to grab enough shiners to keep some folks going for the weekend.
Larger than most folks prefer, some Mille Lacs spottails can stretch across the 5-inch mark on a ruler, generally considered too big for jig and minnow presentations. The giant minnows still can be used effectively though, and you may recall the 2020 video in which Jon Thelen proved it by taking me along to film an opening week walleye fishing show for Destination Fish. In that adventure, we used those big Mille Lacs Shiners on Lindy Rigs instead of jigs and the walleyes loved them. In fact, you can read the whole story because I wrote about it at the time; Fishing Report May 13, 2020.
Even if supplies of Mille Lacs Shiners don’t make it this far north, there are lots of folks who do pass through the Mille Lacs region on their way north. If that’s you, I’d strongly advise stopping at one of the bait shops in that region to pick some minnows up on your way.
Another optimistic note about minnows came from Shawn Peck, who now owns Fred’s Bait in Deer River, along with the Winnie One Stop near the Winnie Dam. “We have rainbows and fatheads in the storage tanks now and I think we should be good for opening weekend.” Said Peck. “Spottails will be tough, we’ll just have to wait for warm weather to get the runs started.” He added.
“Our bait trapper was sitting on the edge of his chair last Friday, waiting for the ice to go out on Red Lake. The ice there is breaking up now and as soon as it’s gone, he’ll be able to get traps in. Sunshine warms that dark water fast and it usually doesn’t take too long for the shiners to start moving up there.” Says Ben Kellin, District Manager, and sporting goods buyer for the Lucky Seven stores.
Kellin: “We all got spoiled last spring, the weather turned warm early and by the fishing opener, we all had more shiners than we knew what to do with. But in nature, you can’t set the baseline on the best years. The shiners will run soon and when we do, we can get caught up. In the meantime, we’re working on getting the stores stocked with everything else that anglers will need for opening day.” “Oh, and by the way, all of the stores are stocked with YOUR jigs (Lindy Live Bait Jig), not even my doing, they were there already there when I took over the job, popular item.” He concluded.
Working with the Lucky Seven Stores could turn out to be an exciting development. Aggressive expansion in Minnesota is leading in the direction of an improved network of one stop for everything stores. Some of the Lucky 7’s already have bait and tackle and they are amid expanding those services into more stores. Exciting for me because this season, right here in Grand Rapids, I can stop for fuel, get my breakfast, and pick up my live bait all at the same time. And thanks to Kellin, a seasoned veteran in the tackle industry and an experienced bait dealer; I know that I can count on the stores having the right bait at the right time.
The development is exciting for you too because the network of stores reaches well beyond Grand Rapids. With stores in Ely, International Falls, Cook, Chisholm and Hibbing, to name a few; reliable fishing updates from Vermilion, Rainy Lake, the Boundary Waters and others will begin appearing on these pages.
Back to today’s short-term shiner crisis. I was able to confirm some info regarding this comment and question from a reader, Rick Pint late last week. "My question is minnows, heard the Reservation canceled all minnow trapping permits if you are not Native? Could be tough till the non-natives figure out new trapping areas."
Rick, the new rule applies to bait trapping only on the Leech Lake Reservation. Within it, all bait trappers must be registered band members. The trappers, however, are still allowed to sell minnows to licensed bait dealers both on and off the reservation. So, the only rub, if there is one, would result from trappers not having enough help to keep up with demand from bait dealers. There were only a couple of “non-native” trappers fishing the reservation to begin with, so if we could assume that there are enough “native” trappers to make up for their being sidelined, retail customers would never know the difference.
You are right, non-band members, if they wish to keep trapping spottails will be forced to look elsewhere for good fishing spots. I’m sure that they’ll find some, but most of the richest producers of spottails happen to be on the reservation. Winnie’s shiners are probably the most sought after, but other reservation lakes contribute to the supply significantly.
Politics aside, the problem in my view will be one of supply and demand. The prices of shiners have already gone through the roof and restricting the supply even more is the last thing anglers need right now. A healthy breakthrough, in my opinion, would be for dozens of Leech Lake Band members to take up shiner trapping on Winnie, Leech and other reservation lakes. The more the better, in fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing fresh competition on every corner, fulfilling demand, and lowering shiner prices for everybody.
Keeping track of bait supplies in Minnesota won’t be an easy job. But I’m trying out this page as a pilot project. If we can keep the flow of useful and reliable information going, I’ll make this bait supply page a permanent part of the reporting service. So if you’d like to bookmark the page, go ahead, it will definitely be around for the next couple of months.
I’ll be making my semi-monthly trek to see my mom in the Twin Cities today. So, I’ll check with some of the larger bait shops along the way and provide updates tomorrow. If you’d like to help, see to it that it becomes permanent, you are most certainly welcome. Drop us a line or send a text with updates about the bait supplies at your favorite shop. Texters, please be sure to let us know who you are, a phone number without a name is not helpful and they are typically not responded to. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL