Bait shops face minnow shortages ahead of this year’s fishing season

Bait shops face minnow shortages ahead of this year’s fishing season

Bait shops face minnow shortages ahead of this year’s fishing season

Fishing season is almost here in Minnesota — but bait shops across the state are having trouble finding enough minnows.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, minnow harvests fell at least 25% between 2017 and 2021. As we head toward the Walleye Opener on May 13, there may not be enough minnows to go around.

According to Urbank Live Bait Company, one of the largest minnow providers in the state, Minnesota’s long, cold winter did some damage to our ponds — where most minnows are grown. The Clitherall store also said that the minnow supply could be impacted for years to come.

“The tough winter we had, a lot of these things died out because the oxygen levels got so low that these minnows that are in there have… They just died underneath the ice then they get covered,” Marshall Koep of Urbank Live Bait Co. said. “And in the spring you don’t know what you have until you actually get to the lake and see if it’s a 100% kill or if there’s actually some live bait left in there to reproduce for that next hatch.”

Koep added that Minnesota’s strict bait laws are also creating hurdles. In an effort to cut down on invasive species of fish being introduced, Minnesota doesn’t allow minnows to be imported from other states.

Lawmakers are considering loosening regulations to allow imports to remedy the shortage. Other initiatives being considered include improving methods of raising minnows and allowing harvests from lakes currently on the “infested waters” list.

But Koep says it may be too late for a good minnow harvest this summer.

“A lot of these lakes have died out, so we have to restock them,” he said. “So you have to put smaller minnows in, they reproduce on their own. For Sucker Minnows, we put them in there, they’ll start growing once June, July comes. Hopefully, by October we have a harvestable minnow on that lake.”

MN DNR working to address Minnow shortage ahead of fishing season

MN DNR working to address Minnow shortage ahead of fishing season

For Tim Sonenstahl, co-owner of Wayzata Bait and Tackle, minnows are usually where the money is. Up to 75% of his income is from live bait.

“It’s like a gas station being out of gas,” he said. “Because without this, this is our backbone, this is what we made our money on. It is what it is. It’s all by mother nature.”

He said this year’s minnow shortage is putting the squeeze on his bottom line.

The shortage comes with the start of Minnesota fishing season just weeks away, on May 13.

“A lot of guys use plastics on in the winter, but in the spring I haven’t figured out how to do plastics only, so I like the live bait,” said Derrick Grow, from North Minneapolis.  

The DNR says our long winter, with deep snow blocked sunlight from ponds and lakes. Plants and algae couldn’t grow and make oxygen, which minnows and other fish need.

“The winter freeze out from the heavy snow, low water, takes a lot of the oxygen out of there, so you’ve got oxygen-deprived lakes and then minnows will starve out or die,” Sonenstahl said.  

The DNR also says frozen lakes make it harder to access minnow populations.

All of this means higher prices for live bait — now and perhaps next year.

“Earlier in the winter, shiners went from eight bucks to ten bucks to 12 bucks,” Sonenstahl noted. “So they went by supply and demand as how hard they were to get last winter. This winter’s going to be another problem.”

For Sonenstahl, the timing is far from ideal — He’s not sure how long his minnow stock will last.

“We’ll be all right about the opener, but maybe two to three weeks into the season, we might be out of bait by then,” he said. “So I think we’ll be good for the opener, but after that, it’s anybody’s guess.”