Where have all the shiner minnows gone? A question most anglers have been asking bait shops around northwest, northeast and central Minnesota this spring. The lack of spottails affects thousands of anglers who fish hundreds of lakes from Grand Rapids to Deer River to Bemidji. Up here, the spottail is king for walleye fisherman, especially in the first few weeks of the fishing season. The reason for the shortage is two fold. The late ice-out caused the water to remain cold, and shiner minnows weren’t moving into the shallows in big numbers like they usually do. Another huge impact on the shortage of shiner minnows is the ban on harvesting spottails on Lake Winnibigoshish. Lake Winnie has always produced the most shiner minnows in the region. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has banned trapping on Lake Winnie because of the larvae of zebra mussels found on the lake.
Effect on Bait Shops
Minnow trappers are desperate, bait shops are losing business and anglers are upset. Most avid walleye fisherman are firm believers that spottails are the only thing that works. It is turning in to a viscous business as trappers have to watch their traps 24 hours a day or lock them up so bait dealers can’t get them in the middle of the night. If anglers get word of a shop having spottails they will line up to get their hands on them. The lack of shiner minnows is taking a toll on local bait shops. In the northern part of Minnesota it can be up to 40% of their business a year as shiner minnows sell for about twice as much as more common fathead minnows. For the Minnesota fishing opener most bait shops have 100 gallons (5,000 to 6,000 dozen) of shiner minnows but this year most didn’t have any.
The DNR and bait shops are working on other options in order to alleviate the shiner minnows shortage. But to trap shiners in other lakes, those lakes must be certified free of VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia), trappers need to pay for this certificate and it can take up to five days to obtain. Most trappers have moved to Red Lake, but as it becomes over crowded some VHS certified rivers, such as Deer River are being explored. Bill Powell has proposed to the DNR that the agency approve a system of flushing water from trapped minnows and letting that water drain on land away from lakes. He said he believes such a procedure would work and prevent the spread of zebra mussel larvae from Lake Winnibigoshish. The DNR has yet to respond to his proposition.
It is still unclear if their will be a solution to the shortage of spottails this year. By mid- to late June, anglers probably will switch to leeches and other baits, as they typically do. But for now, the shortage remains a big issue to the regional fishing economy. But that switch will still not make up the money lost for many bait shops and small towns this spring.