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Keeping minnows alive worth extra steps By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | There’s a lot more to keeping bait — minnows or chubs — alive and active than simply tossing them into a bait bucket filled with water.

Minnow baits catch fish best when they are in good condition, not when they are oxygen-starved or stressed by water temperature.

Some minnows, especially shiners, creek chubs and redtails, can be really difficult to keep alive. That’s why you seldom see them in smaller bait shops. Aeration in their tanks has to be spot on, and aeration is expensive.

The biggest mistake you can make is putting too many bait fish in your bait bucket. Overcrowding will cause the bait to begin dying almost immediately.

In the fall months, water cools down and that certainly helps you keep your bait alive. Metabolism slows down in colder water and oxygen requirements are less. That helps. So, rule No. 1 is to keep your bait in cool water. Also, take care not to shock them by removing them from warm water and dunking them quickly into cold water. Add the cold water gradually.

Change the water often in your bait bucket. A couple of things are happening in your bait bucket. One is oxygen depletion. If your minnows are swimming to the surface, they need more oxygen. Dump out the old water and add new. The other thing is, fish release ammonia when they are confined. This can kill them. If you’ve ever had a tropical fish tank, you know about ammonia.

When it comes to baitfish water, I advise reading your fishing regulations carefully regarding the transporting of live bait. In an effort to stem the spread of invasives, many states have changed their laws regarding live bait. For instance, in South Dakota you must not use lake or stream water to transport your bait fish. Instead, you must use bottled water or tap water.

If you use tap water, you should remove the chlorine in it before putting in your bait. Pick up a small bottle of dechlorinator liquid from a pet store. One drop will be all you need to add to the bait bucket to ensure chlorine is gone.

The traditional bait bucket was the old galvanized pail with an insert into which the bait was placed. Those buckets have a lid that can be opened and as you lift the insert out, the water drains and you can select your bait fish. The insert can also be removed from the bucket and placed in the water over the gunwale of a boat or off a boat dock. They are still available, but most bait buckets today are made of plastic. They come in a variety of sizes. [Read more…]


In the fall, walleyes want minnows or chubs By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

As we move into the fall months, walleyes again switch their bait preferences. Where night crawlers and leeches were the preferred baits in the warm waters of summer, once water temperatures begin to drop that changes.
The walleyes will tell you. If you are listening, you will hear them say, “Minnows, big minnows, really big minnows, really, really big minnows, chubs.”

Let’s take a look at the varieties of minnows you will most likely find in bait shops this fall. Next week we will look at how to keep minnows alive while you are fishing as well as in-between trips.

In a well-stocked bait shop in northern Minnesota where hundreds of lakes exist within a 50-mile radius, you will be amazed at the variety of minnow baits on hand. You will find spot tail shiners, silver shiners, emerald shiners, golden shiners, fathead minnows (often in several sizes), creek chubs, and dace, redtail cubs as well as sucker minnows that range in size from 2 inches to a foot in length.

It’s a fact that some minnows are better than others in some lakes. Tell the bait shop owner which lake you intend to fish, and he’ll recommend the minnows that are working best. Keeping some of these minnows alive is a difficult task. That’s why they’ll give your bait bag a shot of oxygen before you go out the door.

Let’s look at some of the more common varieties of baitfish you might be using.
Everyone is familiar with fishing with minnows. There are more than 250 different species of minnows in the United States. But there is one that stands out.
When you go to a bait shop and order “a couple dozen minnows” you are going to get a fish called a fathead minnow. It’s native to most states and grows 2 to 3 inches long. It is easy to propagate so is popular with fish farms which supply bait shops.

It is a great bait. All minnow-eating fish love them. And, since they are found in most fishing waters, fish are used to feeding on them.
Bait shops commonly sort them into at least two different sizes. Small and Large. Small is what you want for crappies no matter what time of year it is. Large is what you want for walleye.

Fatheads spawn in the springtime when water temperatures hit about 50 degrees. The male at that time turns very dark, almost black and small protuberances or “horns” appear on his head. The female is very fat because of the eggs she is carrying and is much lighter in color. That is why I prefer female minnows to the males in the springtime. The female is much easier for walleyes to see.

In the fall it makes no difference which you use. I just look for the biggest in my pail. [Read more…]