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Fishing with dead, frozen, or preserved bait

As the ice fishing season gears up, the DNR wants to remind anglers about some new regulations that deal with the use of commercially harvested dead bait in MN waterbodies. To determine if bait is legal for use in MN, you first need to determine if it originated in MN or was imported. The origin of dead bait can be determined by looking at the labeling on the package.

MN Origin Bait

Most bait that originates in MN (including fathead minnows, white suckers, and golden shiners) can be used as fresh dead or frozen bait, and does not have any specific labeling or preservation requirements. There are two exceptions:

  1. VHS susceptible species This link leads to an external site.including emerald shiners, spottail shiners, and bluntnose minnows, rainbow smelt, and cisco must:

    a) originate from certified VHS free waterbodies (see example label 1); or
    b) be preserved under a bait preservation permit (see example label 2).

    In either case, the packaging for this commercially harvested bait is required to have specific labeling, indicating to the buyer that the bait is legal for use in MN waters. Please see the examples below to determine what required labeling should look like.
  2. Rainbow smelt or cisco:
    a) can be used as bait in Lake Superior or its tributaries up to the posted boundaries in any form, without any preservation or labeling requirements;
    b) can be used as bait in any MN waterbody, if they originate from a certified VHS free waterbody (see example label 1); or
    c) can be used in any MN waterbody if preserved under a bait preservation permit (see example label 2).

All other species of bait originating in MN can be used as fresh dead or frozen bait and do not have any specific labeling requirements. Commonly used species that do not require preservation or labeling include fathead minnows, golden shiners, dace, and white suckers.

Imported Bait

All imported bait (bait includes fish, aquatic worms, amphibians, invertebrates, and insects) are required to have specific labeling that indicates:

a) it is coming from a certified VHS free source (see example label 3); or
b) it was preserved under a bait preservation permit (see example label 2).

If you purchase bait that requires specific labeling,  you must retain the labeling until the bait is used up and no longer in your possession.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I harvest minnows for personal use, and freeze what is left over for later use. Do my frozen minnows need specific labeling?

A: Minnows harvested for personal use under an angling license do not require specific labeling when used as frozen bait, unless they are a VHS susceptible species. Please keep in mind the following considerations:


Q: I purchase my minnows from a bait shop, and freeze what is left over for later use. Do my frozen minnows need specific labeling?

A: No specific labeling is required for bait that was purchased live from a bait shop. Retain your proof of purchase until all of the purchased, frozen minnows have been used.


Q: What if I purchase live bait at a bait shop and it dies during my fishing trip?

A: Bait that dies while you are angling is not subject to preservation or labeling requirements.


Q: Why are these new regulations in place?

A: These regulations have been created to protect the waters of MN from VHS. VHS is a highly contagious and pathogenic fish virus emerging in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. It affects many different species of fish, including game fish, minnows, and rough fish. 


Q: What can I do to prevent the spread of VHS?

A: There are many steps you can take to prevent the spread of VHS, other fish pathogens, and aquatic invasive species. You are required to: