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:
- VHS susceptible species (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.
- 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.
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, but please keep in mind the following considerations:
- licensed anglers can transport up to 12 dozen minnows for personal use
- bait cannot be harvested from designated infested waters, with the following exceptions:
- minnows can be harvested from waters infested solely with Eurasian water milfoil
- bullheads (up to 7"), mooneyes (up to 7"), suckers (up to 12"), and sheephead (freshwater drum) can be taken from designated infested streams or rivers for non-commercial, personal use by hook and line. They must be used on the same body of water where caught. They may not be transported live off of the waterbody. Dead bait transported off the waterbody cannot be used as bait elsewhere. While in your possession, these fish count towards your possession limit.
- VHS susceptible species (including emerald shiners, spottail shiners, and bluntnose minnows) must be harvested from certified VHS free waterbodies.
- Leftover minnows can be transported away from the source waterbody, but you must empty and replace the water in your bait bucket with tap or bottled water prior to leaving the waterbody access, except under the following circumstances:
- when ice fishing (except on waters designated infested with VHS), portable bait containers do not need to be drained before leaving the waterbody
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:
- Remove your drain plug and let the water drain out of your boat before leaving the boat access.
- Drain your bait bucket and replace the water with tap or bottled water before leaving a boat access, except when ice fishing (unless on waters designated infested with VHS).
- Dispose of any unwanted minnows in the trash, not in the water.
- Ensure that you do not move fish, plants, or water away from any MN waterbody.