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Local live bait difficult to come by

WATSON -- To a 20-inch walleye, a fathead minnow may seem like a great lunch. To a veteran angler, that same minnow may mean the difference between hamburger and walleye for dinner.

But to a bait shop, a fathead minnow is becoming a commodity that is more difficult to supply to customers.

Whether using nightcrawlers, shiners or minnows, many bait shops and fishers have found that some forms of live bait aren't as easy to find for the 2009 fishing opener as they once were. In fact, for some kinds of bait, it can be near impossible.

Steve Mitlyng, owner of Mitlyng's Bait & Tackle in Watson, said the demand for live fishing bait is always high for Minnesota's fishing opener and the following weeks until warm waters drive demand to artificial bait. However, for many bait shops, it has become more difficult to provide for the demand as the supply of live bait is decreasing due to numerous factors.

For the nightcrawler fan, Mitlyng said he, and many other bait shops statewide, get their nightcrawlers from Canada because a large enough supply can't be found in Minnesota.

To get an inventory of leeches, Mitlyng said, his shop has to rely on wholesalers from northern Minnesota. Mitlyng said he doesn't get a huge demand for them, but he has to supply them nonetheless.

Out of all live bait, though, Mitlyng said shiners are the toughest to supply for any bait shop in Minnesota.

"Golden shiner is probably the most sought bait there is for fisherman and for fish," Mitlyng said. "There's only a handful of guys who raise them and they can't raise near enough in the state."

By many anglers, shiners are considered the best bait for catching walleye, northern pike and bass. Mitlyng said his shop's closest supplier of shiners is in Urbank, but it is one of the few wholesalers in the state. "They've been really hard to get."

Although very local and abundant, even minnows -- whether they be fatheads, suckers or chubs -- are also becoming more difficult to supply for customers, Mitlyng said. A fathead minnow may be the most demanded bait for the 2009 opener for many anglers, he said, but even fatheads have become difficult to supply because the state and private sector are using more local waters to raise full-grown fish instead of bait fish.

"Minnows usually work the best out here until the water warms up," Mitlyng said. "And then it's mostly artificial (bait)."

In some cases, Mitlyng said, the development has even caused some smaller bait shops to close because they can't get minnows when the need them.

"A lot of places, you can't make money selling plugs, let alone just selling minnows and crawlers," Mitlyng said. "So it's been tougher on the smaller shops."