Live bait shortage may impact more then just fishermen

Live wells around the state are empty. A shortage of live bait may impact more then just those looking to fish.

Fathead tank at Fargo Bait and Tackle.
Finn Harrison / WDAY News

FARGO — We are in the middle of another statewide shortage. It's not eggs or toilet paper. This time it is minnows.

The next time many live wells at local bait shops are currently empty.

"You can see what we have, nothing. Nice clean water" said Gary Gould, owner of Fargo Bait and Tackle.

For the first time in 45 years, the tanks at Gould's tackle shop are completely empty. The harsh winter has taken a beating on one of the main resources that keep businesses like his running.

"We're into March and it sounds like it's going to be a whole another month of sun cover. There is no sunlight. When the plants die, everything dies in the pond," he said.


The lack of these minnows is not just a Fargo problem. According to Gould, live minnows are becoming rare across the eastern part of the state.

"I think from Devil's Lake all the way down to South Dakota there is not a minnow, I'm guessing," Gould said. "It's got to be a statewide thing, the snow is here."

Finding fewer and fewer minnows does not seem like it would cause that many problems, but a live bait shortage impacts more then just the fishermen.

"It brings a lot of revenue to the state. Motel, hotel, restaurants, sales tax, gas tax. If there is no bait, it's going to hurt everybody," Gould said. "You talk to them people in them little towns they'll tell you how it hurts them."

The tanks usually hold more than 1,000 minnows at a time. News of the bait shortage has circled around the fishing world, causing high demand with severely limited supply.

"It's like a sugar shortage. Everybody buys 20 pounds that would normally buy five. So that's what happens and then they have to try to keep them alive which a lot freeze up on them and just waste them," Gould said.

In the meantime, Gould said it is best for fishermen to get creative.

"They just gotta change the fishing up a little bit. You're maybe not gonna key so much on the walleye as you are going to on the perch, crappie, sunnies, and pike" he said.


Gould said there may be a shortage for at last three years, because two classes of minnows have likely been lost this winter. He is hoping wholesalers can harvest in deeper water with help from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

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