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Scott Rall: Where will the bait come from?

The open water season is finally here.

My non-scientific survey tells me that the ice goes off Lake Okabena about 26th of March. This year it was the 9th of April. Now that is only about two weeks late, but it felt like an eternity. The next few weeks seemed like February, not April, and even yet today all of the temperatures are way below normal.

So what does this mean for the Minnesota Fishing Opener on May 10? The water is certainly going to be colder than normal for this time of year and as a result the fish mood will most likely be a little more lethargic. Warm water means active fish and cooler water means slower presentations would normally be required.

Slow presentations normally include some kind of live bait offering. Live bait like night crawlers and minnows of different sizes are normally as close as the nearest bait shop and are usually available in good supply when you want it. I can remember as a young kid I would take a minnow seine and get a friend to help me seine my own bait.

A seine is a net with really small mesh that is normally about 30 feet long. With a quick trip down a 50-yard distance at the Centennial Park swimming beach I had all the silver lake shiners I could use.

They were a temperamental sort, though, and most of them would die before I could use them.

Getting your own bait is getting a lot harder to come by with all the hub-bub about aquatic invasive species. Asia carp were found in the Iowa Great Lakes about 40 miles southeast of here. Because these lakes are connected to the watershed that drains Lake Okabena and most of the other lakes between here and there, you can no longer seine or trap your own bait for your own use from any of these lakes. As more and more lakes get the designation of being infested with Asian carp, the more lakes there are that will be off limits.

There is no indication that many of these lakes actually have the invasive Asian carp in them. They are closed to bait collection in the rare “just in case they actually do” situation actually exists. Everyone is following the “be super safe rather than sorry” attitude. If these lakes are off limits to bait collection by individuals, they are also of limits for the bait dealers that make a living making sure you have minnows to fish with.

Other creeks and streams that have populations of the rare Topika shine present are also off limits to bait trapping and transport. This makes me wonder what a dozen minnows will cost 10 years from now if all the bait has to be shipped 100 miles to be trapped from lakes and streams that are not labeled as infested. The cost of bait might very well skyrocket if this dire future comes to pass.

Another interesting thing I uncovered was that all of the worms in Minnesota are also invasive. Minnesota had no species for worms or crawler native to the state. The glaciers killed them all. Any worm you see was brought here by accident or on purpose. I knew that night crawlers were invasive but I thought that the angle worms me and my grandpa used to dig out of the garden to fish bull heads with were native. That was not true.

Invasive crawlers and worms only move to new areas by human transport. Worms and crawlers on their own only move a half mile in 100 years.

Even I thought a worm could move faster than that.

Invasive crawlers and worms do little damage in some areas and great damage in others. In the forested regions of the state, areas without crawlers have green, lush forest floors. Where the worms are present they kill the new growth and leave the forest floor almost completely cleared with nothing left except exposed dirt.

Who would have known that crawlers and worms could hurt anything. For years they were credited with aerating the soils and keeping it more fertile.

In actuality, they should only get credit for making your front lawn really bumpy. The guide lines now request that you dispose of your unused crawlers in the trash so as not to spread them to new areas.

If the minnow world is getting tossed on its head with reductions and restrictions as to where it can be collected and sold, I wonder why there is no big move afoot to eliminate the lowly night crawler from a fisherman’s bait bucket as well. I guess time will tell on this issue.

What this story does tell me is there in the years to come it is more than a little likely that some waters will be restricted to the use of artificial baits only. There are many of them on the market. There are thousands of artificial baits that are supposed to look like, smell like and act like real live bait in the water. I have used some of them and they seem to work OK in certain situations.

In other artificial bait presentations it will be an artificial bait that is not intended to act like a real live creature but is designed to put off enough vibration or other underwater sound as to illicit a strike out of instinct by the fish and not because it sees it as food.

It is not hard to see that most of the creatures that are in places where they are not supposed to be can be tracked back to the human intervention almost 100 percent of the time. We have moved more stuff from its original location to almost the entire globe.

Most of the time the humans who did this did not know at the time they were going to cause a problem.

In most cases even if it took years to see the problem, moving creatures to new places usually does not work. There are exceptions to every rule and one of those is the Chinese ring neck pheasant that was brought here 100 years ago and has not caused any problems.

It will be interesting to see how the invasive species concerns will affect the ability of fishermen to use live bait and how these issues will affect the cost of that bait in future years. I will have to wait and see if there is spring or winter weather for the opener this weekend, but it think it might very well be a live bait weekend if the water does not warm significantly to get the fish a little more active.

The fish are not the only thing that is less active when its cold. My Harley is still in the shed. This is a crying shame and more an indicator of global cooling than global warming.

I will leave this decision up to each of you.