I have been writing about the hard times that minnow trappers and bait shops are having collecting minnows for a number of years now. This winter has been one of the harder ones for folks who trap their minnows from rearing ponds. The harsh temperatures and the extreme snow fall have made trapping fat heads, shiners and sucker minnows very hard to come by. The end result for anglers is there are fewer minnows to buy and the cost has been going up.
Rising costs and minnow shortages are not the fault of trappers or the bait shops, it is just simply the basic concept of supply and demand. When there are not enough to go around everyone is going to pay more for what they can get. Adding to the problem is that more and more lakes and rivers are being infected by aquatic invasive species and these bodies of water then become off limits to the trappers. It is a problem that is going to get worse, not better.
Soft plastics and crankbaits have been around for a long time but both of these types of baits are now made better and look more realistic. I was fishing on the west side of Leech Lake on the second day of the fishing opener this year and I was amazed at the number of anglers who were throwing soft plastic baits. I saw guys trolling crankbaits as well. This should not be a surprise if you think about it. The outdoor fishing shows are promoting these baits like crazy and they work.
I have a number of friends who no longer use live bait for fishing walleyes and crappies. They have good days and bad days with artificial baits just like those of us who use live bait. I have a very large spot in my heart for bait shop owners. It is a tough way to make a living and not having enough live bait in the store makes it even more difficult. But for the average angler spending ten to twelve dollars on a dozen shiners or fat head minnows means they just have to explore other options for fishing. Sadly, it is just the sign of the times.