Live Bait Tip for Northern Retailers : Don’t Discard Dead Minnows

You work hard to keep minnows lively in your bait tanks, but think twice before discarding dead ones, especially large sucker minnows.

Live Bait Tip for Northern Retailers : Don’t Discard Dead Minnows

For reasons too numerous and complex to explain in this short article, bait shop owners in Minnesota and Wisconsin struggled to keep large and extra-large sucker minnows on hand during summer and fall 2019.

In fact, muskie anglers who depend on using extra-large sucker minnows during late fall saw this shortage really hit their pocketbook. This is not a misprint: Suckers measuring at least 12 inches were priced at $20 EACH in several bait shops I visited in October and early November. It was common for two anglers to spend more than $100 per day on bait. 

Of course, these anglers want large sucker minnows in perfect shape because muskies prefer a lively minnow. Bait shop owners seem to forget, however, that if a large sucker minnow in the tank dies for some reason, it still has value. Sure, that dead sucker minnow is no longer worth $20, but believe it or not, many ice fishing anglers who are targeting trophy northern pike will gladly pay a few dollars each for those dead ones.

Large and lively sucker minnows are very popular with muskie anglers, especially during the fall.
Large and lively sucker minnows are very popular with muskie anglers, especially during the fall.

Northern pike, especially the largest ones, often prefer dead bait over live minnows. Because trophy northern pike spend the summer in deep, cold water, anglers typically don’t target them at that time. However, when the lakes freeze in the North and water temperature in the shallows is cold, big northern pike will roam in depths of 5 to 20 feet. Ice fisherman who want to tussle with these giants have learned that these pike are much more likely to chomp a large dead sucker than chase a live minnow.

One local bait shop near my home was keeping its large dead suckers and freezing them because the owner said one customer would purchase them for summertime catfishing (cut bait). That customer purchased only a handful of big minnows per summer, however, so most of the bait shop’s dead minnows found the dumpster. When I told him I preferred dead bait over live bait for big pike in the winter, you could see the lightbulb come on in his head. Now he makes sure to place a sign near his bait tanks indicating that he has large dead suckers available for pike anglers.

Large dead sucker minnows are candy for big northern pike. In addition to offering the dead bait, be sure your store stocks a good selection of quick-strike rigs.
Large dead sucker minnows are candy for big northern pike. In addition to offering the dead bait, be sure your store stocks a good selection of quick-strike rigs.

The last time I purchased dead suckers from this bait shop, I paid $2 each. Truth be told, I would’ve paid $5 each for them. Regardless of price, it’s certainly worth it to a bait shop owner to wrap large dead suckers in a Ziploc (large enough so minnows are straight), toss them in the freezer and then sell them later.

Ice anglers targeting trophy northern pike often prefer large dead suckers over live ones. For that reason, it makes sense to stockpile dead minnows through the year. The author’s son caught and released this 38-inch northern pike using a 10-inch dead sucker purchased from a local bait shop.
Ice anglers targeting trophy northern pike often prefer large dead suckers over live ones. For that reason, it makes sense to stockpile dead minnows through the year. The author’s son caught and released this 38-inch northern pike using a 10-inch dead sucker purchased from a local bait shop.


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