Every spring there are reports that anglers are using live minnows to take brook trout from local lakes. Usually, the trout are good (meaning in the one and two-pound range) and generally I can confirm that the trout were caught, where they were taken and that minnows were used for bait.
This is usually as far as it goes, however. I find that some anglers are reluctant to talk to me, and not because they don’t want their name in the paper or they don’t want to reveal where they’ve been fishing. These reluctant and uncooperative anglers are generally the ones who have been fishing with live minnows, perhaps because they realize they’ve fished illegally and would rather not talk about it.
Since in some circumstances the use of live minnows in lakes and streams is prohibited, it’s understandable that anglers are reluctant to talk about their activities. Those “circumstances” are clearly spelled out in regulations summary that angers receive when they buy a license. On page 24 of this booklet, it says in effect that it is illegal to catch minnows or any baitfish in one piece of water and move them to another piece of water, for the purpose of fishing or for any other purpose for that matter.
The bottom line is that anglers cannot use minnows to fish a lake or stream unless the minnows have come from the waters that are being fished. For obvious reasons – the potential threat to local fish populations, if it must be spelled out – this is a sensible regulation and one every angler concerned about preserving our trout waters should adhere to it.
Since the regulations regarding minnow fishing have been on the books for a while, anglers should certainly be aware of them. But after what I observed recently, I’m beginning to wonder if they are, or if the anglers who use live minnows don’t give a hoot about fishing regulations.
Along the piece of highway leading to the New Minas crossing of the Cornwallis River is a tiny Ducks Unlimited pond. Since the fishing season opened, I’ve seen literally dozens of anglers catching minnows in this pond, and it wasn’t because they were having a fish fry. I stopped on a few occasions and watched anglers set their minnow traps. The half dozen or so I spoke with were usually heading to a favourite lake as soon as they caught enough minnows.
The regulations referred to above also say it’s illegal to “introduce any fish or portions thereof into the waters of the province.” Taken literally, this means that fishing with dead minnows not native to a water and fishing with preserved or bottled minnows is illegal.
In a column last year about bait fishing I wrote that it would take a miracle for a long-dead minnow preserved in alcohol to be a threat to a lake or stream. I also said that this interpretation of the regulations, while correct, seems absurd and I still feel this way. But as they say, those are the regulations guys and we should observe them.
P.S. Someone should inform a major Canada-wide retailer that bottled minnows are illegal. This bait can still be found in their fishing tackle section.