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Anglers confront emergency bait rules

Baiting up for that big bass or a nice bucket of yellow perch will take a bit more of a bite when buying minnows -- and an understanding of what and how to do your bait gathering and keeping.

Emergency regulations designed to stop the spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) has put a strain on how anglers can collect bait minnows for personal use when fishing.

Currently, rules have been set up to block VHS, and the stipulations are substantial. These rules remain in place until June 7, with a public-input period extending until April 22.

For now, here's the deal: Anglers cannot transport bait (live or salted) from one site to another. Persons dipping bait must use that bait at the location where minnows or chubs were captured.

The bait can be transported aboard a boat on the waterway from which the bait was taken, but minnows cannot be transported by any form of motor vehicle on land.

Bait dealers can only sell certified live minnows or minnows that have been salted by Department of Environmental Conservation approved procedures.

Dealers have to issue a receipt indicating the date and amount of bait sold to a purchaser, and that bait can only be used for a period of one week after the date of sale.

Many fishermen rely on minnows as a bait option, but perch anglers, especially in Western New York, consider minnows a must for catching these tasty food fish.

While bait prices have yet to double -- as was the rumor over the winter -- the new regulations are keeping area bait dealers busy trying to comply with the rules and finding sources of bait supplies.

"My bait prices went up 50-75 cents per dip and quantity went down," said Jerry Olejniczak of Penrod's Bait & Tackle in South Buffalo. On average, his bucket of bait price went from $5 to $6 since the new rules took effect.

"I'm sure it's discouraged some people because they have to keep a dated receipt for only a week's use, along with the price increase," Olejniczak said. "This is not helping."

Bill Van Camp, at Big Catch Bait & Tackle in the Riverside area now sets his price at $6 per dip. Van Camp pegs the end of certified Wisconsin emerald shiners at no later than sometime in May, about the start of the Lake Erie perch run.

Once certified emeralds will no longer be available, small golden shiners or fatheads will be the mainstay for perch pursuers -- at even higher costs. He pointed out that bait dealers can sell salted minnows kept in a labeled bag as proof of purchase.

He predicts, "You'll see a dramatic drop in the perch creel survey on Erie this year."

Rick Miller, at Miller's Bait & Tackle in Irving, dips about 60 minnows at $6 for his customers.

"We're relying on Wisconsin bait, but it takes so long to be certified before they can be purchased from wholesalers that we might not have emeralds when the good perch fishing starts," Miller said.

"Keep this up and there won't be anyone doing anything [fishing]," he added.

Dave Watts at Dave's Bait & Tackle in Derby simply said, "Boy, it's hurting us here." His sales have dropped and he wonders about the forthcoming perch season.

Lee Weber has already seen the enforcement side of these regulations. Weber was cited for selling $1 worth of bait to an angler without issuing him a receipt. He will appear in Evans court on Monday evening to argue this case.

Weber's prices have gone up about a buck, in line with other dealers.

Lisa and Brian Green at Happy Hooker Bait in Ashville on Chautauqua Lake have not seen a drastic change in bait sales but, Lisa said, "They're buying by the dozen rather than a dip of bait now."

DEC officials plan to post signs indicating details of these new regulations at access sites, but, to date, all bait-dipping related notices have been posted by private individuals.

Tradition has it that Lake Erie perch only bite on emerald shiners. Oneida Lake perch like leeches, eyeballs, and nightcrawlers; Seneca Lake perch devour oak leaf bugs, many a nearby lake in Canada produce perch with just a can of blood worms.

Erie anglers will have to adjust, test the waters and find alternate ways to round up ringbacks. These VHS rules could be around for a while.

e-mail: willodrs@gmail.com

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