Shiners are getting harder and harder to come by these days, especially on Lake Erie. Nothing ruins a trip quicker than traveling a long distance and finding there are no minnows available. Having a plan B is best to help make sure your trip isn't a bust. Taking frozen minnows with you will help cover your needs, if the local bait stores can't. More often the local bait shops are out of minnows when we stop to get them. Some carry salted frozen shiners, which we have had good success with. We have never had good success with pre-packaged "preserved" shiners ourselves, so we would much rather opt for locally salt preserved or vodka preserved shiners over the chain store style preserved minnows if live minnows aren't an option. Because of these tricky minnow hurdles, we started saving left over live shiners ourselves and just get them "drunk" in vodka for future trips. Now don't get it twisted, we would much rather support all of the local bait shops and get live shiners whenever possible, but it's simply not always an option. The central and eastern ends of Lake Erie are even more difficult to get shiners as compared to the western end. Getting live minnows for inland lake fishing in all parts of the country can also create the same challenges, especially during ice fishing. Depending where you are fishing, the style of fishing and the target species, will determine the success rate of frozen shiners vs live, but in general something is better than nothing in most cases.
Here are the steps we take to freeze and preserve our leftover shiners.
- Vodka - Cheap stuff works well. A 1.75 liter size bottle can be purchased from almost anywhere for $10 or so. The 1.75 liter bottle will typically cover 7-8 scoops of minnows for us. It all depends how many you put in a bag. Also keep in mind when buying your vodka, the higher the proof, the less the minnows will freeze since higher proof alcohol freezes less or not at all.
- Quart size freezer bags. You can use other size bags, but this size works best for the size scoops we like to keep per bag.
- Minnow Net or Scoop. You want to scoop the minnows out of the minnow cooler or bucket without handling them directly. You also want to drain the water off, so the net or plastic scoop works well.
- Box or small tote. A small box or tote that is similar in width to the width of the freezer bags used will help keep the bags upright when doing multiple bags at a time.
- Permanent Marker. We like to write the date and type of minnows we are bagging. This makes FIFO easier and is helpful if you have lots of different bait in your freezer.
Keep the shiners or minnows ALIVE until it's time to preserve. Once the minnows die, they start breaking down instantly. We do not save any dead minnows. We keep our minnows in a cooler with a bubbler running at all times to keep them alive and fresh.
Prepare your workspace. Since you are using vodka, make sure you don't have anything in the area that you don't want to get it on. Using a permanent marker, we like to write the date and type of minnows on the bag. You can also write additional notes like, # of scoops, etc. Lay everything out so the process flows well, which just makes the process easier and quicker. Keep your bubbler on until you are ready to start scooping.
Remove a scoop of minnows from the container you used to keep them alive. Try to scoop as much at a time as you would like to keep in the bag. Lightly shake the net or scoop to help remove as much water as possible. If your minnows are super lively and jumping out of the net, you can hold the net or scoop to the size of the container while it drains to help stop them from jumping out. Drain for 10-15 seconds and then dump them in the freezer bag.
After placing the scoop of minnows into the freezer bag, pour in the vodka. If you want more than 1 scoop per bag, dump all of the scoops in before adding the vodka. Pour enough vodka in the bag to completely cover all of the minnows. We like to see the vodka line go at least 1/2''-1'' above the minnows to ensure coverage. Note: some species of minnows including golden shiners go nuts when the vodka is poured. Try to keep the bag closed except for the small opening needed to pour the vodka. A funnel would help here as well. This helps reduce the vodka getting splashed out of the bag from the minnows flopping around.
Give the minnows time to expire. Depending on the type of minnows and how fresh they were kept will determine exactly how long it will take for them to expire. Usually 1 minute is plenty of time to get the job done.
After all minnows have expired, remove as much air from the freezer bag as possible. Lay the bag into a box or container to keep upright so you can continue the process with the rest of the minnows.
After you have bagged up all of the minnows, it's time to move them to the freezer. Place them upright in the freezer so the minnows freeze under the vodka line. This is similar to the water freezing method with fillets. It helps the preservation and reduces the chances of freezer burn substantially. Depending on the temperature your freezer operates and the proof rating of the vodka will dictate how much the minnows freeze, if at all. The lower the proof vodka, and the colder the freezer, the more likely the minnows will freeze. The higher the proof vodka or warmer the freezer runs, the more likely the minnows won't freeze or will only freeze slightly. If the proof you use and the freezer setting you have is exposing the minnows to temps well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, you will want to make sure the minnows are fully submerged in the vodka and that the bag is placed in the freezer vertically before becoming frozen.
Thaw and use your vodka minnows! Depending on the freezer and proof rating of vodka will depend on how long it takes to thaw them out. It's typically very quick with little wait time. Most often, transport from home to the lake in a cooler packed with ice allows them to thaw to the point of readiness already.
Thread your minnows onto a hook and catch some fish! Keep spare bags in the cooler and don't remove until ready for use. Keep the in process bag of vodka shiners out of direct sunlight if possible.
Grab some of our Perch Fly Rigs to fill your cooler with tasty Yellow Perch! SMILE for the camera and say, Fish-On!
|See our video explanation of this process on our YouTube Channel HERE|