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Preservation methods for dead bait

Fishing Wisconsin

The following are preservation methods that meet the requirements for the current rule requiring dead bait preservation by a method that does not require refrigeration or freezing.

Frozen bait sales

Mike Staggs, Fisheries Management Bureau Director, sends Letter to bait dealers concerning frozen bait sales [PDF], February 10, 2009.

For more information, please refer to the following document on Using dead fish as bait [PDF].

Immersion in preservative fluid

"Pickling" minnows allow you to keep the minnow closest to its live characteristics that make it such an attractive bait. Preserve minnows using one of the following preservatives by following the directions below.

  • Mineral Oil
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol (at least 70% solution, higher is better)
  • Ethyl (drinking) alcohol (at least 70% solution or 140 proof, again higher is better)

Using one of the following ingredients has been shown to preserve bait, and follow the directions below.

Directions: Place the dead fish that are to be preserved (smelt, shiners, etc) in a sealable container (glass or plastic jar, plastic bag, etc). Scent, such as anise oil, garlic salt or commercial attractant can be added to the preservative to give bait added flavor and odor. Fill the container with the preservative until fish are covered. Seal the container for 14 days before use to minimize the threat of any possible VHS virus persisting in the bait. This preserved bait can be stored without refrigeration. Some color change is likely in minnows preserved using alcohol.

Salting or using borax

Preserving bait using this mix dries the bait allowing it to be stored for long periods of time. To preserve baitfish using salt/borax you should use the approximate ratio of:

  • 2 pounds non-iodized salt
  • 1/2 cup borax

Directions: Find a container that you can punch a number of small drainage holes into (disposable plastic food containers with holes punched in them work well). In another container, mix the two ingredients together thoroughly. Cover the bottom of the container with small drainage holes with the mix (approximately 1/4 inch). Then, lay minnows on the mix, making sure to separate them and keep them away from the container sides, cover them with the mix, then add another layer of minnows, etc. Put a final covering of mix over the minnows and store until the baitfish are thoroughly dry, at least 14 days, to aid in the inactivation of any VHS that may be present. Do not cover this container, as you want the moisture to leave the minnows. The borax is added to toughen the baitfish so they will stay on the hook better and last longer. Caution, with large minnows this method may cause the baitfish to produce a slimy substance that will collect in the bottom of the container unless the container is allowed to drain. There will most likely be a slight odor associated with the drying so this is best done in a garage or similarly ventilated area. Once the minnows are thoroughly dried, you can place them into smaller bags or containers with some of the dry salt/borax mix to put in your tackle box or ice fishing bucket.


Exposure to 140° F for 15 minutes has been shown to inactivate the VHS virus. This preservation technique could be used if you wanted to dry minnows for use later.