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Wild bait harvest permits

Fishing Wisconsin

The information on this page is for licensed bait dealers who harvest live bait from state waters for sale to retail or wholesale distributors. If you collect minnows for your use or crayfish for consumption, you can do this without a permit, as long as the minnows are only used on the water they were collected and are never moved live from the harvesting water. You may also preserve minnows you collect as dead bait for use in other lakes. In doing this, you must also comply with all rules adopted in the fall of 2007 prohibiting the movement of live fish and water from all waters in Wisconsin.

DNR proposing rule changes for Wild Bait Harvest

On Nov. 2, 2023, the department held a public hearing to discuss the proposed wild bait harvest regulation and rule changes under consideration.

View a recording of the Nov. 2 public hearing.

Please contact Meghan Stirling with any additional questions.

On May 22, 2023, the department held a public meeting to discuss future wild bait harvest regulations changes. Changes under consideration may affect minnow harvest for personal use by anglers, as well as minnow harvest permits, reporting and regulations for licensed bait dealers.

Topics discussed at the public meeting included the following:

  • Extending Wild Bait Harvest Permit Duration
  • Requiring reporting of minnow harvest
  • Allowing personal minnow harvest on VHS-affected waters
  • Allowing the DNR to modify and set conditions on non-standard gear use permits
  • Developing a permit for a white sucker and egg take

View a recording of the May 22 public meeting.

Information concerning harvest, permits and testing

Below are the wild bait harvest application and permit and a joint letter from the DNR and DATCP to the wild bait dealers and some other materials useful to wild bait harvesters.

Tips for completing the application and permit

  • First, fill out all information that will not change (name, address, contact info, etc.),
  • Then make multiple copies so you do not have to write so much.
  • Be sure to fill out the information about targeted species and estimate the number of minnows you will be harvesting over the month, and
  • Last, before you send in your application, fill in the waterbody information, including the specific county, township name, township #, range #, and section #.
  • If you know you will be harvesting on specific water for an extended time period, fill out an application and leave the requested start date blank, then make copies.
  • Include the name of the waterbody you are applying for in the blank provided.
  • Please print legibly so we can return permits to you as quickly as possible.
  • If you have questions, please call, as this will speed up the application process.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can I submit more permits for more than one time period simultaneously?
    • No, permits may be submitted no more than 30 days before the requested start date.
  • What information do I need to indicate a waterbody location?
    • For lakes, we need the county and the lake name. A township and range are also necessary if there is more than one lake with that name in the county.
    • We need the county, township and range along with the section numbers where you will be harvesting for rivers and streams. Multiple sections on a permit are permissible, but you must submit a new permit for each unique township and range combination.
    • Locations can be found from plat books, at local courthouses, libraries, and DNR Service Centers, or using commercially available map books.
  • I have valid oversize gear permits. Do I need the wild bait harvest permit?
    • Yes, these permits are necessary in addition to the oversize gear permits. The permits are used for tracking who is harvesting from which waters to track where minnows are going if we find VHS-infected water.
  • The permit application asks for my Bait Dealer License Number; what if I do not remember that number?
    • The number can be found on your current DNR license(s).
  • Is there a simple way to disinfect my equipment so I don't transmit harmful organisms?
    • To prevent the possible spread of VHS from your equipment, a simple disinfection technique can be used by mixing 1/3 cup bleach with 5 gallons of water and applying this solution to your equipment. Let your equipment soak for 5 minutes before rinsing.

Frequently asked questions - new rules

  • Can I harvest minnows with my bait dealer license and then use them on other lakes?
    • Suppose you have a bait dealer's license and a current wild bait harvest permit and are not in VHS waters. In that case, you may collect minnow species other than the VHS-susceptible species (bluntnose minnow, emerald shiner, and spot tail shiner). You may distribute or use them personally on other waters without a fish health test.
  • If I have a bait dealer license and wild bait harvest permit, can I take minnows away from a waterbody after I have used them as bait?
    • No, when you are fishing (or possessing hook and line fishing gear) you are considered an angler, not a bait dealer, and the wild bait harvest permit authorities do not apply. The permit is only valid if you are actively harvesting or moving newly harvested minnows to a holding area where a qualified fish health inspector will inspect them before they are distributed or used by any person for fishing.
  • What does condition one on the wild bait harvest permit mean for my bait harvest?
    • This condition of a wild bait harvest permit means that only susceptible minnow species (bluntnose minnow, emerald shiner, and spot tail shiner) harvested under this permit must be inspected by a qualified fish health inspector before they are distributed or used as fishing bait. Those species identified as VHS susceptible must be tested and found to be free of VHS before they can be distributed or used.