When we are talking live bait for perch, we are talking minnows. Minnows will be by far the most productive for fishermen day in and day out. For years, there were just one type of minnow anglers used and they are still the most popular choice, Emerald Shiners. But now, thanks to modern bait trade and some minnows needing to be certified VHS free to be sold as bait other options are now available.
Emerald Shiners (Notropis atherinoides) are one of hundreds of small, silvery, slender fish known as shiners. The identifying characteristic of the emerald shiner is the silvery emerald color on its sides, almost chrome like. They average 3 inches in length and are found all across North America. These are by far the most common minnow anglers are looking for thanks to that almost chrome side, they are prized for their flashy sides. Emeralds are not a very hardy minnow, though proper care of them as bait is a must if you want to keep these minnows lively while out fishing for the day.
Sand Shiners (Notropis stramineus) are another shiner that is commonly found in North America. They have no distinct stripes along the sides, but do have a stripe down the center of the back. This stripe stops in a wedge shaped spot in front of the dorsal fin and then continues again behind the dorsal fin but does not encircle the base of the fin. Their sides are much duller than that of the Emerald. These minnows tend to show up in many bait shops during the summer months when Emeralds have a hard time surviving while being transported. The unfortunate thing is that many bait shops have tried and do pass these off as Emeralds.
Golden Shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas) are a very common shiner that in years past were only used for bass fishing in the south and also under tip-ups in the winter months up here in the north. Recently, bait shops supplied these shiners available in “perch size”, juvenile goldens that are 2-3 inches long. Golden shiners have much flashier sides than that of the sand shiner but with a golden tone to their scales. They are a taller minnow than Emerald shiners so there is more meat to hook them with on the hook when hooking them in the back. They are by far the most hardy of the three shiners readily available for perch fishing. Their availability is basically year round due to them being farmed in southern states, since they are so hardy they can survive longer hauls in minnow trucks.
Fatheads Minnows (Pimephales promelas) are a very hardy soft scale minnow that gets its name from the enlarge head the male of this species gets during the spawning season. They tend to be a darker minnow in color on top with a white belly. Many fishermen joke about how you can throw these into a mud puddle and can come back a week later and they would still be alive. When hooked they usually move really well on the hook, and tend to live much longer than Emerald and Sand Shiners once they are hooked. These tend to show up in bait shops in the summer months for the same reason as sand shiners, since emeralds get hard to come by in some areas. Fatheads are farmed and if you went other places in the country these are by far the most common minnow, you will see them available throughout the Midwest.
Rosy Reds are actually a fathead, but are orange in color. This color morph was discovered in several Arkansas breeding farms in 1985. These specimens were then bred with each other and now we have a Fathead that has a dominant coloration gene that makes them this coloration. In the wild this is thought to be as rare or rarer than finding an Albino fathead. Rosies have all the same characteristic of a standard fathead, and are also very commonly sold in pet stores now a days as feeder fish.
Now that we covered the different types of minnows, lets cover live bait care. Keeping your live bait lively can sometimes make the difference between catching fish or not. So understanding your live bait needs to be alive is important to proper care. You need to have adequate space, temperature control and aeration for your minnows. There are a ton of options out there these days, so we will cover them quickly.
There are a ton of options these days with them ranging from as little as $7 all the way up to $100. The number one thing to remember is that you want to make the smallest bubbles possible. The smallest bubbles help dissolve oxygen into the water easier, and in smaller buckets create less turbulence, beating up your minnows less. A pump that can push enough air through a high quality air stone is important. If you are going to be doing a ton of perch fishing, you might want to look into investing in a higher quality pump and air stone.
- Marine Metal Bubble Box(b-11) $9.99
- Marine Metal Bubbles (b-3) $24.95
- FRABILL PORTABLE AERATOR $13.99
- AQUA-LIFE® PORTABLE AERATOR $36.99
- THE OXYGENATOR™ OP2 $99.95
Having the right pump is very important but also having enough space for the amount of minnows you are going to be starting your day out with is just as important. You never want to try and crowd tons of minnows into tight spaces if your goal is to keep your minnows lively and healthy. I have some general guidelines I follow when I go fishing when it comes to minnow bucket size.
If you care for fish at home in an aquarium you may know that some fish species require different temperatures. Shiners generally need cooler waters than that of the fathead minnow. I like to make sure my water never gets above 70 degrees with the fatheads and never above 60 for my shiners. When fishing in the heat, I use a bucket that is insulated and add ice or a frozen water bottle to the water to help keep things cool for the minnows.
There are also additives you can add to the water to help keep minnows healthy and lively. Products like Finer Shiner or Better Bait are designed for different minnow types, and have antibiotics and slime coat builders that help them stay healthy while being held over long periods of times. But they may also add color to your white bucket. If you keep your minnows in a darker environment they will stay calmer, have a lower level of stress and use less oxygen, which makes it even easier to keep them alive.
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