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Leech-less Spring ‘Worst Nightmare’ In Bait Industry

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota’s fishing opener is only a week away, and Wisconsin’s starts in just a few hours — but anglers may have a hard time finding the bait they want to use.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find leeches anywhere in Minnesota right now.

“I’d say it has probably been the worst nightmare in the bait industry,” said Josh Stevenson, the owner of Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle in Oakdale.

Stevenson’s business relies on bait. But this spring he doesn’t have a single leech to sell.

“Every single year as long as everybody can remember, we’ve always had leeches. It’s the first year, ever, that we’ve not had leeches,” Stevenson said.

Mother Nature is the one to blame. Most of the leeches and shiners come from northern Minnesota. And most of the ponds and lakes where bait is trapped are frozen solid. Minnesota law does not allow shop owners like Stevenson to buy leeches from other states.

“It’s the right thing to do — it’s safe for the bait — but it’s really hard for us to make money in this industry, which is already up and down and seasonal,” Stevenson said.

Normally, Stevenson would have several hundred pounds of leeches right now. But his supplier, Brian Harms, has hit a snag of his own.

“Our sales are way down…We’ve probably lost a month, month and a half of sales, I bet. It really cuts into your profits and everything,” said Harm,s who owns Shafer Bait and Tackle.

The Wisconsin fishing opener begins at midnight and anglers with a Minnesota fishing license can fish the St. Croix River. But even the most experienced fishermen aren’t expecting to have much luck.

“It’s going to be a tough opener,” said Dick “The Griz” Grzywinski.

Grzywinksi is in the National Fishing Hall of Fame and has been a Minnesota guide for 40 years. But this spring is also a first for him. With water temperatures more than 10 degrees below normal, and fewer bait options than normal, he’s learning to adapt.

“It makes my job a lot tougher….Well, can’t fight Mother Nature — that’s all I can say,” Grzywinski said.

While leeches and shiners are hard to come by, Stevenson said his store will likely sell out on minnows over the weekend.

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