Fishing conditions are almost back to normal statewide with just three weeks until Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer.

2018 has been a tough year for essentially every aspect of the fishing industry in Wisconsin, impacting everything from resorts to the guide business to bait sales.

To a great extent, sport fishing is weather driven. This cold, wet/hot, wet year has truly been a perfect storm.

Few businesses have taken it on the chin like the “minnow man”.

Dodgeville’s Gollon family has been selling bait for three generations. Until about 25 years ago the bait business was a catch-as-catch-can enterprise. Hard work involving hip boots, seines and headlamps. Consumers were forced to buy the catch of the day to catch the catch of the day.

Dave Gollon Jr. said science began playing an ever growing role in the wholesale bait business after the 2008 recession. “Survival in the bait business requires a professional approach,” Gollon said. “It is very much labor driven. To succeed you have to work hard and smart.”

Ponds on the 500-acre Gollon compound raise four different minnow species—shiners, chubs, suckers and fatheads. When these ponds are harvested, each species is graded into four different sizes.

Good bait shops offer at least several options for scaly, swimming bait. To survive a day in the bait bucket and attract the next link up the food chain, minnows have to be lively and not lethargic.

Minnow prices vary significantly—all the way from a buck a scoop for little shiner minnows up to as much as $10 for a single large sucker. Gollon said medium fathead minnows are by far the most demanded by baitshops.

Minnows grow—just like corn. Medium fatheads will eventually become large fatheads. Consumers want what they want. Prices have to be adjusted somewhere. Most of the burden falls on the folks who raise the “crop”.

The Gollon family also deals in worms both great and small. Earthworms, redworms, waxworms, dew worms—just to name a few.

Dave Gollon said the way the wormy inventory has sold has also changed over the past few years.

“We used to sell nightcrawlers by the flat,” Gollon said. “This big box of nightcrawlers was delivered to a retailer who then re-packaged the inventory into cartons holding 1-2 dozen.”

The two-foot-square flats were open on top, stored in a giant cooler with an ever-burning light to keep the 450 nightcrawlers in their boxes instead of living up to their names.

“Several times over the years the light got turned off by mistake and we had to recount thousands of worms,” Gollon said.

The family now buys ’crawlers prepacked in much smaller numbers from other wholesalers at greater cost, but a little less financial pain in this year when not as many “dew worms” made it to retail outlets.

Few who use live bait stop to consider where this key component for angling success comes from.

The only upside from this tough fishing year is fewer discarded bait containers at Indianford and below the Jefferson dam.

Wisconsin could learn from Minnesota, where nightcrawlers—like professional sports teams—are considered invasive species, with a failure to dispose of unused bait in trash receptacles bringing a higher fine than littering.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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