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Fishing WisconsinHow VHS rules affect anglers

What impact do the new rules have on what I can do with my minnows?

The new rules state that if you meet one of the conditions below you do not have to dispose of your minnows.

  • Anglers can take minnows bought from a Wisconsin bait dealer (which includes Wisconsin registered fish farms) away from a lake or river and use them again on that same waterbody.
  • Anglers can also take minnows bought from a Wisconsin bait dealer (which includes Wisconsin registered fish farms) away from a waterbody and use them elsewhere if no lake or river water was added to the bait container.

In both of these instances, you can move the amount of water needed to keep the minnows alive, up to 2 gallons. No other fish may be held in the minnow container.

Can I transport live gamefish or roughfish that I have harvested away from the water?

No, but as long as you remove the liquid water from the container the fish are in (livewell, cooler or bucket) before you leave the shore and you do not try to revive them later, they are considered dead for the purpose of the transportation rules.

Can I use fish eggs (spawn) from Lake Michigan on Lake Superior?

Fish eggs, or spawn from Lake Michigan and its tributaries, can only be used on Lake Superior if it is first preserved by a method that does not require refrigeration or freezing. To reduce the risk of spreading VHS to Lake Superior, we suggest not using Lake Michigan spawn at all when fishing Lake Superior or its tributaries.

ONLY spawn collected from Lake Superior and its tributaries may be used to fish Lake Superior and its tributaries without being preserved. It can be used fresh, refrigerated or frozen.

Lake Michigan and Lake Superior system spawn may be used on Lake Michigan and its tributaries without being preserved.

Anglers have reported good success using commercially produced artificial and preserved spawn on Great Lakes waters.

When I take my boat out of the water, what do I need to do?

DNR rules require that you drain all water from your boat, with the exception of the 2 gallons of water allowed for your minnows, including your bilge and livewell if the minnows are not in it. You should always remove all aquatic plants and animals from your boat and trailer before leaving the landing. To keep the access to the lake open, you may pull to a different part of the access, such as the parking lot, to drain your boat and remove any aquatic hitchhikers.

Besides draining the water from my boat, trailer, motor, bilge, live wells, bait containers, etc., what else can I do to make sure I do not transport this disease to other waters I also use my boat on?

The virus that causes VHS can survive in water for up to 2 weeks. You can sanitize your boat, trailer and equipment by washing it with a mixture of 1/2 cup of household bleach per 5 gallons of water. Allowing your boat and trailer to completely dry out will reduce the risk of infecting other waters.

What are the rules about frozen bait (smelt)?

Frozen fish CANNOT be used on any water other than where they were caught (EXCEPTION: frozen bait can be used on Lake Michigan and its tributaries upstream to the first barrier impassable to fish), unless they are first thawed and then preserved in a method that does not require refrigeration or freezing for long term storage. Other methods include, pickling in alcohol or mineral oil or drying in a salt/borax mixture.

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Can I leave bait minnows in a bait bucket or live box in the lake for use at a later date?

Yes, as long as the container is clearly and legibly marked with your name and address. Containers may not be left on or attached to public property and you must have permission before attaching to any private property.

Can I collect my own minnows without a permit?

In order to allow anglers to take their unused minnows home, the DNR has had to make changes in the way personal minnow harvest is conducted. On non-VHS waters you can collect minnows for personal use as long as you only use them for bait on the water you collected them from, but it is illegal to transport any such live minnows away from the waterbody where you caught them. To prevent the movement of likely infected minnows, the DNR has closed the minnow harvest season on the VHS known and suspect waters, including the Winnebago system, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and Wisconsin River upstream to the Prairie du Sac dam and all waters connected to these up to the first barrier impassable to fish. No person may harvest minnows from these waters, except that suckers may be harvested but may not be transported away live. It is illegal to use or possess minnow nets or traps on waters closed to minnow harvest. Additional waters may be included if found or suspected to be affected by the VHS virus. For the most updated information see the DNR VHS website.

The new rules say that I can trap minnows for bait, but I may only use them in the same waterbody where they were trapped. What constitutes the "same waterbody"?

Use the rule of "wet feet". If you can wade or boat to a spot without leaving the water once you are on the water with the bait, it would be considered the same or connected water from an enforcement standpoint. Those minnows cannot leave the water alive and must be killed before you leave, though you can kill and preserve them for use as dead bait. There is no minnow harvest in the VHS known and suspect waters, including the Winnebago system, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and Wisconsin River upstream to the Prairie du Sac dam and all waters connected to these up to the first barrier impassable to fish. Additional waters may be included if found or suspected to be affected by the VHS virus. For the most updated information see the DNR VHS website.

Can I use dead fish for bait?

Only if they were caught on the water you are fishing or have been preserved in a manner that does not require refrigeration or freezing. If they were alive when you started fishing, you can use those unpreserved dead fish (fish that died in the bait bucket) while fishing that day. After you leave the lake they must be treated the same as all other dead bait and preserved before they can be used again. You can also use commercially produced dead baits as long as they do not require refrigeration. Dead bait of any type can be used on Lake Michigan and waters of Green Bay or on the water where the bait was harvested.

How do I properly dispose of my minnows if I do not plan to use them later?

In a trash can at the boat landing or access point if one is available. Otherwise, you should take the minnows home and dispose of them in the trash, compost them or use them in a garden for fertilizer. Another option: water-free, dead minnows can be taken home and preserved with one of the suggested preservation methods and then used at a later date.

When are fish or fish eggs considered to be DEAD vs. LIVE?

Fish that are handled in a manner meant to keep them alive or eggs fertilized for the purpose of propagation will be considered live fish or fish eggs. Fish in a container that has been drained of water will be considered dead.

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Is it ok to transport dead fish that have eggs inside of them?

Yes, as long as the eggs are not removed later and fertilized for the purpose of producing fish.

Can I leave minnows in a bait bucket or live box in the lake for use at a later date?

Yes, you can as long as the container is clearly and legibly marked with your name and address. Containers may not be left on or attached to public property and you must have permission before attaching to any private property. Those minnows may not be transported away for use on any other lake or river.

Are there any additional restrictions on the use of other types of live bait, such as worms, leeches, insects or their larva?

No, other types of live baits such as worms, leeches, insects, larvae, are generally still legal to use. However, under the rules, all water is required to be drained from all equipment and containers used for fishing when you leave the water (except for the up to 2 gallons holding minnows). This includes water in containers that may contain leeches or aquatic insects. If you plan to add water later to keep this type of bait alive, you should add water from a safe source like a well or tap.

Do I have to drain the water from my drinking water containers and coolers, including melted ice in coolers used to keep fish or food and beverages cold?

No. This rule does not apply to beverage containers, including bottled drinking water. Melted ice in coolers used to keep dead fish fresh also needs to be drained, but the ice which has not yet melted may be kept to keep your fish, food or beverages cool.

I like to maintain native fish in my home aquarium; can I catch fish and bring them home for this purpose?

No, transporting any live fish taken from a wild source would be illegal. If you would like fish for your home aquarium, you should purchase the fish from a fish hatchery, bait shop or licensed bait harvester.

How does the rule apply to tournaments that wish to have an offsite weigh in?

Tournaments may not transport live fish to an offsite weigh in unless they have a tournament permit from the DNR that specifically allows the transport. If allowed, the permit will contain appropriate restrictions and conditions such as all tournament participants who will be transporting live fish must have a copy of the permit while transporting them.

What should I do if I see a fish kill or diseased fish?

It is not uncommon to see a few dead fish from time to time that die from natural causes. However, if you see large numbers of dead or dying fish or see fish covered with red spots, you may report the sighting to the DNR by calling the local DNR service center, fish biologist, warden or calling the toll free Hotline number at 1-800-TIP-WDNR. Make note of the waterbody, date, fish species, and approximate number of dead/dying fish. If you caught a suspicious looking fish, place the fish in a plastic bag and then in a cooler on ice.

Are there penalties or fines for not following VHS rules?

There have been some inquiries regarding whether or not there is a fine for not following these VHS emergency rules. The simple answer is yes, there can be. Here is a list of these fines or penalties [PDF 20KB] which were set in our emergency rules.

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Last revised: Friday August 31 2012