Mousie mystery: Why a shortage of bait?

Brooklyn, Mich. — Midwest ice anglers may have to do without – or at least severely limit their use of – one of their panfishing favorites this ice season. For the second season in a row, the supply of “mousies” is lagging behind demand in a big way.

Take Jim Knutson, for example. The owner of Knutson’s Live Bait, a wholesaler in Brooklyn, Mich., not long ago sold between 7 million and 10 million of the popular grub with a tail.

“The past five years, every year has been less and less,” said Knutson, owner of the business for more than five decades. “This year, I won’t go through a million.”

It’s not because anglers no longer desire the mousie. It’s the fact that they’re not available in quantities they once were. Those anglers accustomed to going to Knutson’s website to order bulk quantities were met this year with this message: “Due to a severe shortage again this year (2012-2013), we will only have mousees available in the two-dozen pack.”

Knutson said he’s doing it that way so that more anglers who wish to use mousies, can.

“Trying to spread ‘em out,” he said.

Why the mousie shortage? Several theories exist, and likely there are several reasons.

Knutson offered some possible reasons for the reduction in the availability of mousies, the larvae of the drone fly.

The mousie once was harvested from the waste of vegetable canneries (mousies like stagnant, oxygen-deprived water, with a high organic content), according to Knutson. Recent regulations required some of these factories “clean up,” he said, reducing the desired habitat for the mousie. Other places they are found – some farm ponds, for example – were affected by drought, this year and last. And peculiar weather patterns haven’t helped the situation in areas where it was hoped mousies could be found.

Other top winter panfish baits like wax worms and Eurolarvae are less susceptible to the whims of nature, Knutson said. With mousies, “90 percent of it nature controls,” he said.

Some bait dealers have more or less written off mousies as an option this winter. Others are considering doing so.

“We used to sell lots and lots of ‘em,” said Todd Hoyhtya, of Todd’s Bait in McGrath, Minn. This year, he said, he’s making no promises to panfish anglers who ask about them.

Near Siren, Wis., Roger Wood is holding out hope that his dealer delivers some mousies to Backwoods Beer and Bait, perhaps later this winter. There’s definitely a clientele waiting for the bluegill-catchers.

Wood said he used to sell 30 to 40 tubs of 1,000 mousies each during the winter. He’s been told dried-up ponds in the southern United States are to blame for the lack of mousies this time around.

“We haven’t been able to get any yet,” he said.

Instead, Wood is selling more spikes, what some say is simply a more pleasant word than “maggots.” The top seller in terms of panfish bait, however, remains wax worms. Bait shops also carry the often-multi-colored Eurolarvae.

The mousie situation isn’t much better in Ohio, where a representative from Wholesale Bait Co. Inc. said there was a shortage last year. And this year, “we haven’t gotten a single one.”

In many cases, it’s the more experienced anglers who put their faith in the mousie, according to Hoyhtya.

“It’s kind of an old-school thing,” he said. “They’re an old stand-by.”

As for the other alternatives, Hoyhtya said, waxies “keep better,” and if you turn to spikes/maggots, be sure to keep them cool in a refrigerator.

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