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Northern Bait celebrates 25 years providing live bait for Minnesota's anglers

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Dave May dips minnows and leeches2 / 3
Harold Condiff is shown here in this undated historical photo dipping minnows from concrete tanks in the shop. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

Northern Bait of Park Rapids has a long history of supplying bait and tackle for fishermen.

Harold Condiff built the current building and started Northern Bait in 1946. Bob Franzmeier purchased the business from Condiff, then sold it to Jim and Dave May in 1992. Greg May, a Park Rapids High School graduate, became a partner in 1998.

The late Tony Dean, nationally known radio and TV fishing host had this to say: "Northern Bait, Park Rapids, Minnesota, one of the best bait outlets in America."

Success didn't come easy. Long hours are necessary in this business, seven days a week, a history of insuring customers get the live bait needed for their fishing outings.

"Twenty-five years of owning the business, I've seen a lot of changes on the fishing scene," commented Dave May.

"Electronics, a huge game changer, allowing anglers access to fishing hot spots with GPS coordinates on a map loaded onto a depth sounder's screen," Greg May added. "Fishing license sales are down nationwide. Lost a few of the old timers that would line up outside the door before 5 o'clock in the morning to purchase bait."

The Mays trap almost all of their bait. Trapping bait is hard work. All traps must be checked every 72 hours, no matter what the weather conditions.

"Cutting ice during the winter to empty the traps in below-zero temperatures gets old," Dave May remarks.

Alongside the Mays, Northern Bait hires four part-time employees to help in the shop.

A good selection of quality bait pays huge dividends. Anglers from all over the state have Northern Bait on their "to-call list," looking for hard to find live baits such as leeches, shiners, red tail and creek chub minnows. Fishermen will travel hundreds of miles to buy shiners in the spring or red tails in the fall.

It's a reputation Northern Bait earned. If they don't have a certain live bait, doubt anyone else in the state will.

Suckers, not as popular as years ago, are raised in a hatchery. Shiners, creek chubs and red tail minnows are trapped in the rivers.

Dave May adds, "Red tails — a coveted bait by anglers, not found in all rivers — red tails prefer a much cleaner water environment compared to other minnows. We prefer not trapping red tails in the spring, allowing the red tails to spawn, an effort we feel preserves the resource.''

Leeches are a bait that is hard to find this time of year, but the Mays work hard to ensure Northern Bait has them for anglers well into the fall.

Due to Minnesota's continuing efforts to stop and slow the spread of invasive species, lakes that become infested are closed to minnow trapping by bait dealers and reduce the waters available for bait dealers to trap shiner minnows.

The Mays encourage everyone to do their part to curb the spread of invasive species by draining their boats and keeping them clean before every entry into the lakes.

Dave May points out, "Instead of discarding minnows at the end of the day, anglers can keep their minnows and leeches by carrying water with them to put bait into."

With 25 years of ownership, according to Dave May, they get to see many of the same people year after year. He recalls a 5-year-old boy that couldn't wait for the family vacation to see the minnows. Tourists make coming to Northern Bait a stop on their vacation. The Mays are pleased when they come back.

"Generation upon generation of customers, an extended family, watching the children grow up become adults with their children eager to see the minnows," he said.