Shiners readily available in and around Central Massachusetts.
Ice fishermen know shiners, at least the ones they buy in a bait store. They're invariably all golden shiners imported from Arkansas. Some may look silver, but that's just a function of their diet.
Jimmy Barry of Barry's Bait on 210 South West Cutoff, Route 20, Worcester, and 218 Milk St., Westboro, is one of a special breed of men whom ice fishermen rely on for bait. A few veterans bait minnow traps with bread catching wild lake chubs, common carp, golden, common, bridle, spottail shiners, bluntnose and fathead minnows, blacknose and longnose dace, creek chubs and fallfish. But bait shops don't trap. They require large, disease-free quantities. Suppliers like Arkansas' I.F. Anderson ship millions here, all with certified health certificates.
Shiner prices vary from shop to shop. Right now, mediums are selling locally for $5.95 a dozen, larges $6.95, and super-large pike-shiners from $1-$2 apiece.
There can be about 50 or more small shiners in a pound, and Barry's tanks currently hold 200 pounds of them. At times, he'll have as many as 1,300 pounds. That's about 65,000 shiners.
D&G Bait and Tackle on 449 Main St., Leicester is another reliable source of shiners with a loyal following. Dave is well stocked today, but on derby weekends his tanks will double in capacity. Dave sells lots of chisels and hand augurs that are effective on ice up to about 8 inches. As ice gets deeper, fishermen buy more power augurs.
Dave sells lots of tip-ups, especially the 40-inch Heritage variety, from Maine. They're high tilts with big reel capacities, good for deep water up north, where there might be a lot of snow cover. He sells custom tip-ups, too, hand-made by local craftsmen like Kenny "the Hulk" Hulkgren of Jefferson. In his 70s, Hulkgren makes heirloom hardwood tilts of the quality you'd want to pass down to your children. He makes four-six sets a year and they disappear fast. Hulkgren also hand-crafts traditional wooden ice boxes on skis to haul gear.
Dave loves ice fishing, noting how it has emerged as a family oriented pastime. Each ice fisherman is allowed five tilts. For $20 or $30, a whole family can have an entire weekend of fun bringing home lots of fish. Just as football games have developed tailgate traditions, ice fishermen are bringing along stoves, cooking hamburgers, hot dogs and venison tenderloins. Somehow, food always tastes better on the ice.
Fin and Feather, the Pratt Pond experts on Route 140 in Upton, have lots of shiners, as well as trout worms, meal worms and crawlers. Ice fishermen appreciate their willingness to spool their tip-ups, a process that can take 15 minutes. They also provide in-depth ice fishing clinics in January to help develop and refine local skills.
Bob's Gun and Archery on Gore Road in Webster also caters to ice fishermen, providing great shiners and quality equipment. Bob's the authority on Webster Lake. He has one of the best hunting and fishing Web sites in the state. I bought my first and second jet sled from him. He notes that distributors tend to hold off for the last minute with some equipment because they don't want to be stuck with unsold inventory in years we have little or no ice. When you see the equipment you need, buy it. It may not always be there.
Another great, reliable shiner supplier is B&A Bait and Tackle, 27 Sterling St., West Boylston. Ed has a full supply for us and is running his winter derby for pike, trout, pickerel, bass, crappie and perch. Jim D'Angelo of Hudson is in the lead, bringing in the first big pike of the season, a 15-pound, 10-ounce fish taken on just two inches of ice on the Charles River.
Ed notes that even though there hasn't been enough ice on Comet Pond yet, fishermen from shore are catching many rainbows and brood stock salmon. Ed prudently cautions that although some daring fishermen are getting out on some early ice, it's definitely not safe for most of us to walk on the water yet, not until we get at least three or four solid inches.
There's a temptation to shop exclusively at the mega-sporting goods stores today. Patronize these important, small bait shops that cater to our special needs with personal service, local knowledge and advice. They've earned our loyalty.