Cheap vodka is good for a lot of things. It can cure almost anything that ails you. If one of those things happens to be a lack of fresh minnows, it can fix that too. A few of the old timers in the Lake Erie perch and walleye scene have told me preserving minnows with Russian vodka was a trick carried over from, well, Mother Russia. I have no idea if that’s true, but I know it works better than salting, and provided you’re not using Grey Goose, this hack can save you money and keep you in the game during times when good minnows are hard to come by.
Where I live in Port Clinton, Ohio, minnows are often in short supply during the heat of summer. In the dead of winter, many shops close if they don’t cater to a lot of ice diehards. Smart shops salt minnows to at least have something to offer when live ones aren’t available, but salting is a labor-intensive process that produces mushy baits if they’re stored too long. Preserving with vodka requires nothing more than the booze, some freezer bags, and a freezer. They’ll last for up to a year without the consistency degrading. All you have to do is stop being lazy. Instead of dumping your dead and dying minnows in the lake after a day of fishing, take them home and treat them to some potato liquor.
You want the minnows to be as dry as possible before putting them in a bag. However, you never want them to come into contact with cloth or a paper towel, as it will remove too many scales. Let the minnows drip dry in a bait net for a bit before bagging, and then pour in just enough vodka to cover them. Remove as much air from the Ziploc or freezer bag as possible. The bags should be stored upright in the freezer, and I find that keeping them in a small cardboard box really helps in this department. I try to limit the count to three dozen minnows per bag to avoid having to refreeze or waste unused baits, but you can add as many to a bag as you think you’ll need to get through a typical day of fishing.
In a few hours, the water inside the minnows’ flesh will freeze and the vodka will become slushy. The combination suspends the minnows in a state that keeps them hydrated and preserved, but never frozen completely rock solid, which could lead to freezer burn. When you’re ready to fish, simply let a bag of drunken minnows sit in the sun for a little while or drop them in a bucket of water. Since they’re not fully frozen, they’ll thaw out very quickly. I’ve noticed that thawed minnows preserved with spirits are much firmer than salted or fully frozen minnows. They become slightly rubbery, which keeps them solidly secured to the hook. With the vodka method, you can also get away with refreezing minnows a couple times before the baits become too mushy to be useful.
Featured image by Ross Robertson