Livewells Keep Your Catch Alive and Healthy
Tournament fishing and increased fishing pressure have expanded the popularity of catch and release angling. Weekend anglers have joined with tournament anglers who face penalties for dead fish, and have demanded some way to keep their catch alive and healthy. A livewell is an aerated tank in the boat, similar to an aquarium, that holds fish in water until weigh-in time so that they have a better chance of survival when released.
The best livewells are big enough to hold a lot of water, enough water for the fish to remain upright and have some room to move about. Look for a dual pumping system with a filling pump for fresh water, a recirculating or aeration pump, and automatic and manual operating modes. Be sure that the plumbing is an adequate size to pass any foreign objects brought in with the fish and handle the amount of water to be pumped.
- Different fish species have different livewell requirements. Bass, for example, can handle high water temperatures and low oxygen levels that would kill walleye or trout. Cold water can hold more oxygen from an aeration system than warm water.
- Ammonia from fish excrement can build up in the livewell along with carbon dioxide.
- Both can prove toxic to your catch. Be aware of the conditions demanded by each species and how to adjust your livewell system to meet those demands. You can run the pumps continuously and add ice to reduce the temperature; use a specialized oxygen-injection system; add water conditioners made for livewells; and even add a mild saline solution to condition the water.
Baitwells Keep Your Bait Active
Fishing with active bait fish—shad, shiners, herring, chub, or others--improves your chances for making a catch and a baitwell can help keep your bait alive and swimming. Baitwells, or bait tanks, are molded plastic tanks equipped with pumps, filters, and hoses to either circulate fresh water through the tank or aerate the water and maintain a healthy environment for live bait fish.
Baitwells for sportfishing boats range from 13 to 50 gallons or more in capacity and usually come with a built-in pump system that ensures a constant flow of oxygenated water and a variable flow speed to prevent the live bait from tiring. Many species of bait fish swim almost continuously and need either a round tank or a tank with rounded corners. Oval tanks are easier to fit into corners or tight spaces on a boat or on the swim step. Look for a tank that fills from the top and empties from the bottom, keeping clean, well aerated water flowing and pumping debris out in the discharge.
Casual Anglers and Small Boats
Casual anglers and small boat owners can keep live bait in good shape by using a battery powered, insulated portable bait bucket that aerates the water and maintains the proper temperature. If you provide the right conditions, you can hold large numbers of bait in a small volume of water. A standard cooler fitted with a conversion kit or a bait bag that mounts on the transom also work well.
If you’re new to fishing, or a seasoned angler looking for a new fishing boat, see our section on freshwater fishing boats.