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June 27, 2013

Keeping Live Bait Lively

Fifteen tips for assuring that baitfish stay healthy aboard your boat.

8. Population Control

There’s a tendency to load the livewell with as much bait as possible, but this can be counterproductive, as overcrowding leads to increased mortality. With experience, you’ll be able to just look in the tank and determine by the bait density when it has reached maximum capacity. Yet if you’re having a hard time gauging how much is enough, try this trick employed by San Diego long-range boats. Tap on the bottom of the livewell with a gaff handle; the bait will scatter outward, creating an open vertical space in the center of the tank. Keep taking bait until the open space in the center no longer appears when you tap on the bottom.

9. Culling the Dead

It’s important to pluck any dead baits from the livewell as soon as possible after they croak, as these decomposing bodies secret impurities, such as ammonia, that contaminate the water. From Mr. Pilchard’s point of view, that’s pretty gross, not to mention dangerous to his health. However, if the dead baits are at the bottom of the tank, be careful not to strike or accidently scoop up any live baits with the dip net. If the tank is not too deep, remove the dead baits by hand.

10. Careful Dipping

Speaking of the dip net, when it comes time to dip out a live bait, avoid the tendency to scoop up a mess of wriggling bait fish, unless you’re going to chum with them. When looking for a hook bait, carefully dip one bait at a time. This keeps the rest of the live ones healthy and panic-free. Instruct your crew to do the same, as two or three anglers continually scooping netfuls of bait will rapidly destroy the vitality of your bait supply.

11. Smooth the Ride

Few factors can knock the life out of Mr. Pilchard faster than a rough ride in snotty seas. If a supply of lively bait ranks as a high priority, think about ways to smooth the ride of your boat. Frequently, this is just a matter of slowing down when seas build, though some high-powered fishing boats designed for the kingfish tournament circuit actually ride more smoothly as speed increases.

12. Seal the Tank

One of the tricks that East Coast and Gulf Coast boatbuilders have taught us is the idea of sealing the livewell to keep water from sloshing out while under way. This not only keeps the deck dry, but it also keeps the maximum amount water in the tank — the more water you have, the happier Mr. Pilchard becomes. To seal the livewell, builders use a compression latch on a clear acrylic hatch that is seated on a gasket. The clear hatch allows you to check the bait without opening the top.