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June 27, 2013

Keeping Live Bait Lively

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

13. Easy-Access Opening

Some built-in livewells have ­openings that are too small or too difficult to access. That creates issues for both loading and retrieving baits. Better boatbuilders recognize this and design livewell openings for unfettered access.

“We make the openings to livewells as large as possible,” says Les Stewart Jr., director of marketing for Contender Boats. “This makes it easy to drop a cast net inside or to pour a five-gallon bucket of bait and water into the tank. In addition, a large opening offers quick access to the live bait when fishing.”

14. Slammer Tank

Another way to increase bait capacity is to add a second livewell by plumbing an insole locker, usually one in the cockpit. These below-deck livewells are known as slammers on the West Coast. It’s important that the hatch is gasketed and has a compression latch to keep the water and bait from bubbling up on to the deck in rough seas. Also, from a safety point of view, it’s best not to fish from this tank, but rather use it only to replenish the main livewell, as leaving it open in the midst of the action could lead to a busted ankle. 

15. Light It Up

There are some anglers who argue that a light inside a livewell is pointless, since bait fish swim in the dark every night. Yes, but they don’t swim in an environment with walls around it. So I contend that every livewell should have a light if you intend to carry bait in the dark or if you put an opaque lid on the tank during the day.

Signs of Bad Bait

A number of signs indicate weak or struggling bait.

• Scale Loss: If you see a lot of loose scales floating amid the live bait, it’s a sure sign your bait might not be healthy and will be short‑lived.

• Dry Skin: Pick up one of the baits and feel it. Healthy baitfish sport a nice coat of slime, but if the skin feels dry and raspy, the bait esta no bueno.

• Red Noses: Chafed, blood-red noses is an indication that the bait has been beat up, either in a net through improper handling or due to improper water flow in the livewell. Red-nosed bait might last a while, but it’s not as desirable as bait with natural-looking snouts.

• Failure to Mill: Healthy bait should settle down and exhibit a relaxed milling behavior soon after you put them in the livewell. If they dart about or swim with their noses against the sides of the tank, it’s usually a sign of too much water flow. Try turning it down a bit to see if they will begin milling. If not, fish quickly, because your bait is not long for this world.