For Anglers Dedicated to True Catch and Release

by Ed Telders

The Livewell, a combination of artificial lake environment, a traveling aquarium, a fish motel, the emergency room, and source of bragging rights.
Before the advent of catch and release for Bass Anglers we did not have live wells in the average fisherman's boat. Many simply used a stringer over the side of the boat. In fact the most that a well equipped angler had was a large cooler with lots of ice. After all most fish went to the freezer anyway.
As tournament fishing gained in popularity and the fishing pressures increased the concept of catch and release quickly gained a solid support first from tournament anglers and later weekend anglers. The spirit of catch and release included penalties for dead fish. This prompted improvements in live well equipment and configuration as well as water conditioners and additives to increase the chance that the fish arrived at the weigh in healthy and "kickin".
So you ask yourself, how does my live well stack up? Or you may be in the market for that next boat. What should you look for in a high quality livewell? What features should be there? If you already have a live well, do I have to live with built in problems or can I make it better?
First start with water volume. Do you know how many gallons it holds? Simply put, the more water the better. Increasing the volume increases the dispersion of waste products produced by the fish, increases the potentially available oxygen by increasing the amount of water to contain it (increased carrying capacity), and provides more space for fish to occupy without overcrowding which can decrease physiological stress and mutually inflicted injuries. Pay attention to whether the live well has sufficient depth for the fish (especially larger ones) to comfortably remain in an upright position, instead of lying on their sides which is not a natural position for them. Shallow live wells simply don't do as good a job, especially as you bounce around on the waves (which bounces the fish too).
Next look for a least a dual pumping system. Again more is better. You should have both a filling pump for fresh water and a recirculating or aeration pump. Both should have automating and manual operating modes. Get the bigger or higher volume pumps to move more water. Aerating pumps that pump air into the stream of water are better than those that only pump water, simply because they increase the amount of air/water surface interface which is where the oxygen molecules mix into the water. If you can, have extra pumps installed. There is always the possibility of a breakdown and a spare pump could make the difference between dead fish and live ones.
Make sure that the pipes and plumbing for the live well are adequate. If the tubing is too small then foreign objects (like those regurgitated stomach contents) could clog the flow and hamper their proper function. Check them during the day to make sure that water is flowing as you expect it to. Carry a hose or hand pump to backflush drain tubes if they get clogged. A small fish net (like they have in aquarium stores) can be used to extract floating debris (or regurgitated stuff, yuck!!) from the livewell.
Check the live well for sharp objects or poor construction that leaves burrs and splinters which can harm fish. Check the circulation holes in your livewell partition (if you have one) to be sure that the edges are not sharp. Use an Emory cloth to smooth out exposed edges in plastic. Buff down any exposed fiberglass that feels rough. Check all screws, rivets, and seams in metal fittings and fixtures. File down anything that is rough. Any rough edge that cannot be filed down should be protected with a coating of Silicon Caulking. Be sure you use the kind sold in the aquarium stores to prevent using a toxic compound (don't just buy it at the hardware store because its cheaper, you might be substituting one problem for another). Feel with your hands up under the lids and any areas you cannot visually inspect. I once put my hand in such a back corner behind the lid and up under the deck, when I pulled my hand back as the result of experiencing a sharp pain I was bleeding in four places!! There was raw fiberglass back there!! To top it off this was in a brand new, beautiful, high end Hydro Blaster!! Not a good idea if you want to keep those fish healthy. Check, check, and when you're done, check again. Lids should be padded on the inside. When you're done with your live well retrofit (or purchasing inspection) you should have satisfied yourself that you could put your baby sister in that livewell (Now I meant when she was a baby, come on guys!!!!) without any chance for injury.

Continue to "Taking Care of Your Livewell"