By John Neporadny Jr.
A key component in your boat that is frequently overlooked and neglected is the livewell.
A good livewell is critical when fishing a tournament like shown here, but is also important for recreational fishermen who want the best meat possible to eat or if they might release fish.
Whether you are fishing competitively for crappie or just hunting for fish for your next meal, your boat’s livewell is essential in keeping your catch alive for the weigh-in or fresh for the dinner table. I admit that I have been guilty throughout the years of overlooking the livewell when selecting a boat and neglecting the livewell on my boat until something goes wrong with it.
Most fiberglass bass boats have all of the features crappie anglers need for keeping a mess of crappie lively throughout the day. “I look for a recirculation valve on it so it can recirculate the water,” says Texas pro Wally Marshall.
Marshall also relies heavily on the aerator timer for the livewell in his Ranger bass boat. “Timers are very important because you can run your batteries dead if you have one that doesn’t have a timer and just runs continuously,” he said. The tournament veteran recommends dialing the timer to a low setting in the morning and then turning it up later in the day as it gets hotter.
A divided livewell is also essential for keeping crappie livelier and reducing cramped conditions that can stress the fish. It also comes in handy for separating your catch from your partner’s in case the law comes along and wants to check your fish.
A large capacity livewell is also essential to both tournament and recreational crappie anglers. Marshall suggests the livewells in Ranger bass boats are the right size for holding plenty of crappie. Livewell capacities in the Z Series of Rangers range from 23 gallons for a Z117 model to 26 gallons on the Z522. The livewells in multispecies Ranger boats have capacities ranging from 17.5 gallons to 24 gallons.
The traditional fiberglass bass boats work well for crappie fishing, but the livewell setups on fiberglass multispecies boats and some aluminum bass boats are more suitable for crappie anglers who favor spider rigging and other tactics that require staying put in the front seats. “There are a lot of varieties and sizes (of livewells) and there are some boats that have livewells in the front,” says Stephen Matt, public relations specialist with G3 Boats.
This livewell is in a G3 Boat, built-in, bow, and lighted.
Matt prefers the fore and aft livewells of the G3 aluminum boats because he can place a fish in the livewell without having to leave the front deck. “If you are fishing in the wind, then you don’t have to start from scratch and wonder where those fish were at (after placing your fish in the livewell),” Matt said.
Some G3 boats such as the Eagle Talon series have a 33-gallon divided livewell with an insulated lid and recirculating 800-gallon per hour pump. The livewell system allows you to fill, recirculate and pump out water. The G3 Gator Tough Jons 1966 and 2072 models have livewell capacities ranging from 16 gallons to 31 gallons. Matt noted the 16-gallon livewells are usually used for holding bait.
One mistake Marshall sees crappie anglers make is to put their minnows on one side of a divided livewell and their crappie on the other side. This could lead to overcrowding and stressing the crappie, so Marshall suggests keeping bait out of the livewell.
Matt also advises against putting minnows in a livewell system to avoid clogging up the drain pipes. “I always recommend if people are going to put bait in their livewell to keep it in a minnow bucket or bait tamer of some type so the bait isn’t running free and can’t clog up the livewell in any way,” he says.
Placing your fish in the livewell and turning on the aerator will keep your crappie lively in the cooler months, but some extra steps are required for summertime when the surface water is hot and lacks oxygen. “Whenever the water temperature gets up to 75 degrees I fill up my livewell to where I can shut off the outside water (and use the recirculation system),” says Marshall who then relies on a livewell oxygenator. “I like to get plenty of oxygen to my fish.”
Marshall cools down the surface water that he fills into his livewell in the morning by placing a gallon jug of ice in the livewell. He monitors the water temperature in the livewell with an aquarium thermometer that he keeps in the fish box.
Some livewell intake pipes shoot water straight down, so Matt suggests angling the pipe to where it sprays on the livewell walls rather than blasts down on the fish. He believes this trick reduces bubbling in the water which could be harmful to crappie if the fish accumulate too many bubbles in their gills.
Adding some sort of solution to your livewell will also keep your crappie in good shape throughout a full day of fishing. A couple of the fisheries biologists I have interviewed in the past have told me that using 1/3 cup of non-iodized salt for every 5 gallons of water is the most effective and safest livewell additive for bass and crappie.
Cleaning livewells with certain chemicals could also be harmful to your catch. “If you are cleaning out your livewell with some sort of chemical or soap make sure that all of the residue is out of there before your next fishing trip,” Marshall says. “If it is not you are going to kill your fish right off the bat.”
A botanical disinfectant TJ Stallings, veteran crappie angler and TTI/Blakemore Fishing Group marketing/public relations specialist, uses for cleaning his livewell is Sol-U-Guard (http://www.melaleuca.com). He notes the product does a great job of getting rid of that bathtub ring of crappie slime and unpleasant odor that builds up in a livewell.
So if you need to take better care of your catch, start by paying more attention to the livewell in your boat.