How To Keep Bait Fish Alive

Sardines Bait Fish

It’s no secret, fishing with live bait is better than using lures and jigs. This is because live bait will naturally move around which attracts larger predatory fish. However, one of the biggest obstacles that anglers face is how to keep your bait alive.

These smaller bait fish are delicate and will require some attention in order to have the most active live bait.

So how to keep bait fish alive? In order to keep your bait alive you must:

  1. minimize handling the fish.
  2. oxygenate the water.
  3. keep the water temperature consistent.
  4. supply fresh water.
  5. keep the tank or container clean. 

Just throwing your bait in a bucket of water is a sure way for them to die if they are in there for a few hours. You spent the time to catch your bait. Now take the time to make sure your bait is healthy and strong.

Keeping Your Bait Lively

Learning how to keep your bait alive and strong is vital when fishing with live bait. If you don’t do what is required to keep your bait alive then there was no point in catching them.

1. Fragile! Handle With Care

Bait Fish Fragile

When you catch live bait it can be very traumatic for the fish. The bait fish will be experiencing a lot of stress so you need to handle them with care.

Make sure you drop the fish into the container right away. The longer the fish is out of the water the more stress the fish will experience.

Be gentle when handling the fish. You might not know your own strength and squeeze the fish too hard. This can cause the fish’s internal organs to be injured or experience internal bleeding.

If you are using a hook to catch your bait then use a barbless hook. This will be easier to remove the hook from the fish which will reduce the stress of the fish. This will also increase the survival expectancy because it will cause less damage to the fish.

2. Watch The Water Temperature

Water Temperature

Fish will respond differently based on the water temperature. As the water warms up the more excited and active the bait fish will become. You would think this would be a good thing but it is not.

If the fish become more active then the more oxygen they will consume. That is right, fish need oxygen to live.

There is oxygen in the water which the fish “breaths” in using their gills. If the container used to store the fish does not have a new supply of water or oxygen pumped into the water then the fish will slowly die.

Just like how a human trapped in an airtight room will die if the person uses up all the oxygen in the air when they are running around.

By keeping the water temperature cooler, it will prevent the fish from being active and slow them down. This will result in the fish using up less oxygen and conserving energy.

There are tanks in the market that will monitor and adjust the water temperature for you. But I think that is overkill for the majority of people. You can cover your container with insulation to slow down the rate of which the water temperature will increase. This is a good cheap option that will not involve you having to check on the fish all the time.

Another method is to use a thermometer to measure the water temperature and compare this to the temperature of where the fish came from. This will give you an idea of what the ideal temperature should be. Even though this option is essentially free (just need to pay for the thermometer), you will need to check on the water more often.

3. Oxygenate the Water

Oxygen Escaping Water

Did I mention that oxygen is critical? If not then I will say it again.

Oxygen is critical to keep your live bait alive!

So how would you ensure the fish have enough oxygen in the water?

Well there are two different methods that you can use.

Supply Fresh Water: Fresh water from the lake, river, or ocean will have oxygen. This avoids you having to do anything extra on your part other than transferring the fish of one container to the other every few hours.

Even though using buckets to transfer the fish into fresh water is totally free but can be very time consuming depending on how you need to do this. This is a major con because if you are out with friends and family chatting away I guarantee you will forget.

Trust me … there is nothing worse than rushing to the bucket to find half your bait already dead.

Oxygenating The Water: Another option that is a lot less time consuming on your end would be to oxygenate the water. This is done by pumping outside air into the container directly. This is known as aeration.

A small pump will draw outside air and discharge it through a tube running to the bottom of the container. This will force the air to bubble up to the surface and some of the oxygen will dissolve into the water for the fish to breath.

There is no special equipment required for this. The pump and tubing can be picked up at any general aquarium store.

4. Maintain A Clean Container

One of the most overlooked things about keeping your baitfish alive is maintaining a clean container.

Water can be easily contaminated from oils, lubricants, fuels, bacteria, and bacteria growing in the container itself as it warms up.

To avoid contaminated water always have a lid and have it closed when not in use.

Keep your hands clean or wash your hands with fresh water before handling the fish.

Clean the container after each use to remove any organic growth that may have started growing.

5. Control Water Flow

Recirculating water by using a pump can help maintain a clean container and water temperature. By circulating the water through a filter it will catch all the particles in the water that may cause harm to the fish or create growth along the sides of the container.

There is no magical setting for water flow because it will depend on the type of fish you have, how big they are, and how active they are.

If the water flow is too high then the fish will constantly have to fight against a large flow which will exhaust them and could lead to the fish dying.

If the water flow is to low there is will not be enough movement to cause the particles to not settle at the bottom of the container.

6. Curing the Bait

Curing the bait refers to removing the dead bait from the same container as the live bait.

Dead bait will release ammonia into the water which will cause more fish to die. If some of the fish do not die then they will feel very ill from the ammonia in the water.

Removing the dead bait will keep your live bait healthy and strong.

Related Questions

Is fishing With Live Bait Illegal?

Fishing with live bait is not illegal given that you have the proper fishing license and follow your local fishing regulations. Some areas there are specific requirements on what fish can be used as live bait or not. Remember to always check with your local fishing regulations.

Do Bait Fish Feel Pain?

Numerous studies have found that fish do not have the neuro-physiological capacity like how humans do. This prevents fish to be consciously aware that they should be experiencing pain and react accordingly. Therefore, fish do not experience pain like how humans do.

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