To live bait anglers there is nothing more important than their bait. In the case of B’n’M pro staffer, Brad Whitehead, it is even more important when the water temperatures fall and crappie are less aggressive.
Brad Whitehead believes fresh, lively bait is the secret to successful crappie fishing especially in the winter months. Here is the result of using good bait.
“As a crappie guide and tournament angler, minnows are a must in December through March,” declared Whitehead. “I feel like when the water is cold the minnows give you an edge. When you’re fishing a tournament minnows are a must in my opinion.”
Whitehead remembers one guided trip that he would like to forget. “I did my normal thing of stopping to get a pound or so of minnows before getting to the boat ramp and meeting up with my clients. I was running a little behind and I jump in my SUV and headed to the ramp. I met up with my clients and got to my fishing spot when I realized I had not put any air on the minnows, most of my bait was dead.”
No one wants to experience bait loss because of the impact that a lack of live bait can have on the days fishing success. The angling demand for live, healthy, minnows has resulted in a marketplace full of creative solutions that help keep bait alive. The most common ones are some type of mechanical aeration system.
Too keep baitfish healthy anglers need to maintain adequate dissolved oxygen levels in the well, keep the water cool and keep the water clean. Electric pump and stone systems are the most common and simple method used to introduce oxygen into the water as air bubbles. Systems that create smaller bubbles are the best. Small bubbles rise slower and are absorbed more efficiently by the water than larger bubbles.
Whitehead’s personal choice is a portable tank. “Portable tanks give you more flexibility in setting your boat up because you can choose where to place it. Portable tanks are also easier to clean. I use an Engel Bait Cooler. My 19-quart cooler has a two-speed aerator that runs on two batteries or plugs into a 12-volt outlet. It pumps air through a blue aerating stone to introduce dissolved oxygen into the water.”
Weiss Lake crappie guide, Jim Forrest, uses Marine Metals PowerBubbles 12V DC Air pump with two outlets. He runs two hoses from the unit to a T-fitting and then runs a long single hose to the baitwell so he can put it anywhere the wants in the boat.
Several companies manufacture a variety of aeration products. “We have 6-, 12- and 110-volt products,” explains Marine Metal Products spokesman Clark Lee Jr. “All our buckets are aerated. We have units that run up to 20 hours on AA batteries. All our products have a waterproof switch. The motor is out of the water so you don’t get any heat dissipation from the motor to the water.”
One of the most popular models is the Cool Bubbles brand. “The Cool Bubbles containers are versatile insulated pails,” says Lee. “They work in hot climates like Florida to keep the water cool, but also in ice fishing country to keep the water from freezing.”
Cool Bubble pails have holes in the lid to make changing water easy. “You need to get rid of the dirty water,” said Lee. “You can have a lot of aerators, but if your water has gotten too dirty the ammonia from the fishes own excretions can get the water so hot that it will kill the bait.”
Lee explained that it is the fine bubbles produced when air is pumped through weighted air stones that deliver the dissolved oxygen to the tank. “All those fine bubbles rising to the top are the ones that really provide the oxygen,” explained Lee. “I can put a dissolved oxygen meter in any operating Cool Bubbles tank. The saturation will be at 99.5 percent. That means that if I put another aerator in there it would not change. The water is already saturated. The only way to put more oxygen in the water would be to lower the water temperature, because the lower the temperature, the more dissolved oxygen it can hold.”
The front livewell on this G3 Eagle176 has a cutout to accommodate a bait bucket for ease of use and storage. (photo provided by G3)
Most modern crappie boats come with built in aerated livewells. Whitehead’s 2015 War Eagle 754VS comes standard with a divided side livewell. Anglers could use one side for bait and the other for fish. “My War Eagle has a 12-volt Pro Air System installed to pump air into my tanks,” says Whitehead.
Whitehead prefers using the livewells just for fish. “I like the convenience of a portable tank located near where I’m fishing for my minnows,” explains Whitehead.
Consumer preference is the mantra at G3 Boats. “G3 Boats recognizes that many of their angling consumers use live bait on a regular basis,” explained Stephen Matt, Director of Public Relations. “Numerous models from G3 have standard baitwells already built-in, others have pre-cut livewells for the quick addition of minnow bucket inserts and most of the Deep-V line come with portable Bait Tamers® standard in the livewell”.
The G3 Boats Eagle 176 comes with two livewells, one on the front deck and another one on the back deck. The front livewell has the cutout to accommodate a bait bucket. A portable bait bucket can be taken out and carried to the bait shop, then reinserted into the livewell to store conveniently.
Another solution for healthy minnows is to use an additive like Better-Bait, from Sure-Life Laboratories (sure-life.com). “We produce formulas for both fresh and saltwater bait including minnows, shiners, shad, crawfish, etc.,” said Sure-Life owner Tony Gergely. “It’s a blue granular formula used worldwide in bait tanks and minnow buckets to keep minnows alive and frisky to help catch more fish.”
Gergely recommends a closed baitwell system so the product is not diluted. “Treat the water with Better-Bait,” instructs Gergely. “Use ice to cool the water and keep a bottle of Sure-Life’s Foam-Of handy. Foam-Off is a liquid formula, which when added to a bait tank or bucket, will instantly remove harmful surface foam from the vessel, so oxygen can enter the water.”
The Bait-Life mixture instantly removes harmful chlorine and other contaminants from the water; replaces lost electrolytes to help reduce stress; stimulates the natural slime coat of the fish; helps elevate the oxygen content of water and helps reduce both fungal and bacterial infections.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you use to keep your minnows healthy if they don’t start off that way. Healthy minnows will stay schooled up in a tight ball so be sure they behave that way at the bait shop when you buy them. Start with healthy minnows and then provide the proper attention to keep them that way and your fishing day will be more successful.
Brad Whitehead is sponsored by B’n’M Poles, WarEagle Boats, Slider Bait Company, Vicious Line, Yamaha Motors, Hi-Tek Stuff Holders and TTI Blakemore.
Five Bait Well Tips
1. Portable tanks allow you to place your bait near where you are fishing.
2. Buy your bait at a shop that keeps their bait inside. Normally the tanks are cleaner and the minnows are livelier.
3. Keep bait tanks clean and remove all rusty nets when not in use. Keep hands free from oils and other chemicals that could contaminate the water.
4. Do not dump ice directly into the water. Use a product like Artic Ice reusable cooler packs to lower the water temperature or freeze your own water bottles.
5. Buy bait the night before from a tackle shop that offers minnows in a plastic bag filled with oxygen. The bag can be kept inside and cool the night before the fishing trip.