Keeping Fish Alive & Healthy
By Tim Huffman
Recreational and tournament fishermen both benefit from having healthy crappie in the livewell. The following are a few observations, tips and ideas about keeping fish in good shape for release or eating.
The 4 Main Players
Player #1 is the crappie. In general, the crappie should be treated properly making sure that a livewell has oxygen, fresh water, cooling or whatever else is needed. Even when headed for the table, as sportsmen, ethically we have the responsibility to take care of these fish in the well. If not, fish held to eat should be put directly into a cooler with ice.
Player #2 is the recreational fisherman. He or she should immediately release fish not headed to the table. Otherwise, to get the best taste possible he should keep the fish alive and healthy or put them on ice.
Player #3 is the tournament fisherman. Ethics and money are on the line, That requires keeping crappie alive. Dead fish can’t be weighed. The best livewell practices must be followed, not only to for weighing but for a healthy release afterwards.
Player #4 is the tournament director. He is responsible for keeping thousands of fish healthy during weigh-in. He is also the number one person responsible for maintaining a good image of tournament fishing. Fish should be cared for and released back into the lake or river to be caught another day.
Dan Dannenmueller fished bass tournaments for year and has been a part of national crappie fishing for six or seven years. He and partner Garrett Steele are Team Bobby Garland on the Crappie Master tournament trail and they will fish other national tournaments during 2017. Dannenmueller has personal experience and has the good and bad experiences of fellow tournament anglers. The following are his thoughts on fish care and conservation.
“Preserving our sport is the responsibility of everyone involved,” says Dannenmueller. “It’s important to care for and preserve our waters for fishermen today and for future generations.
“For all fishermen, the big picture and first general step is for all fishermen to abide by the creel and length limit laws. Biologists in each state determine these limits based upon maintaining a proper balance of today’s needs and the future. Grenada and Washington in Mississippi are examples of heavily pressured waters that maintain due to strict creel and length limits. Good management is critical for these and similar waters. Another step includes enforcement of these limits. Without enforcement and fishermen knowing there is a good chance of getting caught if they don’t follow the laws, regulations won’t be followed as they should.
“Tournaments create a more difficult situation for both the fisherman and tournament director. Both are responsible for caring and handling of the crappie. The fish should be healthy and stay that way to be released alive. There are factors involved to make sure the fish are given the best chance for survival.”
Oxygen is the first factor for healthy fish whether fishing for recreation or tournaments, according to Dannenmueller. Tournament fishermen use built-in livewells or quality coolers made into livewells to keep fish alive. A simple addition of a bubbler is the most basic item that is important. Outside water from pumps and re-circulation pumps also help with oxygen levels. A product called Survivor adds fresh water and oxygen when the boat is moving. Serious fishermen sometimes add medical oxygen for added support of the fish.
“The second factor is temperature. Livewells are insulated but the water does heat up substantially similar to a cab of a truck in the sunshine. Fish must be comfortable so waters cannot be allowed to heat up. CoolWell has an excellent system for cooling a livewell. Most fishermen opt for adding ice. I try to maintain 68 to 70 in the livewell during warm and hot conditions. Pushing in fresh water is great until surface water gets above 70 degrees. Others say 75 degrees is okay. After that, I prefer to cool the fish slowly using ice. Water frozen in milk jugs and water bottles work great for a slow release and to keep chlorinated water and livewell water separated. I never use bagged ice directly because of the chlorine.
“A third factor is chemicals. Sure-Life, maker of Keep Alive, has decades of experience taking care of fish. Their new Crappie Rx is formulated to treat the water and care for fish in many different ways. Not all treatments are equal and Sure-Life is a step above the others.
Another simple thing is to keep the livewell full of water. The fuller the livewell the more oxygen they’ll have and there will be less movement of water when travelling. The quality coolers used by many tournament fishermen not only maintain better temperature control but they can be filled to the top eliminating most sloshing when motoring and therefore have fewer beat-up fish.
“Fishermen have a responsibility to care for the crappie but tournament directors are responsible during the weigh-ins. They must have a process in place to give fish a maximum chance for survival. Tubs with chemicals, oxygen and proper temperatures is one method often used successfully in bass tournaments.”
Dannenmueller also believes crappie weigh-ins should be conducted as quickly as possible. Moving people through the line quickly is important. A slow process or too much picture taking slows everything down, forces fish to stay in the weigh-in coolers longer and reduces their chance for survival. Better systems for quick weigh-ins is a simple improvement with no costs involved. Direct fish care and release have cost factors involved.
He says after fish are weighed they should be put into a release boat equipped with a tank with good water and chemicals. The fish can be allowed to acclimate to the water and later released in places known to hold crappie.
“Local, regional and national organizations have room for improvement. Release stats might sound good but they do not reflect delayed mortality due to stress and removed slime. Only by taking care of the fish can they give the best chance for survival. I believe time and money are the primary reasons proper release isn’t followed for tournament fish.
“Tournaments are just one photo away from disaster. Dead fish laying in the water is a terrible impression and could create a huge negative impact to the public. I’ve seen a couple of tournaments where released fish were floating up and it doesn’t look good.
“Impression is everything. The impression we give to the world is very important. Whether right or wrong, tournaments are viewed with a critical eye. We must do everything possible to put the tournaments in a good light.”
Dannenmueller says, “One tournament has very little impact on a lake’s fish population. However, too many tournaments could be a problem. Many tournament fishermen release all of their fish. Local fisherman come out and keep all the fish they can catch so they have a much bigger impact for a longer period of time.
“Perception is everything, so tournaments doing everything possible to release healthy fish will keep the tournaments more acceptable to the public. Ray Scott recognized this early in the bass tournaments. Stringers of dead fish were not attractive and waters couldn’t sustain all the big fish being caught. They not only revised weigh-ins, but also promoted Catch and Release. Eventually even recreational fishermen recognized the value to the sport if big fish were released. Catch and Release would have never worked without the big push by the tournament trails and anglers. Maybe we need to have some selective harvest and release programs to release our bigger fish.
“So the bottom line for care is oxygen, temperatures and chemicals. Tournaments must improve and do everything possible for successful releases. All fishermen must practice release of bigger fish especially before and during the spawn. The future of crappie fishing depends upon all fishermen caring for the resource for today and generations to come. It takes a long time for a fish to get big so we need to eat the small ones and release the big ones.”
Aiding “Healthy & Alive”
Survivor by Krusher Marine Products is an item that helps fish by adding more oxygen. Owner Robert Idzikowski knows oxygen levels are a determining factor for fish survival.
Idzikowski says, “Our product works to solve a problem of keeping water flowing into the livewell when the boat is moving including on plane. A boat on plane typically just sucks air through a pump and can draw water out of the livewell but not when using a Survivor.
“We recommend a simple program. First, as soon as you put the boat into the water go ahead and fill your livewell. If you are running to a spot the Survivor will fill it for you. When you stop, the boat’s pump will take over. If you leave your pump on, there will be no time on the water that you will not be taking in fresh, oxygenated water. We also suggest plugging your livewell. Having water ease out around the lid is okay because the bilge pump will get it out of the boat. Since the goal is to give the fish the best environment possible, removing the air gap between the livewell lid and the water will stop most of the sloshing when motoring. Sloshing causes stress on fish and bounces them into the sides of the livewell. Closing that air gap stops most of the problem plus it is much easier to control the temperatures and oxygen. It’s okay to slowly reduce temperatures when they are too high and to add chemicals, but with a constant flow of fresh water into the livewell these will eventually flow out and must be added back in. The last part of the program for tournament fishermen is to use the circulation pump when trailering to the weigh-in sight.”
Idzikowski says some fishermen don’t want to use this system in the summer because it flushes out chemicals and cool water. He believes having fresh water and oxygen is the most important thing so he recommends it year round. Their website is: www.krushermarine.com
Catch & Release by Sure-Life, and the company’s new addition Crappie Rx, are chemical treatments to be added to livewells. Owner Tony Gergley says, “Catch and Release calms a fish down. We’ve produced it since 1982. It has 55 products in the formula and the powder ingredient has much less inactive ingredients than some of the others. We add electrolytes, remove ammonia, foam is removed and that step is critical because 90 percent of the oxygen comes from the surface of the water, stimulants to promote slime coating, and an anti-bacterial agent and fungicides, and we sedate the fish to calm them down and that’s critical.”
Crappie Rx will be available soon. www.sure-life.com