By John Neporadny

Whether you are waiting in a long line to weigh in your fish during a crappie tournament or you fish from a boat without a livewell system, you need some aeration system if you want to keep your catch alive.

Floating design aerator

For crappie anglers who don’t have a boat with a fish-keeping device, a portable livewell can be made from a heavy-duty cooler and a portable aerator. TJ Stallings, veteran crappie angler and TTI/Blakemore Fishing Group marketing/public relations specialist, recommends using one of the Bait Saver aerators from Marine Metal Products which produces 99.5 percent saturation of dissolved oxygen in up to 44 gallons. The Bait Saver aerator is a 12-volt air pump with a power cord and large copper clips for attaching to the boat battery.

A wide array of containers and buckets can be converted into portable livewells, but large coolers are the most popular choices for holding crappie. “Coolers are pretty effective because they give you that cooling element as well,” says Ryan Kleckner, Plano vice president of engineering. “I have seen people use Rubbermaid containers although those aren’t as sturdy when you fill them with 25 gallons of water.”

Kleckner suggests some types of pails also work well as long as the buckets have a lid. “You want to do anything you can to keep the heat and contaminants out of the water as much as possible,” he says. “So a covered container is best.”Spray bar modelMarine Metal Products and Frabill offer a variety of aeration systems that allow crappie anglers to construct mobile livewells. Crappie tournament anglers can keep their fish lively in the weigh-in line by aerating a small cooler with one of Marine Metal Products’ 1.5 to 3-volt air pumps. “Those are the ultimate in portability,” said Clark Lea Jr, president of Marine Metal Products. The pumps run on two D-cell batteries and can aerate up to 8 gallons of water.
Frabill also has a couple of portable aerators (models 1420 and 14202) that can be clipped on any size bucket. The pumps run on two D-cell batteries and can aerate up to 6 gallons.
Marine Metal Products offers five 12-volt air pumps that can circulate from 20 to 44 gallons. Lea suggests the best model for converting a cooler into a mobile livewell is the Super Saver. “That one is really designed for a cooler and will fit in any cooler,” he said. The device is capable of pumping 500 gallons of water per hour and can aerate up to 30 gallons. It has 5 foot of flexible tubing connecting the pump to a spray bar that can be mounted to the cooler with suction cups.
The Super Saver can be used to pump water in and out of the cooler by simply sticking the pump over the side of the boat to fill or empty. “After you have been fishing for a couple of hours and need to change your water you pull the cap off the end of the PVC pipe and pump the well out,” says Lea. “That makes it really easy for changing water.”Pump with a dual pump and air stones“All of our aerators have a dissolved oxygen meter so you can measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water,” Lea says. “All of our units will produce 99.5 percent saturation of dissolved oxygen in that water.”
Three new 12-volt aeration systems for portable livewells will be available this autumn from Frabill, according to Kleckner. The Aqua Life 14213 model has a dual output with two air stones and 10 feet of flexible air hose for pumping enough oxygen to aerate 50 gallons. For coolers containing up to 30 gallons, Kleckner recommends the 1438 spray bar model or the 1436 floating pump system.
Although primarily used for storing bait, the 20-gallon Marine Metal Products Bait Saver Livewell System can also hold some crappie. The UV protected livewell bucket with molded handles and hinged lid is combined with a 12-volt Bait Saver aerator with a filter guard.
When setting up a portable cooler, make sure the pump is powerful enough to aerate the full capacity of the cooler. You can also use a pump that aerates more than the cooler’s capacity if necessary. “You can over oxygenate the water for baitfish but it is kind of hard to over oxygenate your catch with the commercial products that are available,” Kleckner says. “To keep any kind of fish alive in a fixed container you have to add some aeration or oxygen to it. When you are adding the oxygen you are combatting the carbon dioxide that is created by the slime and excrement and everything that is on the fish that contaminates the water over time. So adding the oxygen and changing the water and sometimes flow within the tank helps the fish as well.”

Since the Marine Metal Products pumps produce such a high level of dissolved oxygen, Lea suggests the only other way to increase the oxygen in the portable livewell is to lower the water temperature. “Eighty-degree water is going to hold a lot more oxygen than 85-degree water,” he says.
The best way to cool the water in any livewell is to add ice. “Don’t dump the ice directly in the well because the chlorine from the ice will harm your fish,” Lea says.
“It’s best to freeze a soda pop bottle or something like that with water and then drop that in (the livewell),” says Kleckner.
Both Marine Metal Products and Frabill offer a sort of portable livewell for crappie anglers who fish from the bank or on a bridge or pier. Floating fish nets will keep fish lively for a longer time than stringers. Two bags (13.3-gallon capacity and 24.5-gallon capacity) made of soft netting with a heavy galvanized ring and polyethylene float ring are available from Marine Metal Products. Frabill has the 18 x18 20-gallon Bait Quarters made of soft nylon mesh with a floating ring, weighted bottom and Velcro latch lid.
Visit the company web sites for more information on Marine Metal Products (( or Frabill (( aeration systems.