Rigging a Crappie Boat Livewells – Built-in and Mobile

This oxygenated livewell is custom welded aluminum made to occupy the full width of the boat. It uses a door from an RV supply house for the hatch.

This oxygenated livewell is custom welded aluminum made to occupy the full width of the boat. It uses a door from an RV supply house for the hatch.

Ron Presley

“We would have done better in the tournament, but we had a fish die.” That is a statement that B’n’M Poles pro staffer Rodney Neuhaus never wants to utter. “There are too many times at the weigh-in that I hear someone’s big fish died half way through the day,” exclaims Neuhaus.
Neuhaus and other crappie anglers take special precautions to make their livewells as effective as possible. “If you pay attention to your fish there is no reason they should die unless they are injured from dehooking or come from real deep water. When you are fun fishing there is really no reason to worry, but in a tournament the last thing I want to worry about is keeping fish alive.”
A livewell is nothing more than a tank that anglers use to keep their bait and/or their fish alive. Livewells work by pumping in fresh water from outside the boat, aerating the existing water or some combination of the two. This article concentrates on livewells used to keep fish alive; bait storage will be covered in next month’s column.
The ideal livewell is made of materials that are non-toxic to the fish. All shapes and sizes are found on boats. Some are insulated, some are not, but at a bare minimum they need a drain to make emptying easy and a lid to keep the fish in the well.
The most important thing an angler can do to keep fish healthy is maintaining adequate dissolved oxygen in the well. Most experts say that oxygen levels in the livewell need to be above 7 parts per million for best results.

Electric aeration systems are the most common and simple method used to accomplish adequate oxygen levels. These machines introduce oxygen into the water as air bubbles. Smaller bubbles are better, because they rise slower and are absorbed more efficiently by the water than larger bubbles.

Portable livewells can be made from a simple ice chest by adding a batteryoperated aerator with tubing and blue aerator stone.

Portable livewells can be made from a simple ice chest by adding a batteryoperated aerator with tubing and blue aerator stone.

Oxygen injection systems are another way to improve dissolved oxygen levels. They provide precise doses of oxygen into the livewell and will maintain a higher number of fish in a given size of livewell.
These injection systems require mounting a bottle of compressed oxygen in the boat. The oxygen is dispersed through a high-pressure oxygen regulator connected by a hose to a diffuser with a goal of achieving 100 percent dissolved oxygen saturation. This system is the most efficient to keep tournament limits alive without worry on cleanly de-hooked fish.
Neuhaus doesn’t worry about oxygen when he is fun fishing. “If I am going to clean fish I turn on my recirculating pump and forget about it,” explained Neuhaus. “For tournament fishing I have modified my livewell. I run two air lines to the livewell. I have an air pump with a stone on one and I run oxygen through a KeepAlive oxygen diffuser on the other.” The diffuser produces extremely small bubbles, much smaller than a stone type aerator.
Neuhaus has his oxygen source mounted in a rod box in the front of the boat. “I have plumbing running up to the oxygen tank and a KeepAlive Regulator. From there I can also run oxygen into my bait cooler if needed. The regulator allows exact control of the amount of oxygen being put in the water. We like to keep it around a 32nd or 16th pound per minute.”
On tournament day a 120 quart Gander Mountain ice chest serves as an additional livewell. “Only the HOGS go in there,” specified Neuhaus. “We put it up front on the deck so that we can keep a close eye on the fish and their condition. We will keep up to 10 fish in the cooler, but no more. If we start getting bigger fish we will take out the smaller fish and put them in the livewell. The cooler also has a KeepAlive oxygen diffuser installed. We run only oxygen in this cooler. No air bubbler.”

Built-in livewells vary in size from as small as 15 gallons to the huge 65-gallon livewell on the G3 Sportsman 200 shown here.
(photo courtesy of G3 Boats)

Water temperature is another factor that anglers need to consider if they want to keep their fish healthy for prolonged periods. Water temp can be controlled to some extent. “Our water temperature is maintained by collecting lake water in clean gallon jugs and keeping them on ice until needed to cool the water in the cooler,” explained Neuhaus. “I use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the water in the cooler. We want the fish in the cooler to be calm, relaxed and stress free. Fish do better in cooler water. We try to keep the water in the mid to upper 70 degree range.”

There are products on the market that cools water using a pump and heat exchanger. One such product is KoolWell (tacklewarehouse.com). There are several components to these systems, so plan the layout carefully before you begin drilling holes. When the installation is complete you will have a pump that pulls water from the livewell containing the fish through the heat exchanger in another livewell or ice chest and back to the livewell containing the fish. The system is thermostat controlled to keep the water at a pre-set temperature.

DIY Jon boat features a set-in cooler for the owner’s livewell requirements.

A simple portable livewell can be made easily and inexpensively from a picnic cooler. Choose a cooler the size you expect to need. Mount a battery operated aerator on the outside of the cooler and run the hose through a small hole you drill in the side or top. Attach the blue stone that came with the aerator to the hose on the inside of the cooler and you are ready to go. Just be sure to purchase an aerator to match the volume of water you keep in your homemade livewell.
Most modern crappie boats come with built-in livewells. In the G3 line of aluminum boats, for example, most boats come standard with livewells built-in. Anglers simply choose the models they want. “There are some Jon boat models and some specialty boats that do not include livewells,” specified Stephen Matt, G3’s Director of Public Relations. “The various G3 Boats come equipped with a wide variety of livewells. They vary in size from as small as a 15-gallon livewell to the massive 65-gallon livewell on the Sportsman 200.”
“G3 Boats also produce several models with more than one livewell for angler convenience,” continued Matt. “Most models have factory installed aerators, some have re-circulate and pump out features, while others have oxygenators built in.”
As important as it is to keep fish alive, there are some drawbacks to all the fuss “Mostly it is all the extra stuff you have to have in the boat,” said Neuhaus. If you have a small boat this could be a big problem.”

In the end most tournament crappie anglers don’t worry about the fuss. The health of their crappie is too important to them. They are more likely to live by the motto, “Whatever it takes,” and apply it to keeping their crappie alive and well.
Rodney Neuhaus is sponsored by Road Runner Lures, Tru-Turn Hooks, B’n’M Poles, Tite-Lok Rod Holders, Midsouth Tackle, Muddy Water Baits, Lowrance, Harvest Clean, Gamma Line, Frog Hair Floats, and Rend Lake Resort.