By Kevin Savoie
As we move into the hottest part of summer, coastal angling success depends on being on the water through some really hot weather. During this period it’s sometime necessary to use live bait to have any success. The key to being successful with live bait is to manage the water quality in your holding tank.
A basic understanding of live bait handling could mean the difference in a successful fishing trip. The first consideration is water quality. A number of water quality requirements should be considered. These are oxygen, temperature, and salinity.
Many bay boats manufactured recently have built in bait wells with flow through pumps. These work well if not overloaded with bait. For fishermen who do not have a built in baitwell or even a boat, the most popular method of insuring adequate oxygen is to use a l2-volt aerator that sits inside of the bait well. Another method is to an external pump with an air stone, which blows diffused air. This set up is recommended because it will not cause heat buildup like a submersible pump.
Temperature and salinity should be considered next. If possible, you should fill your bait well or bucket with the same water the bait was being held in when purchased. If this is not possible, you may acclimate the bait to the water at the site of the fishing location by adding small quantities of water until the desired temperature and salinity are reached. This is especially important if there is a large temperature and salinity difference. Rapid changes in water temperature and salinity, more than 5 degrees and ten parts per thousand, can cause temperature shock and osmotic stress. Remember, cooler water holds more oxygen than warm water. Cooling the water with ice will cool the water and not reduce the salinity too much. Caution should be taken when adding ice to the water, as too much ice will chill your bait too fast and kill it. These steps may seem unnecessary but, if these steps are not taken, your bait will die much sooner.
All finfish have protective mucus — a “slime” coat that protects them from external stress. If this mucus is removed by handling the fish, it can cause the fish to become stressed and die. This can be overcome by using a dip net to remove bait from the live well and wetting your hands before hooking the bait. This also serves as a means of not contaminating the water in which the bait is living. Insect repellant and sunscreen are two sources of contamination for your bait. After time, the concentration of chemicals could build up to levels that will affect the performance of your bait.
Many types of tanks are suitable for holding and maintaining live bait. Homemade tanks can be constructed of plastic, fiberglass. All metals should be avoided when possible. Round tanks are preferred, since bait tends to huddle in the corners of square or rectangular tanks. This is especially true of menhaden (pogies).