By Daniel Kiazyk
Ok you know the artificial bait revolution has really taken hold when you head out crappie fishing and you don't have one live minnow. It's not that they'd make any difference as artificial baits like power bait are so effective live bait is no longer necessary. Having experienced the onset and improvement of artificial baits has been one of the most significant developments in fishing, in my opinion, in the last ten years. Artificial bait has become so good that using it has improved the angling prowess of many an angler - but alas that is the subject of another article sometime soon. But hold on a minute, the mentioned title/goal of this article is to discuss what's been happening in the world of live bait and to discuss its possibilities. This is a topic that's a bit counter culture these days but if you're serious about angling for certain species at certain times it is almost a necessity (well not according to the artificial aficionados!).
Now there's something we usually don't usually think too much about or perhaps we think of too late: What are we doing with our live bait and how do we use it. Generally, we'll head on down to the bait shop, pick up a couple of dozen of something and get fishin'. Generally by the end of the day that nice fresh bait becomes a ball of mush or smelling a little ripe. And then there's the fellow who's a bit too parsimonious and tries to save that 20 or so minnows or 3 or 4 worms. Unfortunately unless you have the proper facilities/techniques for bait preservation your chance of having a high rate of survival or a container of minnows that will be effective the next time out is probably not being realistic.
So as simple and time honored as the preceding tradition may be much has gone to help anglers to keep that bait fresh and lively before during and even after a day of fishing. One particular development I've seen of late was a cooler that had a drain and built-in aeration system. Minnowlife.ca is a company that is marketing a cooler/aerator for keeping live bait fresh. By slipping in a bag of ice into this live bait system your minnows/leeches can be left in a cooler that has its own source of air. The result of using this device is minnows who'll be fresh and lively and not stressed by 2 of the greatest enemies of live bait; Heat and lack of air. This bait container/live bait system really works, winter or summer. I've field test a unit for the company and have nothing but good things to say about the unit and its inventors.
Another interesting system that I've employed recently (more so in the fall than any other period) is the collapsible Frabill minnow life live bait system. Two components of this particular bait containment system have been of value to me. Firstly, the bait bucket can be collapsed and need not take up a lot of space in a boat that increasingly seems to acquire more and more junk on every fishing trip. Secondly the zip top and built on aerator pump (which by the way runs on 1 "D" size battery) runs for at least 2 days and doesn't have a tendency to spill - the only difficulty I've had with this system is the zipper top will freeze up when it gets below freezing. This minnow bucket is relatively cheap and will allow you to keep minnows alive when in transport after a day of fishing.
Both of the prior self contained bait holding/saving systems work to keep bait fresh from the store to the boat and even during the fishing day. In addition to the latter there are also systems that can be employed on-board your boat help maintain good frisky minnows throughout the day. Plano, a huge bait bucket and plastics corporation out of Texas, manufactures a variety of on board and stand alone minnow maintenance systems. For those folks who don't have a live well a trolling bucket is an excellent option. Newer style trolling bait buckets have specific design traits that make using live bait a bit more convenient. Firstly their shape and design allow for easy pulling in while moving and easy access to bait once the bucket is pulled out of the water. These newer bait buckets allow access to the minnows via door that is spring loaded and they encourage good water transfer to keep bait fresh. Secondly, these same buckets if turned upright hold enough water to help maintain minnows out of the water for some time. I've even added a portable battery powered bubbler to allow for transport of the bucket for longer distances.
One thing to keep in mind when using these trolling bucket systems is to bring in the bucket before blasting off to another spot. I've seen the odd minnow bucket on my boat snap its string when we've taken off before pulling it in…. so don't ask when you see my minnow bucket rope with all those knots! If you do forget and the retainer string snaps no worry as the bucket will float and remain closed so that you won't lose your bait.
Newer boats have also included the possibility to have these same bait pails fit into their live well systems or they have a special place for them with a pumped source of fresh water. Some of these minnow pails also have an outer non porous sleeve into which your can place the inner porous sleeve. The double pail system allows for the easy transport of minnows to and from the boat or out from the boat to your bait fridge when the day is done
Certainly of importance with minnow and leech maintenance is the ability to add air/oxygen to the water where the live bait swims. A number of companies make "bubblers" and perhaps four of the most important components to see that they include will be the source of power to be used, a good air diffuser, length of tubing out from the aerator and the ability to attach the aerator to the minnow pail (that is f it is portable). I've found that spending a few extra dollars when making and aerator purchase makes all the difference when using an aerator. I've got a number of different aerators and each has its own strength but none would be perfect. Each application that I might have calls for a different aerator.
Last but not least of importance for the maintenance of live bait including both minnows and leeches over a period of time are two simple considerations. A bait fridge is not necessarily required but will almost certainly double the life of leeches and minnows in particular throughout the warm weather period. Secondly, regular water changes with water without chlorine (in some cases chlorinated water can just be left out for a night and all the chlorine will dissipate) will also extend the life of bait. If a filtration unit with activated charcoal is added to the prior you will almost undoubtedly create the possibility for bait to survive over a longer period of time. The same to two issues are also central to the maintenance of fish while on your boat. A bag of ice next to your live bait will definitely help to preserve your live bait while out on the water. Basically all of the prior will also aid in the removal of ammonia deposits made by live bait. In the case of bringing some leeches to the lake many anglers have started to use a device called a leech tamer (a vinyl perforated material) that will keep leeches contained but will allow the angler to place the leeches in his live well and hence in fresh water. Being fresh and lively can be the difference when trying to eke out that one last walleye
Live bait, yeah, it does make a difference once in a while. Keeping minnows/bait alive and healthy can really have an impact on the action you may see in a day of fishing. Taking a few steps to promote the latter isn't all that difficult or expensive.