There’s some truth to the saying that fishing lures are designed to catch anglers just as much as they are to catch fish. When it comes to live bait, however, there’s no doubt around the intended target. But live bait works best when it’s fresh — and keeping it lively requires some special attention. With a little TLC, your crawlers, minnows, and leeches can be kept in healthy condition for weeks.
On the water
One of the biggest factors for keeping bait alive is keeping it cool. Transport bait in a cooler with ice when possible. If bait is picked up ahead of time, keep it refrigerated.
On the water, keep crawlers in a container with soil, or other worm bedding, and store out of the sun. Hot crawlers are dead crawlers.
Minnows and leeches should be kept in cool, oxygenated water so be sure to keep them in the bag provided by the bait shop during transport.
If your boat has a baitwell/livewell system, this is the ideal spot to put your minnows and leeches. It’s important to keep your livewell pump running — at least intermittently — so fresh water and oxygen are constantly entering the wells.
If minnows appear to be gulping air from the surface of the bait bucket, it’s a sure sign the oxygen in the water is depleted.
If you don’t have a baitwell, secure minnow buckets and leech lockers to the boat with rope, allowing them to float in the water. Only bring buckets in the boat when you need new bait or when moving spots.
During long boat rides, it might be necessary to stop and change the water in your buckets, especially on hot days.
Don’t be too quick to throw away extra live bait at the end of your fishing day. Bait is costly, take it home and use it on your next outing.
On the simple side, a bucket, cooler, or aquarium can be used as a homemade tank for minnows. Add an aerator to keep the water oxygenated and store in a cool place, like a basement or garage. If necessary, add ice cubes to keep water cool. Commercially bought cooling devices, such as aquarium chillers, are another option.
For those looking to take home-bait storage even further, consider converting a large plastic barrel or an old deep freezer into a minnow tank. With this size of system, cooling and aerating devices are a must.
Always use distilled water or lake water in your bait tank, chemicals in tap water can be harmful to fish.
An overflow drain with a constant source of fresh water or retrofitting a rainwater collection system are other good options. Large tanks like this can keep bait alive indefinitely.
Leeches can be kept in their own perforated containers in the same tanks used for minnow storage. Leeches, like minnows, require cool oxygenated water. Consistent fresh water and oxygen will keep leeches alive for several weeks.
Crawlers are much easier to keep alive, needing only to be kept refrigerated in moist soil or other crawler bedding. Stored like this, crawlers can be kept for an entire fishing season.
Using live bait can be the difference between catching fish and not. If you keep it cool and oxygenated, you’ll have even better success.