How to keep your catch alive

It’s late May and just about everywhere below the Mason-Dixon Line, water temperatures are beginning to soar. Add to that the fact that post-spawn bass are at their weakest, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Too many tournament anglers fail to consider this, and in some cases it comes back to bite them in the rear. Just ask Shaw Grigsby. He lost his entire catch first thing in the morning during the final event of an Elite Series season, and it cost him a trip to the Bassmaster Classic.

According to B.A.S.S. rules, we’re not allowed to cull dead fish. Having all five of his expire, Shaw was forced to sit out the remainder of the day … with no chance of improving his catch. Even worse, a more than two-pound penalty was assessed to his overall weight, which ultimately killed his chances of making the Classic.

Cliff Prince suffered a similar setback. During this year’s Elite Series opener on the St. Johns River, he hit the wrong livewell switch on his console and, as a result, inadvertently killed his entire limit of bass. With no way to cull, he too was dead in the water.

Although Cliff was able to mount a huge comeback (all the way from 90thth to 6th), that first day penalty destroyed his chances for victory. And he was clearly on the fish to win.

Avoiding the wrong livewell switch is one thing, but there are other precautionary measures to take that will help safeguard your catch. Here’s a few I recommend.

Livewell Prep & Operation

The first thing is to make sure your livewells are clean. Nothing kills fish quicker than a contaminated livewell. Whether it’s decaying vegetation or regurgitated forage from a previous trip, or even something coughed up that day, decomposing matter can become rancid in a hurry. And the resulting toxins can foul water and kill your fish … fast!

Between trips, I always sanitize my livewells. It’s part of my routine anytime I clean the boat. After removing any foreign matter and scrubbing the livewells’ interior walls, I fill them with clean water, add a couple of capfuls of bleach and let it sit overnight. Once drained and thoroughly rinsed, my livewells look and smell like the day I picked up the boat.

Next, and perhaps most important, is learning to run the boat’s aeration equipment properly. There’s way more to it than simply flipping a switch and relying on a timer.

If water temps are in a moderate range, I recommend pumping fresh water continuously through the system. When it gets warmer, add ice and recirculate the water with the aerator on. (Note: While ice is helpful, it’s important not to chill the water too quickly, or more than 10 degrees below ambient temperature. Otherwise, it could harm the fish.) As temperatures get even higher, running the aeration system full time will help to maintain adequate oxygen levels. Don’t depend on a timer to turn the pumps on and off … run the aerator on manual or the fish will use up oxygen quicker than the system can replenish it.

Another good idea is auxiliary aeration. My Ranger features what’s called an “Oxygenator,” a device designed to release thousands of tiny oxygen bubbles into the water. It’s a great supplement to conventional aeration systems, and it will ensure that my fish will have adequate oxygen throughout the day. They’re not all that expensive either.

Although B.A.S.S. doesn’t recommend or endorse any particular brand of livewell additive, there are various formulas designed to kill bacteria and parasites while removing any chlorine from the water. But be sure to follow the product’s directions. Too much chemical can kill fish as quickly as a foul livewell.

On tournament day, I always buy two bags of ice — sometimes three — at least in the warmer months. The first is to chill the water in the morning, the rest is applied as needed to keep it cool throughout the afternoon.

Some tournament anglers prefer to freeze bottles of water, and that’s fine. The important thing is to be sure the livewell is sufficiently chilled and kept that way. Cooling the water helps lower the fish’s metabolism so they use less oxygen, and it helps them maintain their slime coat, which defends against infection.

Mountain Dew to the Rescue

The last piece of advice I can offer is to always — and I mean always — carry a bottle of Mountain Dew. If I hook a fish deep or in its gills, and profuse bleeding results, Mountain Dew will stop it … guaranteed!

I have no idea how or why, all I can tell you is that it works … and it’s instantaneous.

Perhaps it’s the citric acid causing a reaction, or maybe the carbonation. Whatever it is, it will increase a bleeding fish’s chances for survival. In fact, I’ve seen it bring fish back from the dead … well, almost. They were goners for sure, but somehow treating them with Mountain Dew brought them back.

The application is simple: Just pour it on the bleeding area as quickly as possible, and make sure it’s cold. The colder the better! I’ve used as much as a bottle on a single fish. It just depends how badly they’re bleeding.

Once the bleeding stops, I put them in the livewell and make sure the water is chilled, as noted above.

Fish Survival Summary

In a game of ounces, every tournament angler should follow these basic steps: Keep the livewell clean, the water fresh and well-aerated, then cooled and treated as needed. You never know … healthier fish could mean a higher finish.

You can find more information on fish care at Bassmaster.com’s Conservation page (under the “Nation” tab).

Editor's Note- the views expressed by Bernie do not necessarily represent the views of B.A.S.S. For a look at the reccommended fish care from our Conservation Department "Keeping Bass Alive", click here