Taking Care of Your Livewell
What do you do with your livewell when it's not in use? Do you store the boat in the carport or the garage, or does it stay outdoors. When a livewell is "put away" it can begin to grow into a problem. Many anglers pressured by time and their many chores are in a hurry to put up the boat and get back to their other priorities. This frequently means that the livewell is closed while still wet inside. Water in the fill tubes and bottom of the livewell become growth tanks for bacteria and fungus. Fish slime and regurgitated stomach contents coat the surfaces and become growth media for the bacteria and other nasty critters. Closed livewell temperatures rise and increase the growth. The next time the angler uses the boat the livewell is frequently not opened up until the first bass is caught!! You start filling the well and plop in the fish not realizing that you've put the fish into a toxic and dangerous environment. The result, more stress to the fish, more fish which die before the weigh-in, and even more importantly, more delayed mortality. The fish are released alive but they've been infected with bacteria and fungal agents which contribute to a slow and merciless death later on the bottom of the lake.
So what can you do about this? Start with making sure that the Livewell is always dry before storage of the boat. If there are obvious stomach contents, fish slime, or residues on the sides of the livewell make sure you rinse the insides thoroughly and get those contaminants out. Wash your livewell with an anti-bacterial soap periodically to sterilize the interior. Remember to do a good job of rinsing out the cleaning agents before you dry out the interior. If you blast it with the hose, and any bubbles form you need to rinse again. Prop your livewell doors open to help air circulate in the interior to keep it dry.
Once you launch the boat and are motoring in clean water open the valves and fill the livewell with clean cool lake water. Don't wait until you have a fish to fill it up. This additional rinsing also cleanses the interior to help the fish survive. Lastly always use a commercially prepared livewell treatment. These products (there are several on the market) typically do several different things for you and the fish. They stimulate slime production, anesthetize the fish to control their stress levels and prevent them from injuring themselves in the livewell. They also contain anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents, stabilize the pH and buffer the water. They can even help to heal hook wounds and treat pre-existing injuries and skin infections.
Your livewell is not just a bucket of water to hold fish destined for the fry pan. Take your livewell to the next level. The knowledgeable angler wants to make sure that catch and release really works. Take care of your livewell and it will take care of both your fish and you!!

Keep your lines tight and your spirits light!

Ed Telders
Washington Warmwater Specialist Field Staff