The sun bears down mercilessly as you swing in another keeper bass for the livewell. The bite was hot early and is beginning to slow down now that the sun is getting higher in the sky. You open the livewell and drop the fish in with the others only to discover that your livewell has slowly transformed into a sauna. The aerators are working but your fish aren't doing well and you are still four hours away from weigh-in! A peek at the depth finder reveals 87 degree surface temperature so adding 5 or 10 degrees to that would give you a good guess what it feels like in the livewell. An unprepared angler would be making plans for a largemouth bass dinner at this point instead of the steakhouse he had hoped to visit with his tournament winnings.
The situation above is presented to all of us if you fish in the summer. Professional anglers and weekend tournament fisherman alike all probably have a story of lost fish in the heat. Of course, if you are tournament fishing, you are probably trying your best to keep your catch alive and want every advantage possible in this pursuit. Today's boats have incredible livewell systems that offers the room and technology you need to keep fish alive. Extreme conditions, however, can require action to be taken to keep your fish alive. I will share the methods that I have successfully used to keep the mortality rate down on the few fish that enter my livewell.
The first thing that you want to do, even before leaving for the lake, is make sure that your aerators are functioning properly. If your aerators malfunction in the heat, it will be nearly impossible to save your catch. I like to set the timer on my aerators and make sure that I am listening for them to kick on periodically. Generally, I will put it on a medium time delay which kicks the aerator on about every 15-20 minutes. If you have more or bigger fish, you may need to shorten the delay so they get oxygen more often. In addition to this, I add one of a couple livewell conditioners to give the fish every chance I can. I have successfully used U2 Pro Formula as well as Sure-Life Please Release Me. The former is a liquid additive and the latter is a powder. Each of them helps replace the slime coat on your fish. Additionally, they help remove toxins such as chlorine from the water.
One of the most important things that you can do is keep plenty of ice in the boat. Lowering the water temperature inside of the livewell will make your fish last way longer. They will also be more hardy by the time that you release them. I generally don't like throwing ice directly in with the fish, but you can. Instead, I freeze a liter or half gallon jug full of water and throw it in the cooler when I go fishing. If and when I get a fish or two in the boat, I simply toss the frozen jug into the opposite side of my livewell. This lowers the water temperature substantially and calms the fish. Watch out when you reach in to remove them though because they will be more lively than when you caught them!
Keeping our tournament fish alive not only preserves our resource for the next fishermen that come through, it also helps project a positive image towards tournament fishing. There is nothing worse than seeing a bunch of dead fish next to the dock as thirty boats from a tournament pull out of the ramp area. Conversely, showing off your healthy catch to folks at the dock as you release them back to the water is very rewarding.
Good Luck and Stay Cool!
Bass Pro Shops