MINNEAPOLIS – One could speculate with some certainty that the invention of the hook has been the single most important development in the history of fishing – at least outside the realm of commercial angling, in which large nets are the norm.
But since the early to mid-1970s, a much newer and more complex device has taken center stage. The origin of the livewell has much to do with the advent of the catch-and-release movement. Catching and then releasing fish back into their natural environment has become common in the tournament-fishing industry in the last 30 years, but the practice is not just for competitive anglers.
Some savor the experience of skillfully pulling a fish from the water, but they have no taste for fish as an entree. Livewells allow such anglers to keep a fish alive and well long enough to record the day’s catch at the dock, whether it is for a shot at a state record or for the family photo album. Even anglers who harvest their catches use livewells to keep the fish fresh until they are ready to be filleted.
“For the average guy who wants to keep some fish and take them home, it keeps the fish fresher longer … or they could keep their minnows in this livewell,” said Tracy Pogue, district sales manager for Crestliner. “They can even shut down the system, fill it up with ice and use it as a cooler.”
In an age where the tournament-fishing industry has embraced the catch-and-release format as standard, a dead-fish penalty can hold an angler in a stranglehold – typically reducing a total catch weight by as much as 8 ounces. A quality livewell system can mean the difference between making the cut or sending a fisherman homeward bound. With many fishing tournaments having been decided by the thinnest of margins – including the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, where 5 ounces separated the Nos. 1 and 2 finishers by $205,000 – the importance of an effective livewell is as clear as the danger of an 8-ounce dead-fish penalty.
A survey of people closely involved in the tournament-fishing and boat-manufacturing industries revealed that livewells have come a long way in terms of their design and efficiency since their introduction in the 1970s. When catch-and-release fishing started gaining popularity, the days of dragging a stringer of fish alongside a boat became numbered.
“In the early `70s, the need for catch-and-release was recognized,” said Keith Daffron, vice president of sales for Ranger Boats. “The purpose of a livewell is to protect the day’s catch, whether it’s for bragging rights or to bring home to the dinner table – or if you’ve got serious money on the line as a pro.”
There are several factors that contribute to a livewell’s success in keeping fish healthy, and most of these remain constant across the board, regardless of which systems are being considered.
All of the people interviewed for this story agreed that the volume of a livewell is probably one of the most important factors contributing to its overall effectiveness.
Larger livewells allow fish to move more freely inside, reducing stress. More room inside the livewell also means a greater capacity for oxygenated water, and it allows for increased diffusion of harmful waste products.
Charlie Evans, executive vice president of FLW Outdoors, said, “The biggest problem with livewells is overcrowding and the buildup of ammonia (the resulting waste product of fish).”
Pogue said a livewell capable of holding limits of large tournament fish should have a volume of at least 20 gallons, while some livewells being manufactured today achieve a capacity of as much as 40 gallons. As livewells began to increase in size through the years, the shift began to impact the design of many boats developed with anglers in mind, he said. The depth of some boats has increased to accommodate the largeness of livewells and to better carry the considerable water weight.
Keith Boyne, vice president of marketing for Lund, said several tournament-series boats include a second livewell, which can be useful for holding a co-angler’s fish or live bait. Regardless of the number of on-board livewells, the same rule of size applies.
“As far as size, the bigger the better,” Boyne said.
FLW Tour Tournament Director Bill Taylor and Boyne both said the capacity rating of some of the livewells installed in fishing boats can be misleading. A livewell may be listed as having a 30-gallon capacity, but it may hold far fewer gallons of water due to factors that include the location of overflow-control releases and how much room is used up by internal devices such as aerators. They said anglers buying boats should ask a dealer what the capacity of a livewell is when it is in operation.
“Livewells” is a three-part series. Part two will detail the importance of livewell aeration, temperature, location and structure. Part two will appear on FLWOutdoors.com beginning Dec. 2.