Livewells: Part 2 - Major League Fishing

Livewells: Part 2

Keeping fish alive and well for over 30 years
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Pete Thliveros of Jacksonville, Fla., learned firsthand at a pro tournament how important the recirculation function of a livewell can be; he had to absorb penalties after his livewell sucked shallow-water sand and mud into the system, killing the fish he had caught. Photo by Gary Mortenson.
December 2, 2002 • Patrick Baker • Archives

Part two: Multiple factors for consideration

Developing a better livewell system is a work in progress. As new technology is incorporated and system designs are improved, the effectiveness of livewells continues to increase. There are many factors that impact how successfully a livewell will keep captive fish healthy.
Continued from “Part one: Size matters”.
Continued in “Part three: From additives to circulation, livewell advancements are ongoing”.

Let it breathe

Most livewells pump water into the holding tank from whatever body of water is playing host to the angler and his boat. The oxygen level will quickly decline after it is brought on board, a process exponentially accelerated with the introduction of multiple fish.

Aeration is the key to combating oxygen depletion. Different types of aeration devices and variations on these models abound in the boat-manufacturing industry. All aeration systems should constantly be adding oxygen to the livewell water – whether it is added through spraying, bubbling, injection or another type of pressurized delivery method – which means the device should always be operating.

Charlie Evans, executive vice president of FLW Outdoors, said FLW Outdoors has recently used a new technology at a tournament weigh-in that separates oxygen from water molecules using a battery-powered electrolytic process. The holding tank water becomes superoxygenated, a process that could have applications for on-board livewells.

“It’s something brand new,” he said. “We want to be on the cutting edge of technology. I’m blown over by it.”

All of the sources interviewed for this article recommended that livewells be equipped with a pump to recirculate water in addition to pumps used for inflow and outflow. Recirculation is necessary when a boat is moving at high speeds or when it enters into warm, muddy or shallow water, where silt and sand can be sucked into the boat. A recirculating pump can also be used after a boat is trailered.

Bass pro Pete Thliveros knows the value of recirculation from a firsthand tournament experience. On the second day of the first-ever FLW Tour Forrest Wood Open, Thliveros had to wait in line to weigh his limit of bass. He had to keep his boat in shallow water near the weigh-in site due to high water conditions on the Lake Kerr Reservoir that year. Four of his five fish died because his livewell pumped dirty water into the holding tank.

“It sucked up sand and quit working,” Thliveros said. “It was enough to cost me some weight. A functioning livewell is critical. There’s no way you can come in with dead fish and expect to do well, especially with some of these tournaments being decided by an ounce.”

Gary Clouse, president of the Stratos and Champion boat companies, said some fishing boats are including auxiliary pumps to back up livewell systems. He said this can be extremely important for anglers who cannot afford to have a livewell quit working in the midst of a tournament. An extra pump on board can also be used to back flush any livewell hoses that become clogged.

Tracy Pogue, district sales manager for Crestliner, said some anglers carry backup pumps, aerators and other livewell parts on board in case they have to replace a malfunctioning piece of equipment while on the water. Certain livewells use pumps in which the mechanics of the device are housed in a removable section that can be quickly unlocked and replaced, allowing the angler to easily rectify a failed pump without “messing with the electrical system.”

Keep it cool

A cooler livewell – a temperature of 75 degrees or cooler is generally recommended – is better equipped to maintain higher oxygen levels in the water. The physical nature of water dictates that it can contain more oxygen at cooler temperatures. Cooler temperatures also reduce a fish’s metabolic rate, which means it will require less oxygen and produce less waste.

Keith Daffron, vice president of sales for Ranger Boats, said some companies have already begun to experiment with the production of climate-controlled livewells, which he said “would be a great leap forward” in the evolution of the livewell. Water temperatures should remain not only cool, but also relatively stable. Extreme fluctuations in water temperature can add to fish stress.

Keith Boyne, vice president of marketing for Lund, said, until an affordable climate-control system is developed, anglers can continue cooling their livewell systems with ice; non-chlorinated block ice is best as it does not contaminate the water with chemicals, and it melts slowly so the temperature does not change too quickly.

Location, location, location

As with real estate property, part of the value of a livewell can be determined by its location. Although livewells – especially secondary ones – can be found in different parts of a boat, the preferable position is in the back of the boat, midway between the sides. This helps to keep the fish from being tossed about as the boat moves across rough water.

“We’ve moved all of our livewells toward the stern, the aft deck,” Pogue said.

Sound structure

The shape of a livewell can impact its effectiveness.

Boyne said dividers in large livewells not only separate groups of captive fish, but they act as internal baffling to keep water movement to a minimum. He said rounded livewells have seen some success in keeping fish – especially certain types of baitfish – healthy, although they are not as common as rectangular livewells.

“Different shapes are important,” he said.

No matter what the shape of a livewell, fish will always be better off in one that has smooth edges on the inside.

“It’s important not to have any sharp edges or protrusions that are going to hurt or injure the fish,” Boyne said.

“Livewells” is a three-part series. Part three will detail subjects related to livewell systems such as chemical enhancements, water circulation and color. The third and final part of the “Livewells” series will appear on Dec. 9.


Part one: Size matters
Part three: From additives to circulation, livewell advancements are ongoing