Livewells: Part 3 - Major League Fishing

Livewells: Part 3

Keeping fish alive and well for over 30 years
Image for Livewells: Part 3
FLW Tournament Director Bill Taylor Photo by Jeff Schroeder.
December 9, 2002 • Patrick Baker • Archives

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

Just as there are different factors that contribute to the effectiveness of livewells, there are varying uses for the systems that were created about 30 years ago. Regardless of how boaters use livewells – whether for keeping fish alive or simply for extra storage – their increasing prominence as onboard options serves as a valuable tool to forward public awareness of fish conservation. As livewell usage increases, the likelihood that the systems will continue to be improved also increases. Continued from “Part two: Multiple factors for consideration”.

Chemical enhancements

There are different chemical additives on the market that can be used to enhance a livewell system, increasing the likelihood that a fish will survive its period of captivity before being released back into the water. Some slow down a fish’s metabolic rate, some help restore a fish’s protective coating of mucous, some break down the toxic buildup of ammonia in a livewell, and some are said to be antibacterial or antifungal agents that help to keep a fish from becoming diseased.

Charlie Evans, executive vice president of FLW Outdoors, said FLW Outdoors tournaments have used a variety of such chemicals, “basically saline solutions” of some kind or another, during weigh-ins throughout the organization’s history. He said tournament directors have learned about the effectiveness of different additives through experience, whether by trial and error or by reading studies on the impact of such additives.

There has been “continual improvement” of the quality of some of the additives on the market in the last several years, Evans said, to the extent that a fish weighed in at a tournament “may be in better shape after he’s caught than before.”

However, FLW Tour Tournament Director Bill Taylor said anglers should be conscientious about which additives they use. Some of them have ingredients not yet approved by the Federal Drug and Food Administration, he said, and some have warnings on the package stating that the chemical could be harmful to humans if consumed. Though all FLW Outdoors tournaments and many others follow the catch-and-release format, it is entirely possible that any fish released by an angler could eventually be caught and consumed by another fisherman.

Taylor said he has spoken to many fisheries biologists in different parts of the country about the use of chemical additives. They recommend not using any additive that could contaminate a fish and harm either the body of water’s fish population or humans who might catch and eat the fish. Although FLW Outdoors has seen some success with a few of the additives it has used, Taylor said he is not convinced that all of them are effective.

“I’m not so sure that any of those additives are of real great benefit,” he said, adding that a common and safe compound found in most households has probably been the most effective additive. “With biologists, they say just regular block salt added into your livewell can be the best additive.”

Non-iodized salt added to a livewell in the right proportion, roughly 1/3 cup for every five gallons of water, can help reduce fish stress and maintain electrolyte balances. Some sources suggest that adding salt can also help reduce the risk of a fish becoming infected.

Taylor said it is important not to “overdose the fish” with too much of any given chemical additive, so anglers should carefully adhere to mixture directions.

Out with old, in with new

If anglers tend to rely on recirculation of livewell water instead of continually bringing lake or river water into the system, at least half of the capacity of the livewell should be replaced with fresh water periodically throughout the course of a day. This is an important defense against an unhealthy buildup of ammonia, or fish waste, in a tank.

Each time a livewell is flushed, anglers should reintroduce salt or any other additives being used at the proper proportion to the new makeup of the solution. Anglers should also be sure that fresh water introduced into the system is at an acceptable temperature or it should be slowly cooled to maintain the right environment for captive fish.

Other considerations

Some of the more incidental features of a livewell can affect how well it keeps fish healthy while they are being held.

For example, color is a consideration. Some livewells are white on the inside; Keith Daffron, vice president of sales for Ranger Boats, said this can help an angler easily spot and grab a fish to remove it, reducing the amount of handling of the fish. But some livewells are colored black on the inside as certain species of fish are reported to be calmed by a darker environment.

Livewells equipped with an internal light can also aid an angler who is night fishing when he goes to release the fish, said Tracy Pogue, district sales manager for Crestliner. Having a latched lid with a padded underside can help to keep fish from bouncing out of a livewell or being injured if they bump into the top of the system, he said.

Evolution of livewells continues

A word that kept recurring during source interviews for this article was “evolution.” As with most great technological advancements, livewells have evolved and become more efficient in the years since they were first introduced nearly three decades ago. All of the changes, including successful advancements and failed attempts at improving a product, have been directed toward a singular goal: to keep fish alive and well so they can be returned to their natural environment unharmed.

Gary Clouse, president of the Stratos and Champion boat companies, said of killing fish intended for release: “You just don’t do that; it’s sacrilegious. In our business … if there’s not bass, we don’t have a job. The more we can do to promote catch-and-release, and to take care of the fish, and design quality livewells – we’re only helping ourselves.”

Bass pro Pete Thliveros said he attributes much of the progress in the evolution of livewells to effective communication between anglers and boat manufacturers. He said “cooperation between anglers and the boat manufacturers” has led to modifications to improve livewells.

“The amount of emphasis on catch-and-release in recent years has forced us to improve,” he said. “Tournament fishermen are the ones who are responsible for catch-and-release; we pioneered it, and we continue to carry it forward.”

Daffron said livewells have played a vital role in catch-and-release tournaments, and as they become more common, they help to educate the general public about the importance of conservation of wildlife.

“It’s important to take care of your natural resources, and that’s what we try to do,” he said, adding that the evolution of the livewell is continuing.

“I think there’s still a lot of progress that could be made.”

“Livewells” is a three-part series. This segment represents the third and final part of the series. To view the first two segments, use the links provided below.


Part one: Size matters
Part two: Multiple factors for consideration