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Keeping Bait Alive...

“My bait died!”

“I went to the bait store and bought some eels. I put them in a bucket of
water and they were dead by the time I got to go fishing! The other day, I
left my package of expensive bloodworms in the car, and they were all dead
within the hour! How do I keep my bait alive?”

Each kind of live bait is different and must be treated accordingly. Live
eels are actually quite easy to keep alive. The surprising thing about eels
is that they can live for days without being submerged in water. The main
thing they need is to be damp and cool. The best place to keep eels is in a
cooler tray placed inside an igloo type cooler. Spread them out so there is
only a single layer of eels so they do not suffocate each other. Do not lay
the tray directly on the ice for a long period of time or you will freeze
them. Suspend them off the bottom or place a towel between the ice and the
tray. You can also lay a wet paper towel over them.

In the fall, when the temperatures are cooler, you can simply put the eels
in the bottom of a cooler or 5-gallon bucket with no ice, and sit them in
the garage or in a cool place. Inside in an air conditioned room will work!
You might lose one or two overnight, but most will stay alive.

If you put live eels in water you must have them in a working live well or
aerated bucket. Without aeration the eels will quickly use up the oxygen and
drown. This will happen with live crabs and live minnows as well. Better off
with no water then with some water and no oxygen! Eels will live in fresh or
salt water, but if you use fresh, you need to make sure there is no chorine
in the water. Pet stores that sell goldfish generally have bottles of
additives that take chlorine out of tap water.

If you don’t live on the water and want to set up a little aeration system
in your garage or work area, it’s not that hard to do. Fill your biggest
igloo cooler with water, buy an aquarium pump and a good aquarium stone and
plug it in. You can’t keep loads of bait, but you can keep a few dozen eels
or spot alive overnight.

“How about live minnows?”

Treat live minnows exactly the same as live eels. They will live fine in a
tray in the cooler. If you try to keep them overnight in a bucket with no
aeration they will use up the oxygen and die. If you live on the water, the
best thing to buy is a “flow troll” bucket. Most are either yellow or orange
and have holes in the bottom and in the top. The bucket floats in the water
and the water flows in and out, keeping them alive. Eels will also live in
the flow troll bucket.

“Will minnows live in fresh or salt water?”

Yes, and so will live spot. Unfortunately, live spot will not live well in
a flow troll bucket overnight because they will beat themselves up in it. If
you keep spot for a long period of time, it is best to keep them in
something round so they won’t bruise their noses. Square holders just don’t
seem to work as well.

Spot need lots of aeration, and unlike minnows and eels, they will not live
out of water. If you go to the bait shop and buy a dozen live spot to go
fishing you had best have a plan in action or the spot may be dead by the
time you get to your fishing grounds. Carry a 5-gallon bucket set up with a
battery operated aerator when picking up your spot at the bait shop. If you
are fishing in a boat, put them in your live well and keep the water
flowing. If you don’t have a live well, carry extra batteries and change the
water when it gets dirty. (Spot poop a lot!)

“We cast netted some little peanut bunker!”

These are great bait. Throw them in an aerated bucket immediately and go
fishing! Don’t try to put more than three-dozen in a 5-gallon bucket or they
won’t make it. They are so delicate, that it is almost impossible to keep
them overnight. Cast net them before you go fishing, go fishing, and then
release the rest. Bunker won’t live in fresh water, so be sure to use fresh
salt water.

“We cast netted some finger mullet!”

Live finger mullet are almost as good a bait as live spot. They will live
fairly well in a large bait keeper but not as well as spot. That’s because
they try to jump all the time and will beat themselves up. “Keep a lid on
it!” is the only thing I can say about live finger mullet. They need lots of
aeration and will jump right out of the live well or 5-gallon bucket if you
don’t keep them covered. They won’t live overnight in a flow troll and they
won’t live out of water. It’s best to catch and use them the same day!

“Sand fleas and green crabs?”

Sand fleas, or mole crabs that you dig on the beach will live maybe two
days. Wash them off in salt water and keep them in a Styrofoam container in
the refrigerator. If you can fashion a wire mesh screen and elevate the
crabs off the bottom by a couple of inches by placing a couple wooden dowels
on the bottom you can get a few more days out of your sand fleas. They
continuously urinate and need to drain themselves of it, or they will die.
Washing them off in salt water every other day will get a little more life
out of them. If you live on the water, in the spring and fall when the
water is cooler, you can keep them alive overboard. Take a minnow trap,
crush in the ends so the bait cannot escape, and tie a rope to the trap.
Tie it to your dock, but do not let it sink all the way to the bottom.
Extend it off the bottom a couple inches. (You can also keep minnows and
eels alive this way.)

Green crabs are very hardy and will keep alive in a cooler just like the
minnows and eels with no water. Just keep them cool and damp. They will also
live in the salt water in the minnow trap with the crushed ends. Do not put
them in a bucket of water with no aeration or they will die and REALLY

“Bloodworms are a pain!” Yes, and they are very perishable. Never leave them
in a hot car and never let them fall into the bait cooler onto fresh water
or they will die. Keep them elevated in a bait tray. Keep them cool and dry.

If you want to keep bloodworms for 5 or 6 days, you have to keep them
refrigerated in a cold refrigerator and turn them once or twice a day so
they work themselves through the grass or dirt. If you place them in a zip
lock freezer bag they will live longer than in the lightweight plastic bag
they usually come in. Then, if you put that bag inside a brown paper bag
they will live even longer. Don’t forget to turn them. How long they live
often depends on how fresh the bloodworms were when you bought them.

“How about the new Fish Bite artificial bloodworms?”

According to the owners of the company, Fish Bites will keep fine for 3 or 4
months in your tackle box, your pocket, or wherever you put them as long as
you don’t lay them on the dash of your car in the hot sun! After 3 or 4
months they could lose their color but still work fine. To keep the color of
your Fish Bites for an extended period of time, it is recommended that you
keep them in the refrigerator and they will keep indefinitely.

Live bait! Keep it live! Good fishing…