Tips For Better and More Portable Minnow Management
As anglers have migrated to online tackle purchases, there's one thing that will never put mom & pop bait shops out of business-and that's the constant need for fresh, live bait.
Sure, there are lots of artificial presentations for all species-and many of them catch a lot of fish-but sometimes there's no substitute for live bait.
Minnows, for example, are top forage for all fish. From crappie minnows, fatheads, redtail chubs, rainbows, spottail and golden shiners, creek chubs, willowcats, to suckers, each bait has its time and place.
The challenge, of course, after trapping or purchasing your minnows, is keeping them lively and ready for fishing.
Minnow CareWater quality and temperature are key. Most bait shops operate off of well water, so it's best to use the water that you're given at the store. Bagged and aerated, it's simply a matter of transporting your bait to the fishing destination and then emptying the bag into your minnow bucket of choice.
Personally, I like to have a cooler with ice in the boat or truck bed where I set the minnow bag until I reach my destination. I also keep a smaller cooler full of well water in the back of the truck for transporting the remainder of my minnows home, a Minnesota regulation. If you don't have access to well water, you can use city water if you add a conditioner like G-Juice and let the water sit for awhile before adding your minnows.
A cooler with ice also works great for storing fish before cleaning. Want the best-tasting fillets possible? Quickly kill your fish by spiking them (ike Jimi) with a sharp knife, screwdriver, or specially-designed tool like this AFTCO Ike Jimi spike. Insert the sharpened point right behind the eye and penetrate the brain; this will kill the fish and their body will go limp. I then slit the fish on the underside of the gills, cutting through the bottom flesh and gills. Insert into the livewell and let bleed out into the water, then place the bled fish in the cooler of ice. You'll also find that dead, cooled fish are more firm and easier to fillet.
Back to minnows, well water is key to storing minnows properly and keeping them fresh. Optimal temperatures vary, but I typically keep my minnows in the bait shop water for a couple hours, adding a little bit of lake or river water as the day progresses. Sudden changes in water temperature can stun and even kill your bait. Remember, you want your bait lively.
AerationMaking sure your minnows are oxygenated will keep them lively and ready to catch fish. Some boats have built-in livewell aerators or spray bars, but it's a good idea to use a bait management system (cooler, bucket, or box) with battery or DC connector-based aerator. Many companies are making long-lasting, rechargeable USB-enabled lithium-battery powered aerators now, reducing the amount of big C or D cell batteries you have to buy for fishing trips. They're a little more expensive but cheaper in the long-run considering you're not burning through batteries.
Case in point, I recently dropped $50 on an Engel rechargeable lithium-ion battery aerator and have been pleased so far. While the specs state a 36-hour battery life, I've only been able to get a full day and night of constant aeration out of it before recharging. It has four speeds-including an intermittent aerator to save on charge-and a very quiet pump. Works in both fresh- and salt-water and features a 2-year warranty.
Frabill also introduced a rechargeable lithium-ion battery aerator earlier this year but last I checked, they're not shipping yet. Features listed include two speeds and intermittent mode. Price is $69.99-a little higher than the Engel.
Minnows On-the-ReadyI have a lot of guide buddies who have converted old, insulated milk tanks into minnow tanks with PVC spray bars circulating well water. But for your average angler, an old cooler and a Frabill Spray Bar Pump Aerator or 50-gallon dual output AC-powered Frabill Aerator are both great options for keeping bulk minnows in your garage or basement.
At least in Minnesota, there was a shortage of minnows this year. Water levels were down and trappers had a hard time sourcing bait from their usual locations. That said, when certain in-demand minnows came into my local bait shop, I stocked up, whether that meant buying dozens of creek chubs or river mix. Fatheads also ran small for the longest time so when big fatheads came in, I also stocked up on them. Hard to beat good, medium- to large fatheads-they're cheap and catch loads of fish.
My next project is to find an old, non-working chest freezer and convert it into a bait tank in my garage. Insulated, it will keep the water cold and with the addition of a small pond aerator/filter like this $100 model from Smart Pond, I should be good to go.
Lastly, if you're looking for a larger minnow bucket for long weekend fishing trips with multiple anglers, I'd suggest Frabill's Magnum Bait Station 30, which has a 30-quart capacity, rounded corners and internal, center divider to keep two minnow species separate, as well as a 12V adapter and 110V adapter port (adapter not included). Will also run on D Cell batteries. At $229.99 it's a bit spendy but built like a tank. If your style of fishing involves stocking up on a lot of minnows, driving miles, and then burning through bait, you might just want to consider this model.