Ice Fishing

Keeping shiners and suckers alive through the season

1/4/23 @ 2:40 PM
User since 8/12/05

Fortunate enough to be living on the lake for the last six months and probably will be for the next year. Given the fact that I open water and ice fish more since I am simply here - and given how much bait is these days - it only makes sense to try and keep it alive. One because it is convenient to have bait around and two its just wasteful to not at least try and keep it alive for use the next time you fish.

I am struggling though. At one time I considered myself and excellent keeper of bait and could usually keep them going for a long time. Right now my attrition rate is a minimum three to five deaths every one to two days. I am using a pretty large rubbermaid container setup and I have a plug in aerator running 24/7. It is also covered and in a dark room.

I go to change the water ever other day and without fail anywhere from three to five or more are dead.

Any tips or tactics you guys have tried to slow or stop the death? I mean its better than just throwing out bait say at the end of a trip, but I would really like to maximize keeping it around.

Displaying 1 to 14 of 14 posts
12/4/23 @ 3:19 PM
PRO MEMBER User since 2/16/04
Another thread mentioned placing the bubble stone to a place where there is some circulation of the tank water but not too much. Constant swimming against a strong current can shorten their lives too. Never thought about an aquarium filter. I let my city water sit a night before changing out with half the old stuff as mentioned by others.
11/13/23 @ 6:09 PM
User since 6/26/01
Keeping shiners and suckers alive through the season photo by RangerKid
1/6/23 @ 8:41 PM
User since 8/12/05

Lots of great advice here. Thanks everyone.

I am on well water, so probably wont be doing any treating. Honestly I agree so much with the "keep them cold" advice. Anytime I have left an errant bait cooler out overnight, even if the thing has frozen over, they are usually all quite lively.

The problem I have here is I am pretty far north in the state and leaving them outside for a week or two at a time in between outings would mean a solid block of ice...but, I do need to find a way to harness to the cold to help keep them alive.

1/6/23 @ 9:29 AM
User since 12/17/22

The things I do to keep mine alive and is simple.. I keep a Styrofoam minnow bucket inside of a plastic 5 gallon bucket.. I change the water maybe every 2-3 days..sometimes longer even..when i do change the water i use filtered city tap water,  through a brita faucet thing..city water has chlorine in it and other additives..i am a sewer and water guy so i know how bad any municipal water is ..well water is great if possible..  2 dozen is about the most i keep or get in 1 bucket...can use multiple buckets as i do ..fatheads bucket, one shiners, one a few suckers.. 3 bucket set ups .. I keep them outside in the garage or back of the truck with tonneau cover if the temp is 20 or warmer.. out of the sun always and never just sitting outside in the direct elements unless im fishing.. then the last tip I have is feed them.. grind up a cracker in your hand and toss some in once a week..or leave a dead one in there ..they pick at them too.. thats what I have done for 30 years and most times they last plenty long or are eaten up on fishing trips.. all I got for advise.. good luck ..tight lines

1/6/23 @ 8:52 AM
User since 12/19/01

You want to keep stress to a minimum, so an opaque tank and lid, and dim lighting, is helpful.

Along the same lines, there are chemicals you can add to the water to help.


I used table salt for years, about a 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.  Helps with their osmotic balance, again to reduce stress.  Can't beat the cost.  Also reduces freezing point, if you are storing/transporting outdoors in winter.

Disease might be what you are experiencing.  Especially if your water temperatures are in the 60 degree+ range, this will be your nemesis.  You may need to scrub the waterline in your tank, and disinfect with a bleach solution, in between batches of bait.  Using one of the products mentioned above is also helpful, but some $$ involved.

Changing the water more often, and changing a higher percentage, is often the best answer for that.  And as many have mentioned, the cooler the water the better; their metabolism (as well as disease organisms) is a very strong function of temperature.

1/6/23 @ 8:47 AM
User since 7/20/09

I keep mine in a second fridge, my beer/bait fridge.  Keeping them cold seems to be the best for me, more oxygen in cold water (think trout).  I have well water so I don't treat anything.

In winter if you have an attached garage, they'd probably be fine in there with an aerator.  Usually that isn't cold enough to fully freeze if its attached to the house.

Being cold, they are ready for the lake water then too.

1/5/23 @ 6:23 PM
User since 8/25/08

Keep them cold, aerated, and do water changes with a treatment that removes chlorine. Prime is a good brand and one bottle will last you years. During the warmer months you will have to increase the frequency of water changes and keep fewer minnows. Feeding is a bad idea unless you have a good sized filter and intend to keep them a very long time.

1/5/23 @ 10:36 AM
User since 12/7/17

Are you Keeping them cold.                    it's important, and don't change all the water 2/3 erds at most, adding air bubbler is good. 

And don't buy much more than you think you'll need for a week.                           You can always get more.

1/5/23 @ 7:33 AM
User since 4/11/19

If you want to keep them long term you can't feed them without a filter.  I keep minnows for months in a large tank and only change the water every 10-14 days.  No filter, their producing very little waste.  Works for me.

1/4/23 @ 9:47 PM
User since 12/27/02

We did a lot of fishing in college and kept a minnow tank (shiners, crappie minnows, and chubs at times) at the house. We had an air pump running and would change ~half the water every couple of days. We really did not see much longevity though until we setup an aquarium filter. Without one, ammonia and whatever else from their waste built up and became toxic.

For us, letting the water acclimate to room temp prior to adding seemed to help (this may have been due to the some of the chlorine evaporating out of the treated water).  We also never changed more than ~half the water at a time.  This seemed to be less of a shock to the minnows than changing nearly all the water at once.  We also fed the minnows fish food.

Being that you are running a large tote, this may not be an issue.  But, I have seen some minnow buckets with what I would consider overpowered aerators.  The minnows seemed to be constantly fighting the current produced, had to be tiring them out.  Best of luck.

1/4/23 @ 9:25 PM
PRO MEMBER User since 12/11/01

Are you letting your fresh water sit for awhile so it’s the same temperature as the old water? You could be shocking the minnows with colder or warmer water. 

1/4/23 @ 3:09 PM
User since 8/12/05

Indeed I have thought about filtration...

I generally just swap new water right in since it is coming from a well.

1/4/23 @ 3:04 PM
User since 8/24/07

When you're switching water out, do you let it sit for a day or so to let the chlorine dissipate?  I seem to have better luck keeping them alive when I've let it sit in the past. Also, depending on where you're keeping everything, it may be worth looking into a very basic aquarium set up, or at the very least figure out a way to incorporate filtration with your current tub. 

Displaying 1 to 14 of 14 posts
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