Brad Laabs fishing column: Keep your bait fresh and alive
Now that opening weekend for walleye and northern is here, I have a couple suggestions that may be helpful (and might save you a couple bucks!)
The first tip has to do with keeping bait fresh and alive. We will talk about minnows first, since in the early season, shiners, red tails, rainbows, and fatheads are the "go to" baits.
When you come off the lake, you must either dispose of minnows, or transfer them into well water. Remember, you can't transport lake water! I keep a cooler full of well water in the back of my Tahoe. I can scoop a bucket of the well water out of that, and transfer leftover minnows into the bucket and then the cooler. I keep a aerator pump connected to the cooler for keeping the minnows alive.
When it gets hot, you can also add a frozen water bottle to the cooler to keep the water cool and minnows fresh. Cool water hold more oxygen than warm water --.minnows like that!
If you don't have room for a cooler, you can use a five-gallon pail (with lid) with well water. There are also some high quality buckets and coolers with bubblers built into them now. There are even some bucket container holders with aerator connected that mount on your trailer.
If you take your aerated buckets/coolers in the boat with you, you still need to change the water out when leaving the lake. That is a way to guarantee that no lake water was added to the bucket/cooler to "freshen them up" while on the water.
Leeches are also a very popular early season bait, and can work from opening day through September. I buy leeches by the pound, and take several dozen with me when I hit the water. I keep them in well water in my cooler in a large enough container that they never have an overcrowding issue.
Some anglers like to acclimate their leeches to the lake temperature and put them in a leech tamer bag in a live well. The benefit of that is swimming and active leeches. When you come off the lake, you must rinse them and transfer them into a container of well water also. To keep leeches fresh, change their water every other day, and keep them refrigerated between uses.
If you buy them by the dozen, transfer them out of those little bait store Styrofoam containers into larger containers that hold more water for them. Leeches that are taken care of can last weeks, or even months.
Night crawlers are another live bait option with a history of catching fish. Almost anyone that has ever fished with them has had the experience of smelling the bad odor that comes from night crawlers gone bad! That experience should be enough to motivate you to avoid a repeat episode.
The key to fresh crawlers is keeping them cool, and keeping them in crawler bedding. If you buy them by the dozen in a container, many times they are in dirt. Dirt is messy in the boat, and messy on the fingers.
Transferring your crawlers into larger containers with bedding, keeping them refrigerated, and then keeping them in a cooler in the boat when using them will keep them fresh and healthy.
I buy my crawlers by the flat, and keep half a flat in each of two large Styrofoam boxes. I cull out what I need to take for the day and put them in a smaller foam container and keep them in the cooler. When done, I transfer them back home to the container in my bait fridge.
Change the bedding periodically, and cull out sick crawlers, and add some food for them once in awhile (I give mine corn meal) and you can keep them for weeks or months.
My last suggestion is one for the end of the day. Cut the throats of the fish you are going to take home to clean and let them bleed out in your livewell or cooler. If you cut the throats before you head to the access, they will bleed out by the time you get your boat loaded on the trailer.
By bleeding them out, they are less of a mess to clean, with no blood to try and rinse out of the fillets. I will sometimes cut their throats after I get on the trailer, let them bleed out in the live well while I strap down, pull my plug, check for weeds, transfer minnows, etc. Then I drain my live well as I am leaving and trailering home. Rinse and dry the live well after you remove your fish and you are golden.
Remember to clean, drain, and dry. Do your part to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasives.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)