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Brad Laabs: Warm weather poses challenges to keeping fresh bait

As our weather warms, keeping live bait of all kinds can sometimes be a challenge. It is important to keep live bait fresh and healthy for the bait to be effective.

Minnows are in high use right now, and killing them before they get to do the job for you can be expensive. Most quality bait shops will offer air bagging as an option for getting your bait to the lake. This can really be a bait saver, especially if it will be a while before you get on the lake. Most times you can even keep them overnight if they are refrigerated or kept in a cooler. Once you arrive at the lake to fish, you can dump the air bagged minnows with the bait store well water into a minnow bucket. Aerators for these buckets will help keep minnows fresh and lively. The bait store can put well water in your bucket with your minnows if you want to transport them to the lake that way. An aerator for the bucket will help make sure you get to use them all. Some aerators run on D cell batteries, some can plug into car chargers, and some come equipped with clips to attach to a battery.

Many anglers like to put the minnows in floating buckets or livewells/baitwells. It is important to temper the minnows by letting the airbag sit in the water you will be transferring them to. If the water is significantly warmer or colder than the water the minnows are in, they will become shocked and die if the adjustment is made to fast for them. Remember to take fresh well water with you in buckets or coolers to transfer minnows into when you are done fishing. You cannot transport lake water, and this includes water in your bait bucket, livewell, or baitwell.

Carrying fresh well water will also come in handy to transfer your leeches into when you are done fishing if you have exposed them to lake water. Some fishermen like to put leeches in float bags in livewells or baitwells. These leeches will need to be drained, strained with fresh well water, and then transferred into containers of fresh well water. A good way to avoid exposing your leeches to lake water is to keep them refrigerated in well water and then put them in your cooler in the boat. They will become lively when taken out, put on the hook, and dropped into the lake. They are less susceptible to shocking than the minnows, and getting to the bottom cooler water quickly will keep them working just fine for you.  

You can keep leeches a long time by keeping them refrigerated. It is also important to change their water every day or two to keep them alive and healthy. Cull the weak or dead leeches out of your leech container to keep the rest healthy when you change out their water.

Nightcrawlers can also be keep for long periods of time in a refrigerator. They don’t do well sitting out in the sun so keep them in a cooler in the boat while fishing. When nightcrawlers are in dirt they can make a mess of your boat. Transferring them into containers with a worm bedding can be a little less messy. Many of the worm beddings also have worm food in them and can keep your crawlers growing. Adding a little corn meal to your crawlers can also help fatten them up.

A trick many anglers use to make fat and juicy crawlers is to rinse them off in cold water and put them in a baggie before you go fishing. This little trick will make for fat crawlers and no mess in the boat.

Do not overcrowd containers with nightcrawlers. A few sick crawlers can kill off all the rest. If they are left unfed, you will have many short crawlers as they will feed on themselves. Changing the bedding in your containers well keep them healthy and extend the length of time you can keep them stored in your refrigerator.

For those of you that don’t have your own bait refrigerator, a large cooler with frozen water bottles will work. Some spouses don’t like the leeches and crawlers in with the lettuce, cheese, milk and juice! You must respect the spouse.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)