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Brad Laabs column: Here’s how to save bait, keep your catch fresh

With the summer heat and warm water temperatures, keeping your catch, and your bait fresh, can present some challenges.

I keep my crawlers in a small amount of bedding in a styrofoam container in a cooler with frozen water bottles. I am fortunate enough to have a boat with a built-in cooler. Some anglers will put crawlers into cold water to rinse them and puff them up, and then keep them in a baggy. It will keep the boat cleaner, but you may not be able to salvage leftover crawlers at the end of the day.

I buy crawlers by the flat, and keep them in bedding in two foam crawler containers (half a flat in each) and crawlers are returned to the fridge at the end of the day. They do fine and are ready for the next outing.

Some anglers like to keep leeches in tamers in the live well. They do stay active that way, but you must make sure you have a container and well water to transfer them into at the end of your trip. I keep my leeches in a container with well water and position it in the cooler to stay cool, but not cold. They adjust fine transitioning into the lake when using them.

Minnows can be very temperamental to dramatic changes in water temps this time of the year. Temper the water so that the change isn’t so dramatic for them. Too much of a change in temperature either direction can shock and kill them.

If you have air bagged minnows, make sure the airbag sits in lake temperature water before dumping them into a live well or bait well. If you are going to keep minnows after your trip, you must transfer them into well water. You cannot use lake water. Even if you have one of the nice new aerated coolers for minnows, you are supposed to change the water after coming off the lake a way of assuring  lake water is not being transported.

Adding a block of ice or frozen milk jug to the live well helps keep fish fresh. Use the recirculating pump, if you have one, to keep water cool longer. Slit the throats of your catch to bleed them out for transport or before cleaning.

The fillets are clean and require minimal rinsing when you bleed your fish out. You will also have a significant reduction in mess on your cleaning board or table. To bleed them out, put a fillet knife into the gill and cut across the small skin section between the other gill….”cut the crop” so to speak.

Remember to drain your live well before traveling, and if you are traveling for more than about 20 minutes before you get around to cleaning your catch, either buy a bag of ice to pour over the fish in the live well, or put the fish in a bag in a cooler with ice. It is not only a pain to clean mushy fish, but your catch is not going to be as healthy or fresh if you don’t take care of them. A little prep work goes a long way to saving bait (and money), and having truly fresh fish for the table.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)