That “Sinking Feeling” (Livewells)


 By TREY BUTLER –  From the

 Have you ever had that sinking feeling while you were fishing that something has mysteriously happened to the fish you have in your livewell? It is a nagging feeling that keeps creeping back in until you drop your rod and dash to the back of the boat to see for yourself. Generally, the fish are fine, (although they did seem bigger when you caught them).

Possibly this comes from a bad experience along the way, or maybe it is just a “free-floating fishing phobia”. Regardless of the root of the problem, focusing on the fish that are already in the livewell does nothing but take your focus from the fish yet to be caught. Distractions are many, and focus is the key to effective tournament fishing.

Possibly you have had a similar sinking feeling as you approached your livewells to remove the fish for weighin. Am I sure we only have 5 (or 7) fish? Am I even sure what the tournament limit is? What if the little ones got smaller? What if one is dead…what if they all died? We can chuckle at these thoughts at the moment, but if we get honest with each other, who really hasn’t had these concerns at some point? Just as golfers have lost tournaments for signing an incorrect scorecard, many a fisherman has lost money over livewell and weighin mistakes. However, there are some simple steps to insure a smooth finish.

Preventing livewell and weighin problems begins before the boat leaves home. The technology in today’s livewells is impressive. Many systems have aeration in addition to recirculation. While this technology is very helpful in keeping fish alive, these systems are not maintenance free. It is vitally important that both the livewells and the plumbing are cleaned on a regular basis. This cleaning should take place twice yearly at a minimum, preferably on a quarterly basis. Begin by placing enough clean water in the wells to reach the re-circulation intakes, and then add a cup of baking soda. (If you choose to use harsher chemicals, it is imperative that you flush your wells extensively, chemicals can severely damage the protective coating on a fish). Use a sponge mop to scrub all six walls of the well. After using the mop, follow up with a hand-sponge. Before draining, run the livewell system in manual re-circulation mode. The next step is to drain your livewells, then attack them one more time with the hand-sponge, and rinse thoroughly with a hose. It may be necessary to use a wet vacuum to remove all scales and debris from the intake screens. Always remember to drain your livewells after each use, and prop the lids open to allow ventilation while drying.

While on the water, remember that warm water requires more attention and movement to protect fish. Some fishermen run their livewells on a manual setting during the hottest moths. There are numerous products available that include chemical additives to preserve slime-coat and calm fish. One such product is “Please Release Me”. Obviously, fish stress and mortality can be negatively impacted by how much a fish is “handled”, and the amount of time spent out of water. Culling systems are becoming popular items among tournament fishermen. These systems can greatly reduce the necessity of handling fish, and can save valuable time when it is necessary to cull. Generally, these products involve weighing a fish when caught, recording the weight, and assigning each fish it’s own respective color or code. Each color/code corresponds to a clip, which is subsequently attached to the fish’s lower jaw. When a limit is attained, culling is a simple process. If you pass on a culling system, you may find it helpful to place the “dinks” in one livewell and the “dawgs” in the other. For instance, place all fish 2lbs or less in one side, and those larger in the other. (The name of the game is to empty the dink side). Balance beams are effective tools for culling fish and are available at low costs, and no boat should be without some tool for measuring length.

You may find that the adrenaline is surging through your body when the time for the final weighin arrives. There is absolutely no feeling like walking by the rest of the fishing world with a big sack of fish, but this is the time to take a deep breath, slow down, and follow a plan. If you develop a system that you follow each time at weighin, you are far less likely to make a mistake. Keep a quality weighin bag in your boat, or secure one from the weighmaster if you are required to do so. Although your buddies may call you funny names, there is no shame in wearing gloves to handle the fish when removing them from the well. Some anglers prefer to use a small net for this purpose. Be careful when exiting the boat, there have been occasions where bags of fish have been dropped in the water, and fishermen have fallen in, both resulting in loss of fish. Get the fish to the scales as quickly as possible, and assist in returning them to the water if appropriate. Most larger tournaments are very vocal about the “cutoff” for receiving a check. If the cutoff is 12 lbs., and you are certain you don’t have 12 lbs., release those fish to fight another day. Be careful to retain any necessary registration forms and have them ready at the scales.

These simple ideas can be important steps in being a successful tournament angler. Many are designed to protect the fish as well. We must all strive to protect the resources, for without them, the sport that we love so much will not exist. Although some of these procedures may seem tedious at the time, they are all tried and proven under tournament conditions. A bit of preparation and organization will go a long a long way in making the day more enjoyable and putting more fish in our livewells. And, after all, that is why we get out of bed at 2:30am, isn’t it?

–Trey Butler is a member of the Davis Bait Company and Falcon Rods Prostaffs.