Thursday, September 12, 2013

Transporting and Keeping Live Bait for Flathead Catfish

Summer is all but over with, and Fall is just around the corner. Leaves are now beginning to litter the water’s surface, and the cold nights have begun to cool the shallows. With winter approaching fish are beginning to feed aggressively, making for some very exciting fishing. Past experience has taught me that this time of year yields the highest catch rates of trophy catfish. I can recall nights at Rocky Fork Lake where multiple 10 plus pound channel cats made it to the bottom of the boat, on a couple occasions we had 2 fish in the net at a given time. Double Trouble Channel Cats. The month of September has given my two largest flathead catfish. One of which I caught last weekend, 31# Flathead Report, and my current personal best flathead in September of 2011. Flathead catfish are very elusive creatures; in fact we have spent countless weekends in search of flathead catfish with nothing to show for it. So when this time of year comes around we make sure to spend as much time on the water as we possibly can. In order to catch flathead one needs a good source of fresh bait. In our case, a large supply of live bluegill. This blog will highlight how we obtain, transport, and keep our bluegill alive.

I work 7am to 3:30pm every weekday. Since almost 90 percent of our catfishing is done at night, I am only available Friday and Saturday to do the majority of my catfishing. I have found that I am less stressed out when I spend an evening getting bait before the day of our catfishing trip. This allows me to focus more on what we need for the night of catfishing, rather than having to worry about getting everything ready for both bait fishing and catfishing. Therefore, Thursday has become my bait gathering day. I start by loading the car with our ultralight combos, bait buckets, aerators, and baits. We use two types of bait buckets to transport and keep our bait alive. The first of which is a 2 gallon trolling style bait bucket.
These style bait buckets are buoyant so they float and have holes to allow movement of water between a body of water and the bucket. We use these buckets to keep our bait alive as we are catching them. We typically throw a 1/32oz lead head jig with a 1.5" piece of nightcrawler or a small ice jig tipped with a wax worm. This time of year fish relate heavily to structure, we find that by targeting docks and tied off boats that we can easily get a few dozen bluegill. Once we catch our bluegill we simply open the lid, toss the bluegill or other piece of bait in, and then throw the bucket in the water just off of the bank. The holes in the bucket will allow for the exchange of fresh water, keeping your bait well oxygenated and lively. We typically put a dozen 5-8” bluegill in each bucket before transporting them to our secondary bait bucket. Our second bait bucket is a five gallon bucket with a lid and an aerator.
The five gallon bucket is over twice the size of the other bait buckets, so we typically put two dozen baits in them. The bucket is aerated by a small battery powered bubbler made by Marine Metal Products.  While this keeps the water oxygenated, it doesn’t keep the water cool and free of ammonia build up. Therefore, we typically exchange half of the water in the five gallon bucket every 45 minutes until we are done fishing.

Once we get back to the house I begin filling my 25 gallon livewell, which happens to look a lot like a white trash can. I then add a water treatment agent called Better Bait. Better Bait conditions the water, removes chlorine, stimulates a natural slime coat on the bait, reduces fungus and bacteria, removes heavy metals, adds electrolytes, etc. In simpler terms it helps keep your bait lively and reduces die offs.  
I add half a tablespoon to my 25 gallon livewell, as per the directions given. The powder gives the water a bluish tint, which is a nice visual aid so that you don’t treat the water more than once. I then hook up a 110 watt aquarium aerator, and begin to aerate the livewell. 
Our water is fed from a well so it's very cold. Cold water holds more oxygen and reduces stress on the fish, but since the bluegill are in much warmer water this creates an issue. To ensure that the bluegill don’t go into shock, I acclimate them very slowly. I do this by placing them back into the trolling style buckets with the water from the lake, and then placing the trolling style buckets into the livewell with cold water. I let them set for 5 minutes to ensure that the water in both the livewell and bait buckets are similar in temperature. I then place the bluegills into the livewell.
My 25 gallon livewell will keep up to 6 dozen 5-8" baitfish very comfortably for several days without much maintenance. If I plan on keeping them for more than 3 days I will do a 50 percent water change on day 3. I keep my livewell in a garage, so it stays a fairly consistent 70 degrees. If for some reason the water gets warmer than that I will add a couple frozen water bottles to the livewell in order to cool the temperature back down.  

From there all you have to do is load the bluegill back up into the five gallon buckets or trolling style bait buckets and hit the water.

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