LOOKING AT LIVEWELLS
Gary "Fitzy" Fitzgerald
Since the inception of the fisheries enhancement program in Queensland some 15 years past, a change in the average fishos attitude has come about. With the stocking of our inland lakes and rivers came the inevitable fishing competitions. Many of these early comps were based on gut and gill concept and run either on a heaviest fish or on a secret weight system.
Over a period of time (aided by the Catch and Release cry of greats like Harro, Steptoe, Bethune and Starling) people saw the need to release fish to help maintain the levels of fish in our waters. A new breed of sportfishos was born. The earlier comps that began to encourage catch and release accepted fish that were bought in a bucket with the fishes tail sticking out of it and a few with eskies or garbage bins full of water. The odd setup even had an airator, although rarely big enough to do the job adequately. Sure a few fish might have survived but on a whole this was a pretty poor way to go about it.
Now there are purely catch and release only competitions and tournaments where an honesty measurement system is run, or one where competitors need to bring the fish in for measuring and/or weighing by judges. The judges may reject any fish that are not in good condition and penalize for any dead or dying fish. Thus there is a need to keep fish alive and kicking. The thing that is needed to keep fish alive is a properly setup livewell.
A livewell is part aquarium, part artificial lake environment and somewhere to revive fish if it is necessary after a prolonged fight or being taken from cool deeper water into the warm water near the surface. This is also a factor to consider when using a bilge pump system to fill or replenish water from the surface.
What makes a good livewell? Firstly you need to consider how much water it holds. The more water the better as increased volume increases the maximum potential oxygen supply. This also helps to dilute any waste products produced by the fish. Another important reason to have a large volume is to enable fish to have room to move without overcrowding and causing any injuries. Make sure that the livewell is deep enough for fish to hold upright and not on their sides as this is an unnatural position and can lead to stress. Also ensure that no part of the fish are out of the water or touching the bottom due to low water levels, both of these can cause damage to fish. Oxygen is the next most important factor. No amount of water in a livewell will sustain fish indefinitely without a sufficient air pumping system. I've seen plenty of eskies with a cheep and nasty battery operated airstone being the only provider of oxygen. These just don't cut the mustard. A high volume 12-volt air pump attached to a large bar type airstone is a minimum.
Probably the most popular system used is a submersible bilge pump piped up to a spray bar that recirculates water from the bottom of the livewell and sprays it over the surface of the water allowing oxygen exchange and the release of carbon dioxide and some ammonia. While a spraybar system does the job it has it's drawbacks in making a lot of noise (added stress) and can damage the skin and scales on fish due to the high-pressure jets or sprays.
One of the best aerators on the market is the KeepAlive Oxygen Infusor. These are a submersible bilge pump with the added advantage of having an air hose attachment that draws air into the pump and mixes the water and air together creating micro bubbles. This system can add up to six times more oxygen to the water prior to being sprayed back into the tank. In fact it isn't necessary to pipe the water up to a spray bar as oxygen is added to the water and recirculated straight back out again and there is less obstructions in the tank for fish to damage themselves on. There is also a model the can be mounted externally onto the livewell so that no obstructions exist. The air hose can also be connected to an oxygen bottle if one wishes to go the whole hog.
The temperature of the water is critical in keeping fish alive. Warm water cannot hold as much oxygen and also aids in the growth of bacteria and algae. The air that we breathe contains 20.9% oxygen and fish are usually comfortable in 0.0008% oxygen. If you halve the amount of available oxygen, just like us a fish will start to die. There can be as much as an 8 or 10 degree C difference in the water that the fish was hooked from and the surface water that is used to fill your livewell.
One-way to counter act this is to add ice to the livewell water. Not just ice you buy from a garage, you need to prepare this yourself beforehand using boiled water that is free of chlorine. If regular store bought ice is used, chlorine is added to the water as it melts and we all know what happened to our pet goldfish when we gave them too much tap water.
The shape of livewells is also important as a round or oval tank tends to get less wave motion going while motoring. A round shape also aids in circulation. Having no corners stops the fish from nosing into a corner and getting stuck there as is commonly seen. A large percentage of sportfishos that frequent catch and release comp have the locally made EvaKool/Baileys iceboxes, which they use as livewell. These will suffice, acknowledging that they are not round but, they do have good insulation to help stop the water getting warm and when the lid is closed, puts the fish into darkness also aiding in reducing stress.
Make sure that it is clean first, which means no stubbies or food in there just before you fill it up. Or get a second icebox/esky just for use as a livewell keeping in mind there are thousands of dollars in cash and prizes up for grabs at times and you don't want to lose a fish just so your fourex didn't get warm. Oh and don't forget to change the water every couple of hours. A well made livewell will give many years of good service to you and the fish. Maintain you're investment by cleaning all part including piping upon return home to stop bacteria and algae growth and allow it to full dry out before closing it up. See you on the water. Fitzy..
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