Keeping fish alive and well in the livewell is a basic competitive skill for any Alumacraft tournament angler. It’s also a matter of conservation ethics. It should be the goal of every tournament angler to return their catch to the lake in a healthy state. There’s more to successful livewell management than simply turning on the pump. To get some expert tips, we turned to Alumacraft pro Jon Thelen, the host of Jon Thelen’s Destination-Fish and a former walleye tournament competitor.
Over time fish slime and scales, algae, and bacteria from fish waste can accumulate in the livewell and its plumbing. Regular cleaning of the livewell not only creates a healthy environment for fish, but it also helps to keep livewell screens, pumps and lines clear of scale that can inhibit water flow and cause the system to work inefficiently.
Fill the livewell completely at the beginning of the day and then keep it full. Don’t wait until you catch a fish and drop it into the bottom of a half-full well. The fish needs plenty of fresh water and room to move around.
“When the water temperature is over 70 degrees I leave the livewell on the constant setting all the time,” said Thelen. “This keeps the well full of fresh water that is the same temperature as the lake water. In the spring and fall when the water is cooler you can use the timer, but still keep the well full. I will check on those fish frequently and if they look like they are struggling I’ll turn the pump to the constant setting.”
If you are fishing for a long time without moving, a constantly running livewell pump could draw down the boat battery. Be mindful of battery charge and run the outboard occasionally to maintain the charge.
If you are facing a long run in rough water, move fish from the front to the rear livewell in Alumacraft models like the Competitor series that are equipped with more than one well.
“The fish in the livewell is no different than a can in your cooler,” said Thelen. “If that cooler is forward in the boat the can will be bouncing around when the water is rough. Fish in the rear well will have a much smoother ride.”
When the water is calm, Thelen suggests using both livewells if the fishing boat has them. By splitting your catch between two wells the fish will have more elbow room and more available oxygen.
By the time that lunker is in your boat, it’s likely exhausted and disoriented, and may have an over-filled swim bladder. In this condition a walleye may have trouble staying upright in the livewell.
“Once that fish is upside down it’s hard to stay alive,” said Thelen. “You can right the fish with small clip-on weights like those used for ice fishing. I use three 1.4-ounce weights, one on each pectoral fin and one to the anal fin. The weights work like ballast to help the fish stay upright.”
Adding ice to the livewell is a common hot-weather strategy used by bass anglers in the South, but it’s not a technique Thelen suggests for Midwest walleye anglers. Fish are used to the water temperature changing very gradually over a number of days. If you use ice to cool the livewell water down too quickly it can shock the fish, and just a couple of degrees can make a big difference in fish health. It’s usually a better bet to just keep the livewell circulating fresh water from the lake.