The livewell could be the nastiest part of your fishing boat. Over time fish slime and scales, algae, and bacteria from fish waste can accumulate in the livewell and its plumbing, to the point that it can harm fish you are trying to keep alive. Cleaning the livewell should be on the regular maintenance checklist of any fishing boat owner, and it’s a relatively easy task.
There are many factors that determine how frequently the livewell systems should be cleaned. For example, how often the livewell is used, the typical water quality, and the species of fish placed in the well. At a minimum the livewells should be cleaned annually, preferably prior to a winterization and storage so they are ready for the next season. But if your livewells look gunky in the middle of the season, the hour it takes to clean them up will be time well spent.
Cleaning 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.
There are many formulas and methods anglers have tried to clean a livewell system, but we recommend a very simple, affordable and effective process that will not leave behind any toxic residue that could harm fish. It’s never a good idea to clean a livewell with bleach or any kind of caustic cleaner.
The two products you’ll need can be found at any grocery store: white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Vinegar dissolves the scale, and peroxide attacks algae and bacteria. Use a ratio of 32 ounces of hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of vinegar. This volume of solution will be sufficient for the largest, 18-gallon wells found in boats like the Alumacraft Competitor model. A higher concentration of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide will not harm the system, so go ahead and use this solution on smaller livewells. Double the vinegar and peroxide amount for 30-gallon livewells on big bass boats. You’ll also need a roll of paper towels, a scrub brush like you’d use for cleaning dishes or bottles, and a supply of fresh water. Once you’ve collected your supplies, just follow these easy steps to get that livewell clean:
1. If your livewell has an accumulation of fish scales, leaves or sand on the bottom let the well dry completely and then suck up this debris with a shop vacuum so it does not get flushed into the pumps.
2. Next remove the drain screens from the bottom of the well. These can typically be removed by squeezing the perimeter of the plastic screen to disengage the retaining tabs or in some cases, simply turned out by hand if they are threaded. Just leave them in the bottom of the well to soak in your cleaning solution.
3. Set the livewell control to “recirculate” (or plug the drain) and pour the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide directly into the well. Then use a hose to fill the well with water to just below the overflow drain.
4. Now turn on the livewell aerators and let them run for 10 to 15 minutes. This is going to agitate the water and solution and get it flowing throughout the system.
5. After 30 minutes the solution may look cloudy. Use your brush to scrub off any stubborn areas, and then drain the livewell of the dirty solution and water. If any really tough stains remain, try scrubbing them with a paste made of water and baking soda on a scrubbing pad like you’d use for dishes.
6. After the well has drained, set the control back to “recirculate” and fill the well with clear water. Then run the aerators for another 10 to 15 minutes. This will flush out the system. When 30 minutes are up, drain the well completely.
7. Use your paper towels to wipe any residue left on the bottom and sides of the well and replace the drain screens, which now should be clean. Then leave the livewell lids open to let the well dry completely and you’re done, with clean wells ready to hold healthy fish.
Now you’re ready to fish like a pro, confident the livewell is going to get your catch to weigh-in in good shape, or just back to your home dock.