Minnows are a top choice when it comes to live bait. What you might not know is how to keep minnows alive without an aerator.
In this article, I’m going to give you 7 tips and tricks on how to keep your minnows alive, and you fishing longer!
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Insulate and Prepare the Tank
The number one reason minnows die without an aerator is because they overheat. To prevent this, always keep your minnows in the shade with a lid. Add a small bag of ice cubes to keep the temperature cool (between 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit), and regularly change out the water.
This sounds simple, and it is, but this really is the most basic step that needs to be followed to avoid the premature death of your minnows.
Minnows can die within a day if they are not stored properly, and in this case, this means making sure that their storage space is kept nice and cool, which in turn means insulation.
Coolers with foam insulation are a mainstay among fishermen and are useful for helping ensure that your minnows don’t struggle in fast-warming water.
Avoid using metal buckets that can overheat easily. Styrofoam or insulated buckets are best.
Of course, using foam insulation to keep your minnow tank cool means that you have to cool it down in the first place. The typical role of aerators in tanks is twofold: to ensure there’s enough oxygen and to help keep the water cool. In the absence of an aerator, both of these roles can be filled, at least in part, by adding ice.
How much you need will depend on the size of your tank, how many minnows you have in it, and how warm the surrounding area is. Minnows struggle at temperatures near and above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll want to make sure that the temperature is well below that.
In addition, ice can potentially help oxygenate your water, since water often loses more oxygen when hot than it does when cold. Better oxygenated water can likewise help keep the water in good condition for your minnows to remain alive.
To use ice with your minnows, place them in a bag. You don’t want to simply dump them in as this can suddenly and drastically lower the temperature of the water, shocking and potentially killing the minnows.
Suspend the bag in the water and let the icy cool diffuse gradually into the tank until the temperature is at a level below 60 degrees which you deem to be suitable.
Avoid Tap Water
Always use distilled water, or better yet the natural water the minnows were caught in, or purchased from.
Tap water is often filled with additives such as fluoride and chlorine. It may be good for our teeth, but it’s not good for minnows and baitfish!
Don’t Overcrowd Your Minnows
We may say that people and things squeezed too closely are “packed together like sardines,” but you want to avoid that being the case for your minnows.
You wouldn’t survive long in conditions so cramped that you literally have little to no room to move, and neither can fish. The heat, waste, and lack of oxygen resulting from such conditions is intolerable, causing the minnows to die quickly.
In addition to making sure that your minnows have enough room, you’ll also want to ensure that your minnows are not bothered by constant exposure to bright light. Instead, you’ll want to store them in a dark, climate-controlled area, such as a cabinet or basement.
Add Some Hydrogen Peroxide
As another last-minute oxygenating measure, you may want to consider adding a bit of 3% hydrogen peroxide (that’s the household brown bottles).
Don’t overdo it! Use only about an ounce of a 3% oxygen solution per three gallons of water.
Avoid Stagnant Water
Consider for a moment how minnows live in the wild. Do they live in areas where water is stagnant and fetid? Of course not. They populate areas where the water is flowing or, at the very least, circulating enough to give them fresh oxygen and nutrients.
If you want your minnows to live longer, you’ll want to make sure to do the same with your water supply, which means stirring things up a bit.
Give the water a frothing and splash with your hand. Add in additional water to stir things up and prevent sediment from accumulating on the bottom or on the surface.
Acclimating Your Minnows While Fishing
You don’t want to have done all of the above to keep your minnows alive only to falter and see them perish as you get to the lake for some fishing.
One of the most common mistakes that fishermen and anglers make in this regard is thinking that they don’t need to worry that much about their bait bucket. Too often, people act as though as long as the fish are there in the bucket, their job is done.
However, to keep your minnows fresh as long as possible while fishing and thus have the best chance of landing a bigger fish with live bait, you want to carefully submerge the bait bucket in the stream, creek, or lake in which you are fishing.
It only takes 15-20 minutes for the inside water temperature to acclimate to the outside temperature.
This rule always applies if you purchase bait. Instead of taking your store-bought minnows and dumping them into a bucket of lake water, keep them in a bag, or smaller container and place it in the large container with water.
The outside water and minnow water should stabilize, which prevents “shock stress” from a sudden temperature change.
Long Term Minnow Storage
If you are interested in raising minnows long-term, either for bait, feed, or other aquarium-related uses consider a long-term storage tank and full aeration system.
This method can be very effective but does require the use of things like bio-filters and temperature regulation.
Click here for a great article on Raising Bait Minnows in Small Tanks Longterm.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will minnows stay alive in a bucket without an aerator?
Can minnows live in tap water?
Tap water is not a good long-term water source for minnows. Tap water contains chemicals and additives such as fluoride that will kill minnows. Instead, use distilled water or natural water (from the source).
Do minnows need an air pump?
Minnows and other small baitfish need oxygenated water to survive. Although they can live a short period of time without an air pump, its best to keep the water cool and properly aerated with a pump or water circulation system.
Can you keep minnows in the fridge?
Yes, the fridge is a great place to keep minnows. The cold and dark environment of a refrigerator is perfect to keep the minnows cool and calm until your next fishing trip.
Do minnows eat bread crumbs?
Yes, minnows will eat bread crumbs, but a better food source is commercial fish food such as flakes, shrimp, or worms.
How long can Minnows survive without food?
Wild-caught minnows can go weeks without food if kept in a clean and properly oxygenated tank. Commercial or store-bought minnows should be fed every 3-4 days.
What to feed minnows to keep them alive?
Commercial fish food is an easy and inexpensive option to feed minnows. Any tropical fish flake dried blood worms, or even oats will work. But don’t overfeed them, minnows kept for fishing only need to be fed every 3-4 days.
Consider Purchasing an Aerator
The tips outlined in this article will work, and keep your minnows alive for longer than normal. But if you fish with minnows regularly, you should really consider an aerator system.
The Frabill Portable Bait System is what I recommend. This insulated and portable Livewell system has an easy-to-carry handle, and built-in pumps ready to connect to a battery. Move it from the truck to the boat, off the dock or back to the house with ease.
There is no denying that live minnows are one of the best baits for freshwater fishing. Tons of popular gamefish species eat minnows, including crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, warmouth, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, and even catfish.
And there is nothing more frustrating than spending time or money to get live bait, only to have it die.
Live, healthy bait catches fish. PERIOD. Take care of your bait, and you’ll catch more fish. Good luck and thanks for reading!
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