Keeping Crappie alive for tournaments
I have not been fishing crappiei tournaments all that long maybe 5 years but one thing I recognized early was I had to figure out how to keep the fish I caught alive in order for them to help my weight. So I set out to make dead fish in my livewell a non-issue. First I went first to the folks who have a long history of keeping fish alive.. Bass Fishermen. Then I practiced what I learned from them and added my own tweaks to fit crappie fishingi and my livewells. So here is what I came up with.
First and in my opinion most important, you must maintain adequate livewell dissolved oxygen.Many livewell aerators including mine are inadequate when water temperatures climb over 75 degrees or when the limit of fish is too big. Minimum dissolved oxygen levels should not drop below 4 PPM. I have a small oxygen tank and low flow regulator and ceramic stone that allows me to add oxygen when needed. Small inexpensive oxygen meter reads oxygen level and I keep it at 6 PPM.
Second keep livewell temperatures cooler. Water holds more dissolved oxygen when it is cooler. Keeping live well temperatures 12 degrees below surface temperature will save your crappie. I use frozen water bottles to keep temperatures down adding a small bottle about every hour will maintain a constant. You should carry enough ice to make it thru the entire tournament I normally carry 10 frozen 20 ounce drink bottles. Installing livewell thermometers makes this job easy. From experience colder is not better. I killed a livewell of fish by over doing the ice. 12 degrees below surface temp is just fine.
Third livewell additives are not a cure all for fish care and are not all created equal. Fish held in a livewell should be sedated, not stimulated. Chose wisely and use every time you exchange the water.
Forth, avoid foam in your livewell. Surface foam is an indication of poor water quality. Surface foam interferes with oxygen transfer from air to water. Ninety percent of the transfer of oxygen occurs at the water's surface. Foam is a good indicator to exchange livewell water. I exchange water every two hours and use additives designed to prevent foaming.
Fifth, cull fish quickly and efficiently. Reducing fish numbers and handling will increase survivability. My boat has 2 livewells and I use and maintain both during a tournament. My simple method is the front livewell gets the crappie I expect to cull and the back live well the ones I think I will weigh. I usually have an idea of what size fish it is going to take so most of the time there is very little culling from the back livewell. The front livewell is a holding tank basically for the fish I expect to cull. I try to never have more than 10 crappie in my boat period and never more than 7 in a livewell.
Sixth, Handle crappie with care. Use a rubber coated net, remove hooks quickly as possible if the hook is hard to reach use pliers and ease them in the live well as quickly as possible.
Lastly, I keep a close eye on my fish. I check the fish themselves and monitor temp and oxygen level every 20 min. If you let things get out of control it is very hard to bring the conditions or the fish back.