Bait Tank Water


Always use clean fresh water in your bait tank. If you use your livewell to store your shiners, be sure you use a recirculator. Never use your aerator pump to replace the water in your livewell with lake water. The surface water is warm and will not dissolve oxygen as well as cooler water. You’re also pumping, whatever chemicals you use to treat the water, out of the bait tank causing you to continually treat the water throughout the day which is hard on the shiners.


At the end of the day it is important to clean the bait tank out thoroughly. If you had shiners dying in the tank during the day you should clean it with bleach. After wiping the tank down and removing all the scales, add enough water to operate your aerator or recirculator pump and add about a half cup of bleach. Run the bleach through the system with the recirculator to remove any bacteria that may still be in the lines. Then replace with fresh water and run and drain at least 2 times to remove the bleach. If you leave leftover shiners in the tank overnight, make sure you, at least, replace the water with fresh cool water before adding fresh shiners to remove the ammonia created from their own waste. Even if you don’t have shiners in the livewell overnight, rinse thoroughly and add fresh water each day.

At the end of the day I take all of my shiners out of the livewell and put them in a tub or large bucket with a portable aerator or aquarium pump while I clean the scales out. I know this sounds like a lot of trouble but it is well worth the time considering the money you’ll save by keeping your shiners alive. If you use all your shiners or just have a couple left over that you can discard it will save you the need for a portable aerator and holding tank.

No Chlorine

Make sure, if you use tap water, that you treat the water with chemicals that will remove the chlorine before putting the shiners in it. This can be lethal to a bait tank full of shiners that you just spent $12 to $18 a dozen for and some times more.


Always use ice in the bait tank. Remember earlier I mentioned how oxygen dissolves better in cool water vs. warm? This will keep your bait lively and active which is very important for attracting fish. An important point to remember is that you don’t know where the water came from to make the ice that you just dumped in your livewell. Most likely it was made from tap water and contains chlorine. Treat the water the same as describe above with chemicals that are designed to remove the chlorine.

Bass seem to ignore shiners that are lethargic. It almost seems that they have to be challenged by their prey before they become interested. Whatever the reason, you can be assured if a boat sitting right next to you is catching all the fish and you can’t even get a bite, it’s because they have livelier bait. When given the choice, the bass will go after the friskier shiner first. It’s more natural and what you’re trying to duplicate is how the predator and prey counteract in nature.

Finer Shiner

Earlier I talked about treating the water with chemicals. I use a product called Finer Shiner® made by SURE LIFE LABORATORIES CORP. Finer Shiner® will eliminate chlorine, ammonia and harmful bacteria from the water. It also has an irritant that helps increase the slime coat on the shiner that helps protect them.


  • Try not to buy more shiners than you need. On average I use six dozen shiners for two people fishing one rod each on an eight trip. If it looks like you’re going to have shiners left over, put a couple more lines in the water (no more than 2 lines per angler/Fl. Regulation). This will save you time and the need for a holding tank to put your shiners in while cleaning the boats bait tank or livewell.

Steps by Step

To put all of this into perspective let me tell you what my daily routine is as a guide. I’ll start with the end of the day after dropping off my customers and assuming I had shiners left over. When I get to the house I set up a holding tank for the left over shiners. This means adding clean fresh water and chemicals. I have aquarium pumps that I use to aerate the water. Then I transfer all the shiners from the boats bait tank to the holding tank. Now I can start cleaning my boats tank. After draining the water, I use a 1 gallon shop-vac to remove all of the scales. Then I add fresh water and turn the aerator pumps on to recirculate the fresh water through the system. I either use a commercial livewell cleaner or bleach to kill any bacteria in the system. Once I drain, refill and recirculate at least twice I’m ready to add fresh water for the next day. When I fill the tank, I put my chemicals in, fill the bait tank and turn the aerators on to circulate the water with chemicals through the system. The chemicals, Finer Shiner®, help kill any bacteria I may have missed while cleaning the tank and will continue to work throughout the next day of fishing.

The next morning, long before daylight, I get up and get myself ready to go again. The last thing I do before pulling out is turn the boats aerator system on to make sure it’s working okay and to add oxygen to the water. Then I transfer the shiners from my holding tank back into the boats bait tank. I always save this for last as to not put any more drain on the battery than I have to. I skipped a lot of details like retying all of my lines, cleaning the boat and truck, restocking the cooler with drinks etc. “Oh I know I can hear the violins in the background”. Not looking for sympathy, I’m just trying to show you how serious we are when it comes to keeping our shiners healthy, happy and lively.

As I stated earlier, you can avoid most of this by not buying too many shiners to start with. Use them up, give them away, or dispose of them before going back to your hotel or camp. You must at least rinse your bait tank out thoroughly, wipe it down removing all the scales and then refill with fresh water and add chemicals for the next day.

Taking it Serious

I know guys that bring large bait tanks, either built on trailers or in the back of a pick-up truck. They’re rigged with aerator systems that run off of their own deep cycle batteries. They’ll stop along the way and buy 60 to 100 dozen or more shiners depending on how long they intend on staying and how many are in their party. This way they avoid the hassles of getting up in the wee hours of the morning to set in line waiting for the bait house to open. These guys take their shiner fishing serious. Some have even bought or built houses here because they make this trip about 4 or 5 times a year.


Most of you reading this will not be going to the extreme that these guys do but the one thing you must take away form this is how fragile fishing with live natural bait is. These are not minnows you can keep in a bucket hung over the side of the boat. These critters can be as large as the crappie or bluegill you catch and eat back home. So prepare you’re bait tank or livewell ahead of time making sure it’s in good working order and clean before you leave home. As long as you have good lively shiners, you’ll catch fish.

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