TEXAS BOATING by Lenny Rudow

The Ideal Live Well

L ive wells are tricky little beasts; one design flaw can be ruinous.

Very few livewells out there have all the different features that add up to the ideal. For a live bait angler, this can be paramount. How can you tell if the livewell in a boat you’re looking at makes the grade? Let me count the ways:

1. Rounded Sides— This is of top importance. If you’ve ever seen fish in a square fishtank, you know they bang into the sides quite often. When they get frantic—as live baits in a livewell often do—they may bury their nose in a corner and smack against it until they go belly-up. So a livewell isn’t any good unless it’s either oval or rounded. This prevents the baits from bashing themselves up, particularly when the livewell also has…

2. Directed Flow— Serious livewells don’t have a single port or inlet, but a full-column inlet which blasts water into the livewell and creates a circular current from top to bottom. Working in tandem with the rounded shape we talked about a moment ago, this allows the baitfish, which naturally want to swim into the current, to swim in circles or “hover” in place. Having the top-to-bottom flow also eliminates “dead spots” in the livewell, which can form at the top or bottom if a single level inlet is used.

3. Lots of Flow— Baitwells with wimpy pumps don’t cut it, especially if you plan to keep a big school of delicate baits lively and energetic. How much flow is enough? That’s a hard call because it depends on the well’s volume. Generally speaking, however, you’ll want to see a 400 GPH pump only on the smallest livewells, at least a 1,000 GPH pump on a mid-sized well, and 2,000 GPH or more on a full-sized (40 gallons or more) livewell. 

In the case of multiple livewells each individual well should have its own dedicated pump. The best livewell systems also have a built-in back-up pump. In many cases (like that Mako) a pair of wells will each have its own pump, and a third pump is plumbed to serve as a backup for either-or in case one fails.

4. Volume— As a rule, more is better. It’s often advantageous, however, to have multiple individual wells as opposed to a single larger one. Say you plan to troll for kings in the morning, and cast for speckled trout in the afternoon. Having separate livewells allows you to load one up with cigar minnow for the kings, and load the other with shrimp for the trout.

Many smaller and/or freshwater-oriented boats address the situation with a livewell divider or a drop-in minnow bucket. Although this does allow you to keep baits separate and is better than nothing, it’s less than ideal if you need to carry a large amount of live bait.

5. Coloration— Livewell interiors should ideally be baby-blue insside. You may have noticed builders trending towards this coloration for the past few years. It’s for a good reason. Studies done at Mote Marine Laboratory, in conjunction with Florida boat-builder Pursuit, found that the bluish color more closely resembled the bait fish’s natural surroundings. As a result, it kept baits calmer. Scared, skittish baits tend to dart around and bang into the livewell walls (even rounded ones) so this feature is a lot more important than one might think.

6. Viewing Ports— Having a clear lid or a viewing port on the livewell allows you to constantly monitor your baits. Have you ever made a long run, then arrived at the fishing grounds to discover a well full of dead fish? I know I have, and being able to tell at a glance when something is going wrong can save the day.

7. Pressurization— Top-tier livewells, with hatches that dog down over a rubber seal, will actually pressurize when closed. This prevents excessive sloshing while underway. Particularly on rough, long-distance runs, this goes a long way towards keeping your baits healthy and happy.

8. Timers— These are mostly seen on freshwater boats, but they have a role to play in the saltwater environment, too. They allow you to eliminate the noise of a constantly-running pump. They are particularly helpful on small boats that have a single battery where conserving juice becomes a concern. In the long run, they also extend pump life since the pump doesn’t have to run continuously.

Along with this list of items to look for in a livewell, we also have to note some things to look out for. Make sure the hatch dogs down tightly and has some sort of seal or lip at the top. Otherwise water may slosh out and get your passenger wet. Or worse.

I once ran a boat with a livewell that had a heavy fiberglass lid that didn’t dog down. As we ran offshore, the lid swung up then slammed down. It was quite annoying. More important, when we arrived at the fishing grounds we discovered a bunch of half-baits in the back of the boat. Yes, half-baits. The flying lid had swung down and chopped the fish in half as they went sloshing out.

Stand-pipes are another item to avoid. Threaded ones aren’t terribly bad, but they do tend to get in the way when you’re trying to grab or net a bait. The stand pipes that wedge into the drain are far worse, because these may come free during runs through rough waters. Then the well drains, and your baits all die.

Finally, avoid pump-share arrangements like the plague. Often as a cost-cutting measure, a boat builder will install a single pump in the boat to feed both the raw water washdown and the livewell. This is bad for several reasons: the additional plumbing increases turbulence and reduces water flow; using both at once results in vastly insufficient water flow; and in the long run the pump gets over-worked and fails prematurely.

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Email Lenny Rudow at ContactUs@fishgame.com

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