5 Things: Keeping minnows alive in summer

August 16, 2021

We’ve all encountered the same scenario: buy minnows at the local bait shop, drive to the lake, open the minnow bucket, see a floating mass (or mess) of dead minnows. The hotter the weather, the worse this situation becomes.

How do I correct the dead-minnow syndrome? Here are 5 things that produce livelier minnows for a hot day of fishing in the summer:

  1. Invest in a quality minnow “bucket.” In this case, quality does not start at 20 bucks. Specialty bait coolers/tanks are available commercially. DIYers build their own complete with aerators and filters. Without a quality bait tank in the summer, more time will be spent caring for bait than time spent fishing.
  2. Maintain water quality, which does not mean simply adding volumes of ice. If #1 has been accomplished, the need to replace water can be kept to a minimum. Prep the water, preferably from a natural source in advance by running the filter and pump or get as much water as possible from the bait shop holding tank. As an alternative to natural sources, buy spring or distilled water. Only use tap as a last resort because of the chemicals added by local water systems.
  3. To continue #2, further develop your bait system with a thermometer. Maintaining a constant temperature (about 60-70 degrees) is a big part of keeping minnows alive. Add small quantities of ice regularly, again avoiding store-bought ice because of the chemicals. Freeze small bottles or zipped bags filled with spring or distilled water or some from a natural source and add just enough to maintain a constant temperature. Avoid dumping large quantities of ice, which “shocks” minnows.
  4. Consider commercial additives but use them sparingly. Minnows are delicate, much more so than crappie or other game fish. An old-school approach is adding hydrogen peroxide. Less is better. Use a medicine dispenser to measure tiny amounts, about 5-10 ml per gallon of water.
  5. Feed the minnows to keep them long-term. No food is necessary for a day trip or even overnight in the garage. After a couple of days in the bait tank, add only a few flakes of aquarium fish food. Too much will dirty up the tank and kill minnows. Some types of minnows are also gluttons and will literally eat themselves to death if too much food is available.

There’s a reason that many experienced anglers choose to use only lures in the summer. Minnows demand care, and the processes to keep them lively demand time, persistence, and money. Still, some days exist when crappie prefer a live minnow to an imitation, making all the effort worthwhile.