How to Keep Bait Fish Alive

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Live fishing bait is an effective way of catching a big fish. But what happens if your fishing bait cannot last for fishing hours? 

You can avoid disappointment if you know how to keep bait fish alive longer. This article shows you just how to do that.

how to keep bait fish alive
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How to Keep Bait Alive

Beyond having bait, it has to be alive and moving to attract your catch. A lifeless bait just hanging there is not the best for fishing. You need a lively and active bait to get the bigger fish.

Keeping your bait alive is not difficult if you know what to do. With the strategies we share in this article, you can keep your bait alive and ready to catch the big fish for as long as you need it.

The Challenge: Ammonia Build-up

The longer you leave the fish in the water, and they defecate and urinate in there, the faster ammonia content builds up. Heavy ammonia in water is not healthy for fish because it is highly acidic.

You might wonder what happens to fish in the water. Of course, fish defecate in the oceans and rivers, but the space in fresh water and saltwater is wide, so there is no high concentration of excrement and urine in a confined space like your container.

The Solution: Rid the Water of Ammonia with a Conditioner

A high concentration of ammonia in water ought not to be the end of your fish. You can use a conditioner to remove the ammonia and retain water balance. 

A liquid conditioner is easier to use. It effectively retains a comfortable and healthy water condition for your fish. It is available at online and offline pet stores.

How to Use It

The water conditioner comes in a small bottle that can last you for a reasonable time. Simply take out the cap and measure one of it into the water. The conditioner will mix with the water to balance the ph.

The Challenge: Insufficient Oxygen

The lack of dissolved oxygen can also cause baits to die. Having the bait confined to a container with stagnant water can make them run out of oxygen.

Once there is no plant to supply oxygen in the environment, the fish will suffocate. The presence of plants in natural habitats is what makes fishes thrive.

The Solution: Provide Oxygen with a Stone Bubbler

Ensuring adequate oxygen content in the baitwell water with a bubbler is an effective way to ensure your baits stay alive. Aerators are not difficult to find. You can get them both offline and online. 

A bubbler will fill the container with bubbles, thereby providing more oxygen for the fish to breathe.

How to Go About It

Get a large bubbler and put it in the water. As the stone bubbles, oxygen is released into the water. With a bubbler in the water and a consistent supply of oxygen, your bait can stay alive for days.

The Challenge: Unconducive Water Temperature

Extreme cold and hot weather is not conducive for your baitfish. When the sun is not out in the morning, it can be cold, which is good for bait fish.

However, when the sun is blazing hot in the afternoons, it can be hot.

After staying in cold water, dropping these fish in the ocean in the afternoon when it is hot can send them into hot water shock. Your fishes need cooler water.

The Solution: Regulate the Water Temperature with Water Bottles or Ice Packs

What the fishes need is water with the right water temperature for them. While cold water is good, it can get hot as the day goes on.

You do not have to maintain the cold temperature in the morning but ensure it does not get too hot for the fish.

Add ice or frozen water bottles to the container and remove them after some minutes to ensure that the water temperature is right for the fish and you maintain cooler water.

How to Go About It

Get cans of frozen water or ice packs. Drop some in the container, leave them for about 25 minutes, and then remove them. Do this process continually to maintain the temperature in the baitwell.

Maintaining the temperature will ensure that the fish do not go into temperature shock, whether hot or cold.

How Not to Handle Your Bait

You can keep your baitfish alive or not, depending on how you handle them. If you care for them, handle them carefully, and ensure they are always in a safe and clean environment, they can live for days.

Handling your fishes

What Not to Do: Handle your Bait Harshly

The moment you catch live bait, the fish experiences trauma. You should put the fish in a baitwell immediately. Keeping it out of water for long is stressful for it.

Handle the fish gently. If you hold it too hard, it can harm it internally and even lead to bleeding without you knowing.

Best practice: Handle with Care

Treat your bait with care to keep it alive. The kind of fishing equipment you use matters. Using a barbless hook will cause fewer injuries to the fish. It will also increase the fish’s chances of surviving for a long time.

Cleaning your Container

What Not to Do: Leave your Container Dirty

A dirty container is a toxic environment for fish. The water can be contaminated with the fish’s excrement, oil, grease, dirt from your hands, and so on.

The longer the water stays in a baitwell, bacteria can build up on the container’s wall.

Best Practice: Attend to your Container

Ensure that you wash them after each use to keep your bait tank healthy for the fish. Wash your hands before handling the fish, and keep the environment clean as much as possible.

It helps to keep the bait tank closed if you are not attending to fish or doing anything in there.


What Not to Do: Keep your Bait in an Overcrowded Environment

Having too many baits in a small container can lead to overcrowding. In an overcrowded environment, the baits cannot move. They will have less oxygen and cannot breathe well.

Also, they can poison themselves with their excreta and urine faster if the space is small, and then they have to share it with their wastes.

Best Practice: Attend to your Container

Ensure to get a large container with few baits to give room for movement and more dissolved oxygen consumption. Your baits need the right water flow, an ample supply of fresh water, and abundant oxygen to remain alive and active.

If you have more fish than a container can contain, get another container and keep some bait there.

Clarifying Questions on Handling Your Bait

Since this article is to guide you on how to keep your bait fish alive, it is essential to clarify some questions you might have regarding bait survival.

Some anglers and fishing enthusiasts have some questions bothering their minds when it comes to keeping bait alive. Here are some of them answered.

How long does bait live?

How long a bait fish lives, depends on the environment. If you put it in a thriving environment, it can stay alive for days.

If the fish is in a clean and uncontaminated bait bucket, with the right amount of oxygen, it can stay for days.

Why do baits die?

Baits die for many reasons, including injuries from being caught, less oxygen supply, suffocation, rough handling, etc. Paying attention to the simple tips explained in this article will ensure your bait does not die.


Having fishing bait that is alive and well is essential to the fishing process. A dead bait will do no good for you. Ensure that you supply fresh water to keep your bait alive.

They should also have enough oxygen consumption and be put in a spacious container. It also helps to keep the container clean always. Remember that fish stress is not the best way to go. 

Diana Nadim
Fishing Expert
Diana began fishing at the age of seven, as it has been a long-time family tradition. From catching small bullheads to catching strippers on the backwaters of Bighorn, she loves to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water. Her dad was an expert angler, and he taught her fishing along with her two siblings. They used to go to the Bighorn River in Montana and Henry’s fork, Idaho. As a pragmatic person, she is obsessed with creating well-researched and practical guides and reviews of the best fishing methods and gear.
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