“How do I keep my minnows alive longer?”

“How do I keep my minnows alive longer?”

One of the most common questions we get at the shop is “How do I keep my minnows alive longer?”

To best address minnows, it varies by the time of the year, but let’s first cover the basics, and then we will move to the most common mistakes, and finally, best practices.  

Fathead “Tuffy” Minnows

The temperature of our minnow tanks is chilled to 50 degrees consistently.  This tends to be the ideal temperature for longevity of the minnows. The colder water also holds more oxygen.  

-Our species of minnows tend to spawn about 6-7 times from spring to fall.  

-The larger fathead minnows tend to be more temperature sensitive than the smaller minnows as they are closer to sexual maturity.  When the water temperature reaches 55 degrees, the larger minnows will attempt to spawn and typically will die as a result from the spawning process.    

Common mistakes:

-Using a “Flow Troll” or Metal Two Tier Minnow Bucket

-The biggest mistake that is made that drive the life of the minnows down, is to throw them in the lake water.  The water temperature of almost all lakes in shallow water is well over 65 degrees at the surface by early May (especially if fishing from shore).  Whereas this may work well in October, February, and maybe March, by April in most places you are doing more harm than good by putting them in the water, and by May, it’s a death sentence for most minnows.  This means you are reducing the amount of oxygen significantly by increasing the water temperature in the bucket. On top of that, you are immediately forcing the minnows to adjust to temperature and varying levels of oxygen, ammonia, and other parameters that vary from the water that was in your bucket.  


The reason we suggest against the Flow Troll style buckets is they typically hold less water and also leave quite the mess if you are traveling with it in the car.  The only benefit to using them would to be if you were using them in the colder months. The metal buckets do not have the mess, but heat up exponentially faster than even a basic plastic bucket, and are truthfully designed to be placed in the water.

“FlowTroll” style bucket
Metal Two Piece Minnow Bucket

-Using a non-insulated bucket (Metal, Clear Plastic)

-The next biggest mistake that is made with minnow care is by using the wrong type of bucket.  A non-insulated bucket will not hold the colder water nearly as long as the styrofoam or styrofoam lined buckets.  On top of that, most metal or clear plastic buckets often magnify the heat and warm up the water inside considerably faster, leading to less oxygen and higher water temperatures.  

-Forcing too many minnows into smaller buckets

-Most of the smaller 4qt buckets are designed around holding 5 dozen minnows or less with the gallon buckets designed to hold 8 dozen at maximum capacity.  Keep in mind that capacity is reduced significantly without an aerator and warmer water.

-Changing the water

-Minnows can be held in a buckets for as long as a month as long as the water is kept cold and you keep air in the water.  If you feel its absolutely necessary to change the water, do it gradually. Try to match the temperature of the water to the best of your ability and then gradually recool it or use a frozen bottle of water to hold the temperature more consistently.  

Best Practices:

Use an Aerator

-Aerators are small boxes that are used to pump oxygen into the water, increasing the oxygen level in the water, thus keeping your minnows alive longer.  As long as the water is kept cold, minnows can be kept alive. Keep in mind when you buy an aerator, you want to buy the best one you can afford. By buying a better aerator, you will get better battery life in the batteries you are using.  It’s must cheaper to spend more initially on the aerator than to keep buying more batteries over time. Also, check to see if your aerator can run on only one battery when your minnow capacity is low, this will help save you money on batteries as well.  

-Use insulated buckets

-Insulated buckets hold a more consistent temperature and will make your bait live longer and hold better than non insulated buckets.  They also help prevent the “bucket warm ups” that you experience with metal and non insulated buckets.

A Frabill Insulated Bucket (Model 4822)

-Keep them COLD!

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR MINNOWS IS TO KEEP THEM COLD.  The most cost effective way to do this is to freeze bottles of water the night before you fish.  Put a bottle in when you pick up your bait and then when the bottle is completely thawed, replace it with a frozen one, and repeat.  If you have minnows left at the end of the day, keep them in the basement or somewhere cool, and do your best to keep them cold. If you decide to use regular ice, go slow.  Add a handful every 10-15 minutes until you reach the desired temperature. 50-55 degree water is typically not freezing, but will feel uncomfortable to leave your hand in it for a few minutes.    If you cannot ice them, keep them in the shade or in a cooler or anywhere away from the sun.

If you follow these tips, your minnows will stay alive much longer and it will help you save money over the course of your fishing season!  

Tight lines!  

-Tall Tales

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