A Guide to Keep Anchovies Alive 101

I ran into a nice gentlemen last week at a pier who showed me his bucket of rock crabs. He was 3 shy of his limit and I was blown away since I have not seen anyone catch so many crabs since the late 80's. That 5 gallon bucket was filled to the rim. He was pulling in crab after crab with his crab snare. I asked him what secret bait he was using. He said fresh anchovies. I guess earlier in the day he had picked up live anchovies at J&P, but most of the fish had died in his 5 gallon bucket by the time he got to the pier. He asked for pointers on how to keep anchovies alive and I gave him a few suggestions. It was getting late in the day, but I tried to provide him with as much info as possible. Here is where this guide comes in for those of you who wants to know.

If you are an aquarium hobbyist like I am, you will know that some of the biggest killers of fish are the following:

1) An uncycled tank which leads to ammonia buildup that is extremely detrimental to the fish.

2) Lack of oxygen.

3) Wrong water temperatures.

A cycled fish tank is an established tank that has enough beneficial bacteria to convert harmful ammonia into the less harmful forms of nitrite and nitrate. For more information, search the internet for "The Nitrogen Cycle."

With a livewell, you have an uncycled tank, and there's going to be a lot of ammonia buildup. There are two ways I can think of to deal with the ammonia: water changes and adding a chemical like Seachem Prime. It is also very important to remove every single dead fish from your livewell because leaving dead fish in the water will contribute to the ammonia spike.

During transport of the live anchovies, you have to use another chemical called Foam Off. Anchovies have a lot of protein in their slime coat that causes the bubbler to create a lot of foam at the surface. Surface foam will reduce the gas exchange between water and air and less oxygen will be dissolved into the water. Foam Off prevents the surface from foaming up. You only need a few drops of this stuff. Another thing to point out is to remove as much scales as possible from the tank before transport. You want the water to be as clean as possible so that the anchovies have nothing to choke on. The way I get rid of the scales is to run a low GPH bilge pump and attach a filter sock to the outlet and it becomes a filter. Once the scales are gone, I remove the pump.

If you want the anchovies to last throughout the whole day, you have to get something insulated like a cooler. If you have a bucket of water lying around in the sun, stick your hand into the water after an hour and you'll see how fast the water got warm. If you insist on the 5 gallon bucket route, you're going to have to do continuous water changes throughout the whole day to keep the anchovies alive.

Just remember, the water capacity of the container will determine the amount of fish it can sustain. The more water you have, the more fish it can sustain. From my experience, I have a 14 gallon insulated livewell. I fill the water about 3/4 to lessen the weight during transport and I still get that small initial die off. From what I have seen, if you have a 20 gallon cooler or livewell, you should have minimal casualties.

My ideal thrift setup would be to use an 80 quart cooler. The only problem with coolers is that it is not oval or round which often leads to the anchovies running into the walls and getting red noses. To combat this problem, get some flexible cutting boards and silicone them to the corners to round it off. Remove the drain plug and install a new drain system that utilizes a ball valve for easier water changes. Add on a drain screen that will allow the fish scales to leave the tank.

I always get the compliment after 12 hours of fishing that my anchovies seem to be on steroids. This is why.

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Thank you for this helpful post, especially as I have had anchovies die on my quite quickly as well. Really appreciate the knowledge you are passing on on this board.

Red Fish

Active member
increased water capacity or basically, having less anchovies in your well the better. same thing as too many goldfish in an aquarium
Alan, I like to put 1 goldfish per 10 gallons of water. I recently had a die off of some goldfish I had for 6 years. I didn't cycle my tank on schedule and I built up enough ammonia to kill a couple. However, the largest fish, Goldy "The Legend" survived as he has the strongest immune system. He is 9 years old now. I rescued him from my nephew's tank when he was dying when my nephew was 7. My nephew is 16 now. Goldy actually learned to come to the surface to feed. Which many goldfish do not because they can suck in too much air at the surface while feeding. I am cycling my tank regularly once a week now even if the water appears clear. Another fish was near death when the others were dying but I brought it brought it back from the dead. It swims faster than I did before which really makes me wonder about that "That doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."