How to make an on-ice livewell for perfect live releases


Ensure the livewell is big enough for the species you’re targeting

The hardwater season offers a great opportunity to harvest a fish or two when the water is icy cold, and the fish are extra tasty. However, not all anglers keep everything they catch, because some fish may not fall within the local regulation size, or they might be too small or too big for that perfect eater. Or, if you’re like me, you enjoy hunting for those trophy-sized fish that have earned the gift of live-release.

In general, most anglers understand the best practices for successful catch-and-release fishing: play the fish quickly, use single barbless hooks, leave deeply swallowed hooks in the fish and, most importantly, keep the fish in the water. When you land a fish, you want to handle it as little as possible, taking care not to squeeze it while keeping your fingers away from the gills. And always support your catch with two hands, particularly if it is a big fish.


That’s all great, but how do you practise some of those concepts when the water is frozen over? And how do you prevent a fish’s eyes and gills from freezing when exposed to bitter temperatures? The key is to keep your fish in the water by creating a livewell, which is super easy to make, and doesn’t require any extra equipment.

BONUS TIP: Do not create an ice-fishing livewell in areas with heavy foot and vehicular traffic, as they could prove to be a hazard until frozen over. Wherever you make a livewell, be sure to flag it at the end of the day with a natural marker, such as a cedar bough, to warn others of its presence.