Have you tried to keep minnows alive at home for another fishing trip and ended up with a bucket of dead fish? Everybody assumes that the oxygen level must have gotten too low and that’s why their fish died but there are six big reasons why minnows die in your bucket at home.
Minnows tend to die from one of six things, minimize these and you can keep minnows for months if needed. These six things include oxygen depletion and stress water pollution, starvation, chlorine, and disease. Most of these are totally under your control.
Six big reasons why minnows die in your bucket at home
Minnows need to breathe. The easiest way to provide oxygen is to use an aquarium air pump. You can also keep a small jug and lid nearby to shake water and dump it back into the minnow container.
The water in this tub has about 4.9 milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen. Anything over three is plenty for fat head minnows.
But when I fill a plastic jug about three-quarters of the way and shake it, the oxygen level increases to over nine parts per million. If you don’t have electricity near your minnows or a pump this is another easy option.
Remember that any strong aerator will cause circulation in the tank and minnow should always have shelter from the circulation so they don’t get exhausted from constantly battling the current.
You can see that the tub is being aerated with an aquarium pump and the dissolved oxygen level is over nine milligrams per liter. This is plenty of oxygen to keep minnows happy and there are also objects in the tank for the minnows to hide behind.
This can be from a variety of factors. It’s best to keep minnows in a large opaque container with a bunch of objects for shelter. This could be rocks, artificial plants, sticks, plastic toys, whatever, just something for the minnows to hide by.
Make the minnows feel safe and they will be far less stressed. They need a safe place to seek shelter if they get scared.
Your minnows should be pumping their gills slowly and evenly. Fast gill pumping is a sign that they are stressed.
The reason for the opaque container is that quick changes in light will stress them out. Flicking the lights on quickly causes them to dart to the nearest shelter.
If you don’t have objects in the tank for shelter the minnows will repeatedly dart around the container and slam into the walls. This damages their skin and slime coat and makes them more vulnerable to infections.
Tiny fish are also known to die simply from heart attacks when they get too stressed. Heavy aeration without a large container or objects in the tank creates a strong circulation that the minnows have to continuously battle.
It’s like running on a treadmill 24 7 without ever eating. Minnows will just die of stress and exhaustion and even if they don’t die they will have very little energy left to swim around once you put them on a hook.
3. Polluted Water
Excess food, minnow waste, and stress hormones are all harmful to your minnows. If you have any dead minnows remove them right away.
Many fish release chemical cues when they die that alert other fish of the same species that a predator is actively killing them. It stresses out the rest of the fish as they try to retreat to a safe location but if you have safe places for the fish to retreat to it won’t stress them out as much.
Like you minnows need to eat food from time to time. They should be fed every couple of days if the water is warm and once a week if the water is cold.
They do not need to eat much if the water is cold because their metabolism is very slow. Only add what they will eat in a few minutes.
Chlorine in your water. If you live in a city you probably have chlorine in your water. Vigorous aeration is one way to get the chlorine out quickly.
Chlorine irritates a fish’s gills and can kill them so it must be removed before you add fish to the water. You do not need to buy chlorine-neutralizing chemicals. They work but they are not necessary.
Simply aerating your water vigorously will quickly get the chlorine out of the water. Dumping water back and forth in buckets or dumping it from high above the container worked great for removing chlorine and aerating at the same time.
6. Disease or Injury
If any minnows are already diseased or injured it’s probably too late and you can’t save them. Minnows are under a huge amount of stress when they get packed into a truck from a fish farm and when they get dumped into a small tank of water at the bait store with 2000 of their closest friends.
Make sure to pick out any minnows that show signs of being diseased. This could include not being able to swim straight or stay upright or they may show external signs like cloudy or discolored eyes, fuzzy growths on their bodies, or raw muscle tissue where the skin has been damaged from an infection or an injury.
How to keep your minnows alive and happy at home
- To keep your minnows alive grab a large opaque container that holds at least 10 gallons of water.
- Dump the water into the container from buckets so the water gets mixed and aerated as you fill it. This will also help remove chlorine from the water if you have chlorinated water.
- Use your bucket to scoop some water out and dump it back in a few times. The more you do this the more oxygen you will add and the faster the chlorine will be removed.
- Pick out any dead or dying minnows from your bait bucket and dump out the old nasty water.
- The water probably contains a lot of fish waste and may contain diseases and other things that could harm your minnows. I recommend dumping the bucket through a small net to catch the minnows and allow the old water to pour into another bucket.
- Now you can transfer your minnows to the large tub of fresh water. Add some objects to the water.
- Rocks are great because they stay put on the bottom of the tub and provide holes to hide between the rocks. But the type of objects doesn’t really matter as long as they are heavy enough to stay put on the bottom.
- Use an aquarium pump with an air stone to continuously aerate the water. Remember that this causes circulation in the water so your fish will seek out objects to shelter them from the current.
- Aquarium pumps are pretty cheap and you won’t have to keep replacing batteries or find out that your pump died in the middle of the night and so did your minnows.
- Continuously pick out any minnows that die or look unhealthy. Look particularly for minnows with weird-looking eyes or strange spots or lumps on their bodies. These fish are unhealthy and could spread disease to others if they are not removed.
- Remember that some of your minnows were probably diseased when you bought them so don’t get discouraged if a few of them die.
- Put an opaque lid on the tank to keep it somewhat dark inside. Rapid changes in light will stress out your fish.
- Check on your minnows every day and remove any dead or dying fish.
- If you are keeping them for more than a few days feed them aquarium fish food like tropical flakes, pellets, blood worms, or shrimp.
- Keep in mind that they may be scared if you are standing right above the water. Walk away after you feed them and they will be more relaxed and more likely to eat.
If your minnows tend to die it’s probably from one of the six things I mentioned earlier. Give it another try and I think you’ll be able to keep them alive.
FAQs on how to keep minnows alive
How long can you keep minnows in a bucket?
If kept in a hygienic, well-oxygenated tank, minnows can go for weeks without meals.
Do minnows need cold water to grow and keep them alive?
Because they are sensitive, minnows prefer cooler water to grow in.
What temperature water do minnows need to keep them alive?
Raising bait minnows in small tanks requires water that is below 85 degrees.
Do you need to feed minnows to keep them alive?
Some minnows might only want to eat every two to three days, but you should try to feed them in little quantities twice a day for longevity.
What animal eats minnows?
Fish that consume minnows include largemouth bass, walleye, brown trout, and yellow perch. Raccoons, several birds, and turtles are examples of other creatures that consume minnows.
Are minnows top or bottom feeders?
It is preferable to give minnows both foods that float and those that sink because they feed on both the tank’s surface and bottom.
How long do minnows live in a tank?
A minnow’s lifespan is strongly influenced by its type and the environment it lives in. In a natural setting, like a pond, minnows like bluntnose and fathead can live for several years. Some minnow species have a lifespan of seven to ten years.