The simplest and oldest method of keeping fish alive till cleaning is a fish stringer. Any heavy duty string or light rope can be used for this purpose. As you can imagine the same gill plates and fins that can stick and/or cut your hand can damage this string or rope, so various methods have been used to make this less likely to occur with ones that are commercially available.
Advantages of this simple rope method include they are small in size so that they are easily carried about and they are easily adaptable to a variety of fishing environments from shoreline fishing, to canoe or small boat fishing to fly fishing for trout.
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Still easy to carry, but with these metal loops feature a snap lock that will secure fish on the stringer. These are generally made from a steel cable or steel chain for durability. Shown above is a steel cable coated with plastic and below is a stringer full of fish made with metal chain. Each lockable hook passes through the gill and out the mouth similar to the stringer above. Each fish has its own hook unlike the rope stringer above where all fish are next to each other before the end is passed through the ring to hold them all in place.
Keeping one on hand along with a working live well can be very helpful in your quest to fill your freezer with fresh tasting fish. What will you do with your fish from the time you catch them until you clean them? You have two basic choices - put them on ice, or keep them alive via a stringer or live well.
A very simple non electric live well container is a floating fish basket. These are wire mess baskets which floating lid and have a spring loaded lid-opening through which you place your caught fish. Using a floating fish basket will require you to place the basket into the water tied to the boat or dock with a rope. Every time that you move your boat the fish basket will need to be placed into the boat. Shown below is the Eagle Claw 19" x 30" wire fish basket. These are very popular.
A more traditional live well on a boat is a container into which is pumped aerated fresh water. Caught fish are placed into this container enabling you to keep your fish alive until cleaning. The batterey powered water pump both aerates and recycles fresh lake water into that container. Live wells have a way for this water to drain back into the lake when full so that the water will not spill into your boat.
A live well can be made from a cooler that you might pick up at a garage sale. You can buy all the parts to make your own live well at many fishing departments. Every couple hours you would need to use a small bucket or container to toss out some soiled water and replace with fresh lake water. This is a simple process, but you will have to think through making it so you can actually pump fresh water into the container and then allow it to drain.
Make Your Own Live Well
Shown above is a Johnson Live Well Kit, click on the picture to read about it. You can buy kits like this, or you can by the individual parts with stronger pumps. You can get very elaborate and connect these to the outside of your boat to draw in fresh lake water, but would also have to allow for an overflow vent if you chose to make it this way. Or, you can simply make the pump aerate the water by recirculating it and regularly empty a gallon or so of the water and replace it with fresh lake water. The more fish you have and the larger the fish the more you will have to do this.
Built In Live Wells
The most convenient Live Well is the one that comes built into many boats. These come with all of the features mentioned above built into the live well system. Some boats even have built into this system a Bait Well container so that you can keep minnows alive at the same time circulating water through the bait well into the larger live well. Many live wells have timing switches to run automatically on a regular basis. Live Well Information