Bait Tank - Water and Conditioning

What kind of Water is in your Bait Tank?
This article deals with the chemical makeup of bait tank water.
First : Get a good bait tank

Keep your your bait fish in a healthy environment where they can survive until you are ready to use them.
When starting up a new bait tank or adding a new supply of bait I would recommend daily tests until the tanks stabilize.
Shad do not like changes in their environment of any kind. Any change add stress to the fish and the larger and faster the changes, the greater the stress.
Acclimation of shad to their environment can take several days..
Testing your water can prevent a problem from killing all your bait.

Water Test Kits in Estimated Order of Importance

1. pH
2. Ammonia
3. Nitrite
4. Thermometer
5. Alkalinity
6. Salinity
7. Nitrate
8. Dissolved Oxygen
9. Chlorine
10. Hardness

You have to know the total amount of water in your tank. Over or under treatment with chemicals can be disastrous. Don't guess on quantities, measure them.

The Bad Stuff

Ammonia, NH3, is measured in parts per million (ppm), is the first measurement to determine the health of the bait.
The ideal measurement of Ammonia is zero.
When ammonia is dissolved in water, it is partially ionized depending upon the pH and temperature. The ionized ammonia is called Ammonium and is not toxic to the fish.
As the pH drops and the temperature decreases, the ionization and Ammonium increases which decreases the toxicity.
As a general guideline for a water temperature of 70°F., most bait would be expected to tolerate an Ammonia level of 1 ppm if the pH was 7.0, or even as high as 10.0 if the pH was 6.0.
At a pH of 8.0, just 0.1 ppm could be dangerous.

Test kits are available in two basic types.

Both read the total of Ammonia and Ammonium.
You must know the  temperature and pH, before the toxicity cannot be determined.

The Nessler method type test normally uses drops with a colormetric chart. The Nessler test detects both free Ammonia/Ammonium and also that chemically bound with anti-Ammonia chemical treatments (more about these later).

The Salicylate type test is a dual step, using liquid, pill or powder also with an associated color chart. It takes longer to perform and measures only the free Ammonia / Ammonium.

Since only the free Ammonia is harmful to the fish, the Nessler test can be misleading under certain conditions but provides additional information under others.

The recommended test kit should be able to detect 0-1 ppm of Ammonia particularly for tanks with normal pH levels above 7.0.
A wider range kit, 0 - 5 ppm, would also be useful, particularly for those tanks with a typical pH of under 7.0.
An Ammonia test kit is considered to be a requirement for all tank keepers.

When Ammonia is detected (assuming a pH of about 7.5):

Increase aeration to maximum.
Add supplemental air / oxygen if possible.
For an ammonia level of 0.1 ppm, conduct a 10% water change out.
 For a level of 1.0 ppm, conduct a 25% change out.


If the tap water has a higher pH than that of the pond, adding the replacement water may make the situation worse.
Chemically treat for twice the amount of Ammonia measured.
Consider transferring fish if the Ammonia level reaches 2.5 ppm.
Retest in 12 hours
Under Emergency conditions only, consider chemically lowering the pH one-half unit (but not below 6.0).

Effects of Ammonia:

Ammonia tends to block oxygen transfer from the gills to the blood and can cause both immediate and long term gill damage.
The mucous producing membranes can be destroyed, reducing both the external slime coat and damaging the internal intestinal surfaces.
Fish suffering from Ammonia poisoning usually appear sluggish, often at the surface as if gasping for air.

Source of Ammonia:

 Ammonia is a gas primarily released from the fish gills as a metabolic waste from protein breakdown, with some lesser secondary sources such as bacterial action on solid wastes and urea.

Control of Ammonia:

Ammonia is removed by bacterial action in a bio-converter and some is directly assimilated by the algae in the pond.
Nitrosonomas bacteria consume the Ammonia and produce Nitrites as a waste product.
Ammonia readings will increase following the addition of a large number of new bait to a tank or as the water temperature increases.
Fish activity increase faster following a temperature increase than the bacterial action does.

Treatment of Ammonia:

Chemical treatments to counteract Ammonia toxicity are available commercially under various trade names.
These treatments, most of which are based on Formaldehyde, form a chemical bond with the Ammonia that prevents it from being harmful to the fish.
They do not remove it from the tank.
A bio converter will actually remove ammonia.
Most of these products use a dosage of 50 ml per 100 gallons to chemically bind up to 1 ppm of Ammonia, be sure and check the manufacturer's directions before use.

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