A poorly designed livewell in a boat may well account for the death of more fish than those that pass away in the fishbox. How many times have you tossed baits that went belly-up? And each and every one of those morbid minnow represents a potential catch, a missed opportunity.

Of course, it can be difficult to eyeball a livewell and determine just how well it’ll work at keeping those finned critters kicking. The next time you’re shopping around, remember to look for these key factors.

livewell full of bait

Just how much live bait can you haul, and how long will it live? That all depends on your livewell - or livewells.

1. Rounded Corners – Square corners are the kiss of death for countless baits. They get caught swimming into the corner, smash their heads against the fiberglass, and may never make their way out of it. A livewell with rounded corners and an oval shape, however, keeps the fish swimming in orderly circles.

2. Gobs of Volume and Water Flow – If a livewell doesn't have enough water and sufficient flow, your baits will die off in no time. More volume and bigger pumps are almost always better (though you don’t want to blast the poor fish so hard they can’t swim against the current, either), and pump-sharing arrangements with washdowns should be considered sub-par. Not only do they tend to have a relatively low flow, they also leave you with no back-up in case the livewell pump fails. (Plan B is normally to drop the washdown hose into the livewell, to maintain water flow).

3. An Overflow Drain – Some livewells have an overflow drain, but others have a stand-pipe. The problem with most stand-pipe arrangements is that the stand-pipe can shake free in rough seas, or get knocked out of kilter by a careless angler. Then the livewell drains out through the bottom, and you can kiss your baits good-bye.

4. Full Column Water Inlet – Livewells with a single water inlet may have “dead spots”. They sometimes circulate water in one level of the livewell, while the water goes stale in another. The solution is multiple inlets, which enter the livewell at different levels.

5. Color Me Blue – Scientific study has shown that baitfish actually react to the colors and light levels of their environment, and stark white gel-coated livewells can cause them to panic, and dart into the walls. A baby-blue color is much more calming, and will keep them in better shape.

Bonus Factor: Livewell hatches need to be gasketed, guttered, and dog down tightly. This isn't for the bait’s welfare, it’s for you and your passengers—without any of these features, water will commonly spill out and soak down anyone standing aft of the well.