How Long do Minnows Live in a Bucket? (Should You Feed Them?)

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If you are an enthusiastic fisherman and use Minnows as live bait, you have probably had the misfortune of having them die on you too quickly. Do not worry; this is a problem that many new and experienced fishermen face at one point or another.

Minnows tend to die far too easily when it is hot and let’s face it, it is the heat that makes us want to grab our fishing rods and head out for the day, is not it? Most fishermen want their live bait to be…well, live.

Are your Minnows dying too soon and is there something that you can do to make them last a little longer when you head out for a fishing weekend?

How long do Minnows live in a bucket and should you feed them? Minnows can typically live in a bucket for 24 to 72 hours if the conditions are ideal. Ideal conditions include:

  • Feed the fish a small amount daily
  • Use an aerator to incorporate more oxygen into the water
  • Avoid overcrowding the bucket
  • Keep the water in the bucket cool at all times
  • Do partial water changes every each day
minnows in a bucket

Some would say that providing the ideal conditions for a Minnow to live in ensures that it lives a little longer. Of course, there are reasons why the above conditions are considered ideal and I would love to share those with you.

A Minnow is a baitfish that is popularly used for catching a variety of fish including; brown trout, crappie, muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, bluegill, and bass. In some instances, Minnows are also kept in captivity as pets, but for the sake of this article, we are focusing on Minnows used as baitfish.

It is interesting to note that the smaller variety of Minnows kept in captivity live for around 3 years while the large ones live for around 7 years.

That being said, it is obvious that stress and living conditions are what cause such a short lifespan for a Minnow kept in a bucket.

How to Keep Minnows Alive in a Bucket for up to 72 Hours

If you are looking for more advice and guidance on keeping Minnows alive for longer, especially when using them as live bait, read on.

Below I cover a few reasons why each of these conditions is required for keeping Minnows alive so that you can enjoy a more rewarding fishing experience on your next trip. 

Below are a few conditions you must provide for Minnows living in a bucket, to keep them alive for longer; my recommendations at least.

Feed the fish a small amount of food daily.

It is important to note that Minnows generally eat very little. Most will not eat every day and usually settle into a pattern of eating only every 2 to 3 days. When keeping these fish as live bait, you need to keep them comfortable for the duration of your fishing trip and you must understand that there is a natural increase in the competition for food and survival.

As such, feeding these fish a very small amount each day will help to keep them healthy and alive. In the wild, these fish eat small insects and bugs, and algae. You might not have any of these on hand, so a small pinch of fish food should be enough to keep them satisfied each day.

Use of an aerator to incorporate more oxygen in the water.

Some newbies to the fishing world often just toss a handful of Minnows in a bucket, fill it up with water, and hope for the best. The problem with this is that Minnows tend to die when exposed to that sort of environment. If the water is undisturbed, the oxygen within the water will be used up fairly quickly.

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That is why the use of an aerator is highly recommended. By using an aerator, you can cause disruption on the water’s surface to incorporate more oxygen into the bucket.

The aerator, which causes the water to bubble, also helps to keep the water cool, which is essential when keeping Minnows in a bucket. This will ensure that your Minnows stay alive for longer.

Avoid overcrowding the bucket.

As you can imagine, the amount of oxygen in a bucket of water is limited. The more fish you have in one bucket, the quicker the oxygen resources will be used up. When the oxygen is depleted, fish will start to die.

By ensuring that you have the ideal amount of water and the number of fish in a certain size bucket is essential. You can comfortably keep 2 dozen Minnows in a 3-gallon bucket of water.

Avoid trying to keep any more than that. Some resources online state that the general rule of thumb is to keep no more than 12 to 24 small to medium-sized fish in a gallon of water.

Keep the water cool at all times.

If you have spoken to other fishermen before, they have probably advised you to keep the Minnow bucket out of direct sunlight and to keep the water cool. How else can you keep the water cool?

Some fishermen put some ice into the water or freeze a few plastic containers of water and let them bob around in the bucket with the Minnows.

It is also a good idea to cover the top of the bucket with a rag to protect the fish from direct exposure to sunlight. While you are traveling, keep the bucket upfront with you with the air conditioner on its coldest setting. The cooler you keep the Minnows, the longer they will live.

Generally speaking, Minnows require low temperatures in order to survive. Tropical Minnows do best at temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas temperate climate Minnows do best at 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do partial water changes every day to keep the ammonia levels low.

The waste build-up is a serious problem when it comes to keeping Minnows in a bucket. When fish are kept in small amounts of water for several hours, it causes ammonia builds up quite quickly.

Changing the water every day can be problematic as it can cause temperature shock and lead to death. What you need to do is carry out a partial water change each day. A partial water change puts less stress on the fish and minimizes sudden changes to the environment.

This means that you scoop out half of the water and fill it up again with fresh, clean water. This oxygenates the water, removes a large portion of the ammonia, and also eliminates solid wastes from the bucket living space.

What Are Minnows | Which Minnows Are Used as Baitfish?

If you are going to use Minnows as baitfish, you might need to know what you are using. Is a Minnow a type of fish or just a word people use to describe any small fish? That’s when I noticed that some fishermen seemed to be confused.

It turns out that my idea of a Minnow and another fisherman’s idea of a Minnow could be two very different things. It is important to note that some fisherman uses the word “Minnow” to describe small fish that are used as baitfish.

In reality, a Minnow is actually part of a 250-species family of fish that are most common in North America. The most commonly used Minnows for baitfish are suckers, chubs, shiners, and fatheads. The effectiveness of using Minnows as baitfish depends on how long you can keep them alive and of course, how you hook them.


While most Minnows live between 24 and 72 hours in a bucket, you can ensure a longer lifespan by keeping overcrowding to a minimum and ensuring that the water conditions are fresh and cool.

If you are using Minnows as baitfish and want to keep them alive for longer in your bait bucket, make use of an aerator and focus on making the living environment comfortable for them. Here’s to a good catch with fresh live bait on your next fishing trip!

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