How To Keep Leeches Alive for Fishing

A couple of leeches on a hand

Leeches are one of the most well-known baits for catfish but how exactly should they be kept alive?

The best advice for keeping leeches alive is to store them in a fridge. Because leeches are so hardy they will survive for a long time without the need for much food, you just have to know how to store them and what type of water to use.

Keeping Leeches in a Fridge

Using a fridge is a great way to regulate the temperature in order to keep your leeches alive for as long as possible.

There are a few key points you need to follow in order to get the leeches set up correctly in your fridge.

Make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 56 degrees Fahrenheit

If the temperature exceeds this level you’ll find that a lot of your leeches won’t survive, so this is a crucial thing to take care of.

This also applies to when you actually go fishing – you need to always keep your leeches cool if you want them to survive. The ideal temperature range is between 41 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t use tap water

Tap water contains chemicals that create an unsuitable environment for your leeches to survive for the long term. You might hear other anglers not worrying about this point, but if you are looking for long term storage you need to use distilled water (preferably with specific leech salts added).

Change the water regularly

Leeches will begin to build up ammonia if they are stored for a certain period of time, which is a natural self-defence mechanism. The problem here is that this build-up of ammonia will eventually kill the leeches if the water is not changed.

We recommend changing the water every 1 to 2 days to ensure no build-up of ammonia occurs. This regular maintenance of clean water will also keep their waste levels down over the long term.

Make Sure to Use a Lid

Leeches love to climb around as much as they can, so make sure you have a lid that they can climb just above the water level. This isn’t crucial to their survival like the other points, but it does help.

Add Some Stones or Gravel

If you add a small layer of stones, rocks or gravel to the bottom of the container your leeches will benefit greatly. This layer will give the leeches somewhere to hide and has been shown to help them with cleaning and keeping the water clearer.

Keeping Leeches Alive Whilst Fishing

You probably understand by now that leeches need to be kept ideally between 41 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but how does this work when you’re actually out fishing? It’s all good knowing how to keep them alive at home, but don’t worry, we’ve researched the best tried and tested tips for keeping them alive during a fishing session.

Before we jump into the tips, you need to understand one important thing – some of your leeches will die when you take them fishing. This cannot be avoided as it is very difficult to maintain the temperature and water quality especially if you are staying somewhere for more than a day.

So, while these tips will help, always bring more leeches with you than you plan on using. Now that’s out of the way let’s take a look at some ideas that will help you.

Bring a Supply of Distilled Water

By bringing a supply of distilled water you’ll be able to change the water for the leeches if it starts to become cloudy or dirty. This becomes even more important during fishing because the chances are you aren’t being very cautious about keeping everything clean, so inevitably you might end up making the water dirtier than if it were sat in a refrigerator.

Use a Cool Box and Ice

Having a decent supply of ice or even cooled water makes all the difference on fishing trips. By adding ice or water from the cooler into the container of leeches you will be able to roughly maintain the temperature of the water so that the leeches can survive long enough to be used as bait during your fishing session.

You can also keep the container of leeches inside the cooler when transporting them to your fishing spot to keep the temperature down.

Keep the Container out of Sunlight

This is a no brainer, but nonetheless important to remember. Place the container either inside the cooler as mentioned before, or make sure to keep it out of the sunlight.

This is important not only to maintain the temperature at a cool level but also because leeches generally don’t like sunlight at all and prefer dark environments.

Portable Refrigerator

A portable refrigerator can be an excellent alternative to a cooler if you are willing to pay the money.

There are quite a few small refrigerators that can plug directly into your car which will provide the most constant and ideal temperature conditions for your leeches whilst fishing.

What Type of Leech Should I Fish With?

Almost all leeches for sale are classified by size unless you’re looking into medical leeches.

Thankfully for fishing just about any leech will do, so just buy any size and give them a go. There are some companies that supply medical leeches specifically for fishing but this is seasonal and as such the supply varies a lot. Although these might be the ‘healthiest’ leeches you can buy, at least in terms of quality, they aren’t necessary for fishing.

Do Leeches Need to be Fed?

If you do end up buying medical leeches then these will survive for months without food if they have had a blood meal.

In general, though most leeches bought online do need some food, but not as much as you would expect. Always ask the supplier beforehand, but some good meals include beef liver and earthworms.

Final Thoughts

Keeping leeches alive for fishing might seem like a difficult task, but remember that they are incredibly hardy creatures that are built to survive. By making sure you regulate both the temperature and water cleanliness you’ll see some great progress in keeping your leeches alive for longer.

If you’re interested in unique fishing baits you should check out our article about keeping crickets alive for fishing, or even this one about the types of fish you can catch using mealworms.



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