Bait Tanks

Bait tanks can also be your livewells. Almost all boats nowadays come with some sort of aerators or recirculation system.

Imagine the excitement and anticipation. You just drove for hours from your home somewhere in cold country up north for your winter fishing trip in Sunny Florida to fish for that once in a life time trophy bass. Your bait tank is full of lively Florida Wild Golden Shiners. You idle out of the marina to the open water and hammer down. Look there's an eagle soaring over the lake looking for his breakfast while off to the right of the boat you catch a glimpse of a huge swirl created by an alligator you surprised. There is a group of boats off in the distance. This must be where their catching them. This will be the first place you mark on your GPS so you can find it later in the week. You idle up keeping a safe distance as to not intrude or disturb others fishing. Now all you have to do is anchor, bait up with a fresh shiner and toss a line out and wait for that first big bite. You open the bait tank and shock! All the shiners are dead. A large piece of your vacation money, about 75 bucks, just went belly up. It's happened to me and as a guide that cuts into my profit (buy more shiners, full day becomes a half day trip and probably no tip) not to mention my embarrassment and the confidence these guys just lost in me.

Bait Tanks

This is your most critical piece of equipment. In this section I will cover the important points of taking care of your system to help increase your ability of keeping your bait alive…$$$.


If you have a boat with the new recirculation livewell system, half the battle is won because your livewells can double as your bait tanks. There are two different methods used to accomplish this. The newer systems use a separate set of aerators that simply keep pumping the same water back into the livewell tank. Water is pulled from the drain and re-circulated through the spray tube to add oxygen. Some have even added a venturi valve that sucks air in from the atmosphere through a port mounted on the gunwale.

The older systems incorporated a three way valve instead of the two-way. A two-way valve, in the closed position, allows you to pump water in from the lake and trap it in the livewell. When the livewell becomes full, water drains through the overflow port. To drain the system you put the valve in the open position and the water escapes back through the valve and out the drain port located next to your bilge plug.

My system is an older type without a recirculation system. I replaced the old 2-way valves with new 3-ways that allows the aerator pump to act as a recirculator by not allowing water out of the system and instead sending it back to the livewell. It’s a simple upgrade for those who have the old system. The body of the 3-way valve is built exactly the same as the old 2-way so it is a simple job of swapping the two out.

Another modification I made to my system was to replace the old 500GPH aerators with 750Gph. Again, this is a simple modification by pulling the old pump out and installing the new one. You’re disconnecting two hoses and two wires and then reversing the process to install the new aerator. This gives the shiners in my bait tank a little more oxygen and adds a little insurance that I’ll have lively bait.

Make sure your drain port has some type of screen over it to keep the shiners scales from getting into your system. Some of the drain covers have a screen that has slotted holes instead of a screen. Scales can get through these slotted type covers. Replace it or modify it with a screen. If these scales get into the plumbing, they will burn up your aerator pump. Also if the scales are left to decay in your hosing it will cause bacteria to grow, which is deadly to shiners. Also if shiners can lie up against the drain port it will keep water from recirculating reducing the amount of oxygen in the water.

Also if you have a large overflow port, like mine, it needs to be plugged. Since you’re keeping the same cool treated re-circulated water in the bait tank all day, you don’t want to take the chance of letting it escape out the overflow. This can happen when your taking off, stopping, running in rough water or even when making tight turns. Another problem is small shiners going out the overflow. I have discovered them trapped in the overflow hose later from the odor…yuck!

Back up Aerator

Probably the most important piece of equipment you will have on board is you aerator pump. Always carry a portable aerator pump on board for could save the day. You can pick up a pump that either has a suction cup installation or sets in a styrofoam ring that floats on the surface. The leads will have a simple alligator clip hook-up that you'll need to stretch across the deck to the battery compartment. This is in case your main aerator pump goes out you'll have back-up.


On bait tanks/livewells with large lids it’s difficult to raise the lid to dip out a shiner without several of them jumping out of the box. A shiner can actually jump out of the livewell and clear the gunwale. I know because it has happened to me several times. It’s like watching a dollar bill you just dropped on a windy day go sailing across a parking lot…gone forever! The good side is that you have some lively bait but getting one out at a time can be a challenge. A couple of things you can do to stop this is stretch some sort of screening or net over the opening under the lid. The second trick is to get a flat piece of Styrofoam, like the side of an old cooler or packing material and float it on the surface. It has a similar affect as breaking a horse with a rearing problem. By cracking him between the ears, he’ll think there’s something over his head that hurts every time he tries it.

  • Dark livewells like black or charcoal gray make it very difficult to find your shiners. By painting at least the bottom with a white paint makes it easy to see all the shiners in your bait tank.
  • Oh yea, the most important tool you can have on board is your shiner dip net. We talked about having good lively bait. Catching a shiner in a large bait tank, especially when you get down to just a few, can be your most challenging angling feat of the day. These can be picked up, for a few bucks, any where they sell shiners.
  • Always carry extra fuses for all of your electronic devices. Not all fuses are interchangeable from one device to the next. Your depth finders usually have a 1 amp fuse while the bait tank/livewell aerator pumps and bilge pumps need a 2 to 3 amp.

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