When you’re fishing with live bait, you’ll have a tough time keeping your bait alive for long without some type of bait well. Portable bait live wells and tanks create a healthy environment that can keep bait fish alive for hours or even days – ensuring you’ll have a steady supply of lively bait at your fingertips!
No matter what sized bait live well you’re talking about, the key to keeping bait alive and well is the aerator. This component circulates and oxygenates the water – providing a steady supply of clean, cool, and oxygen-rich water, which helps keep bait fish alive and lively.
Bait live wells and tanks come in many shapes and sizes, depending on their intended use case. I’ll break down some of the best portable livewell tanks for different boats, as well as how to pick the right one for your needs.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Bait Wells, Tanks, & Coolers
- Best Portable Bait Well: ENGEL Insulated Portable Bait Live Well
- Best for Large Boats: Moeller Marine Products Livewell
- Kayak Bait Well: Grneric Foldable Bait Live Well
- Budget Pick: Frabill Personal Bait Station
- Aeration System: SS212 Marine Metal Aeration System
Portable Livewell Tanks – Types
Portable livewell tanks differ significantly in terms of design and functionality.
Larger fishing boats that fish live bait frequently often use fixed bait tanks mounted to the deck. Smaller vessels that only fish with live bait occasionally can use smaller portable tanks about the size of a medium cooler.
Portable Bait Coolers
Portable bait live wells are great for smaller craft like canoes, kayaks, and Jon boats. They also work well for larger craft that aren’t used for live bait fishing frequently.
Many of these units utilize a simple and straightforward cooler based design. They’re basically watertight coolers with integrated aerators hooked up to them. The aerators typically run on small batteries or power adapters.
These wells are highly portable, so you can easily swap one out between different boats. Many also double as fishing coolers for general use when you’re not storing live bait inside them.
Fixed Bait Live Wells
Fixed bait and live wells are larger tanks permanently mounted to the deck of larger boats. They’re normally made from durable rotomolded plastic and typically feature circle or oval-shaped tanks to prevent fish from bumping into the corners.
These wells provide a higher degree of water purification than simple aerator tanks. Integrated 12-volt circulators provide a steady supply of freshwater, which reduces ammonia and waste buildup which can cause fish to act sluggish.
Tournament anglers often use these wells in conjunction with culling systems for keeping fish alive during a competition.
Best Portable Bait Well: ENGEL Portable Insulated Live Bait Well
The Engel 19-quart portable live bait well is one of the best on the market, so we decided to give it the highest spot on the list. This well leaves little to be desired since it comes with a highly modern design, great features, and even better capabilities.
For example, this well has a pull net, which you don’t find on most wells. The unique design will allow you to easily get hold of the live bait you put inside it. Also, the new and improved position of the air tube port will give you more storage space to put all your bait in.
Thanks to the Gen2 air pump with two speeds, the bait can stay in the box for hours without suffering damage since it will be completely protected from the elements. For those taking overnight fishing trips, remember that you can always use the cigarette lighter in your boat or car to keep the bait live well plugged in overnight and your bait safe and sound.
The dimensions of this live bait well are suitable for most boats, and it is available in several colors, all for an affordable price compared to competitor live wells. So, do not hesitate to give this portable bait live well a try!
- Improved insulation keeps the live well icy for long periods.
- There is a handle and shoulder strap on this live well to make transport more convenient.
- A 2-speed pump enables the live well to be more durable.
- Improved pull net included in the live well.
- Extended 5-year warranty on the whole unit, except the pump.
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Best for Large Boats: Moeller Marine Products Livewell
This portable bait live well from Moeller Marine is ideal for larger craft needing effective live bait storage. The thick-walled, heavy-duty construction means you’ll never need to worry about accidental damage, while the built-in drain plug ensures quick and easy drainage and cleaning.
The tank comes in four different sizes (23, 26, 29, and 40 gallons), so you can easily find the right-sized unit for your vessel. Each well features molded-in deck fasteners for secure mounting.
The oval-shaped bait live well ensures fish can swim completely unobstructed, and won’t hurt themselves by swimming into the walls. This shape also makes it easier to fit onto most decks than a round-shaped tank.
A 1” diameter plug comes included for the drainage hole on the bottom of the tank, making drainage quick and easy. Keep in mind that the bait live well doesn’t come with a built-in aerator, so you’ll need to purchase that separately before you can start using the tank with live bait.
- Available sizes: 23, 26, 29, & 40 gallons
- Heavy-duty, large capacity tank
- Oval shaped design takes up less deck space
- Molded-in deck fasteners
- No aerator included
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Kayak Bait Well: Grneric Foldable Bait Live Well
Grneric might not be the most well-known company, but it has received quite a lot of praise for its great portable bait live well that you can use on any kayak. This is not to say that you cannot use it on some other types of boats, but its size and build make it perfect for kayaks.
The first thing you should know about this bait live well is that it comes at a much more affordable price when compared to other such live wells. However, the company compromised the quality of the live well by using less durable materials for the container. With that said, you should not let that turn you away from this live well – it is still great!
You can choose between three well sizes and several colors, but each one is foldable and great for transporting. Inside, you will find a pump that gives your live bait water while it is inside. Considering the container is made from water-resistant material, you do not have to fear leaks. If you find your live well leaking, the company will give you your money back – guaranteed!
- A breathable mesh opening allows the live bait to breathe while staying in the live well.
- Ergonomic handle allows you to transport the live well easily.
- The size and shape make this bait live well perfect for any kayak or similar small boat.
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Kayak Bait Well: Grneric Fishing Bucket
If you’re an avid angler, you know the importance of good portable livewell tanks when fishing from a kayak. The Grneric Fishing Bucket is the perfect choice for that purpose. Its lightweight and flexible design make it easy to transport on and off your kayak, while also fitting securely into tight spaces.
This multi-purpose bucket will keep your bait fresh throughout the day and can double as a livewell in an emergency situation. It also comes in multiple colors so there’s something to meet everyone’s needs and tastes.
The zippered net lid makes it easy to transport your catches safely, without worrying about them slipping away.
These easy-to-carry portable livewell tanks have an ergonomically designed handle, making them simple to transport. Whether you’re on a river or lake, the Grneric Fishing Bucket will come in handy. You can even pop an oxygen pump into one of its side pockets and keep fish or shrimp alive longer!
This fist bait bucket is made from waterproof EVA, keeping your livewell tank sealed tight. This handy bucket is also water-resistant and impact-resistant – now that’s what I call a tough catch!
- A lightweight and flexible design that is easy to move and can fit into tight spaces.
- Available in three different capacities: 23L, 30L, and 38L
- This portable live well tank is offered in various colors to suit personal preferences.
- It comes equipped with a zippered net lid for the safe transport of catches.
- It is constructed from waterproof EVA material, ensuring the live well tank is sealed tight, and also water and impact resistant.
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Budget Pick: Frabill Personal Bait Station
If you’re looking for a portable bait live well and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, the Frabill personal bait station is an excellent option. At just 8 quarts it’s small enough to fit nearly anywhere, making it a great option for kayaks, canoes, and other small craft.
Durable insulation ensures your bait fish will stay cool in hotter weather, while a lift-out net liner allows you to easily access whatever bait you’ve got in the cooler. The unit’s powered by 2 D-cell batteries, and is whisper quiet while the aerator is running.
The lid latch with closure seals the lid securely, but it’s not completely watertight so a small amount of water can seep out if you fill the water level too high.
While it may not have all the bells and whistles of more expensive bait live wells, it gets the job done, and is a massive improvement over a cheap styrofoam or 5-gallon bucket.
- Dimensions: 12” x 8” x 7.5”
- 8-quart capacity
- Durable insulation keeps fish fresh and cool
- Whisper quiet aerator operation
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Aeration System: SS212 Marine Metal Aeration System
While it’s not a complete bait live well, this aeration system from Marine Metal can turn nearly any cooler or tank into a complete bait live well. It uses a suction cup mount to attach and will fit both round and oval-shaped bait live wells. Assembly and installation are simple and straightforward – with an easy-to-read installation manual included.
The unit can be powered with any 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery, so you can run it from the same battery as your trolling motor. The pump can be mounted either inside a bait live well or to the outer hull for pumping in freshwater.You can use the pump both in freshwater and saltwater environments, and it can be used to fill, empty, or aerate any bait well. If you’re looking to make your own DIY bait live well, you’ll have a tough time beating the design and functionality of this aerator pump.
- Aerator pump with suction cup mount can turn any cooler into a live well
- Easy installation with detailed instruction manual
- Can be powered with any 12V deep cycle battery
- Safe for both freshwater and saltwater
- Fill, empties, and aerates
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How to pick the right portable livewell tanks
With a wide variety of bait live well sizes, designs, and price points, picking the right one for your vessel can seem like a challenge. Let’s take a look at some of the features to consider when choosing a bait tank.
Permanent vs Portable Livewell Tanks
The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want a permanent deck mounted live well or a compact portable model.
Permanent bait live wells can be installed with thru-hull pumps to supply fresh water, or with outboard pumps. Either way, they will circulate the water, providing a steady supply of clean water to the tank – while eliminating ammonia and waste buildup.
Portable livewell tanks usually don’t feature fully circulating pumps, rather they simply aerate the water contained in the well. However, there are exceptions to this (see the Wilderness Systems Thrive above). These models can keep bait like blue runner, pinfish and ballyhoo alive for several days if used correctly, so don’t think you need a permanent well to get the job done.
The available size on your vessel will largely dictate what size bait live well you can hold.
Also consider the size and quantity of bait fish you plan on taking with you. If you plan to use the tank as a livewell for larger fish like bass or walleye, then you’ll need to make sure it has enough volume to keep them alive and vital.
Maintaining and Caring for Your Portable Livewell Tanks
Maintaining and caring for your portable livewell tanks is crucial to ensure they function properly and last for a long time. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep it clean: Regularly cleaning your portable livewell tanks is important to prevent the buildup of algae, bacteria, and other harmful organisms. Use a mild detergent and warm water to clean the tank, and be sure to rinse it thoroughly.
- Check for leaks: Before using your portable livewell tanks, inspect it for any cracks or leaks that might have developed. If you find any, repair or replace the tank immediately to prevent fish or bait from escaping.
- Monitor the water temperature: Fish and bait require a specific range of water temperatures to stay alive, so it is important to monitor the temperature of the water in your portable livewell tanks.
- Keep the water oxygenated: Fish and bait need oxygen to survive, so it’s important to ensure that the water in your portable livewell tanks is well-oxygenated. You can use an aeration system or an oxygen pump to increase the oxygen levels in the water.
- Drain and dry: After each use, drain the water out of your portable livewell tanks and dry it completely. This will prevent any bacteria or mold from growing inside the tank.
- Store it properly: When not in use, store your portable livewell tanks in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent any damage.
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