When your fishing with live bait, you’ll have a tough time keeping your bait alive for long without some type of bait well. Bait tanks and wells create a healthy environment that can keep baitfish alive for hours or even days – ensuring you’ll have a steady supply of lively bait at your fingertips!
No matter what sized bait 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 wells and tanks come in many shapes and sizes, depending on their intended use case. I’ll break down some of the best bait wells 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 Live Bait Cooler
- Best for Large Boats: Moeller Marine Products Livewell
- Kayak Bait Well: Wilderness Systems Thrive Baitwell
- Budget Pick: Frabill Personal Bait Station
- Aeration System: SS212 Marine Metal Aeration System
Bait Well Types
Bait wells (often called live wells) 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 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 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 Live Bait Cooler
Rugged, well-made, and eye-catching, this portable bait cooler features has everything you need to keep your bait alive and kicking for days at a time. An airtight EVA gasket seal ensures the cooler seals completely – so nothing will get it or out unless you crack open the cooler.
The aeration hose enters through the cooler lid, preventing anything from spilling out of the cooler during transport. Two aerator settings allow you to adjust the level of aeration, as well as prolong the battery life. The cooler can be run on both 2 x D cell batteries or a car cigarette lighter.
Built-in netting gives you easy access to your minnows, shrimp, mullet and other bait. Simply lift up the net and your bait is right there for the taking. Transporting the cooler is easy with the built-in shoulder strap, while the aerator is one of the quietest on the market.
Available in four different sizes (7.5, 13, 19 and 30 quart), you can easily find the right sized cooler for your needs.
- Available sizes: 7.5, 13, 19 and 30 Quart
- Watertight gasket seal prevents leaking and spillage
- Insulated cooler keeps temperate consistent
- 2-setting aerator
- Built-in net gives you easy access to bait fish
- Shoulder strap for easy transport
- Aeration hose in lid prevents spillage
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Best for Large Boats: Moeller Marine Products Livewell
This bait tank 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 easy find the right sized unit for your vessel. Each well features molded in deck fasteners for secure mounting.
The oval shaped tank 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 tank 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
Kayak Bait Well: Wilderness Systems Thrive Baitwell
If you’re looking for a bait well built specifically with the kayak angler in mind, you’ll have a hard time beating this handsome specimen. It’s designed to fit in most sit-on-top kayak wells, and features a flexible intake hose system that can draw water from any scupper.
A generous 26 litre capacity ensures you’ll have enough room for plenty of bait, while a spring-loaded lid with rubber latches makes accessing the interior easy from any position. A compact 15 amp lithium-ion battery powers the entire unit, and two power settings let you toggle from continuous to intermittent mode. This battery features several output options for charging phones and other electronics.
Weighing just 13 pounds, the baitwell won’t weight down your kayak excessively. Three rod holders are built into the side of the baitwell, while a convenient integrated net makes accessing bait effortless.
Keep in mind the baitwell is not just a simple aerator. It works like a full-sized circulator – cycling in and out the same water that your fishing in. This means your bait will stay fresh and lively.
- Live bait storage designed specifically for kayaks.
- Intake hose with built-filter draws fresh water from any scupper hole.
- Compatible with both fresh and saltwater.
- Powered by compact 15-amp lithium battery.
- Universal tie-down compatibility.
Budget Pick: Frabill Personal Bait Station
If you’re looking for a portable bait 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 its 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 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 well, this aeration system can turn nearly any cooler or tank into a complete bait well. It uses a suction cup mount to attach and will fit both round and oval shaped 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 live well, or to the outer hull for pumping in fresh water.
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 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
How to pick the right bait well
With a wide variety of bait 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
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 wells can be installed with thru-hull pumps to supply fresh water, or alternatively 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 models 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 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.
If you frequently fish with live bait, check out my review of the best bait cutting boards for a good place to clean and cut your catch.