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Stayin’ Alive: Livewells and Bait Tanks

Team Three Buoys Leadin

    Fishing with live bait can often be the most effective method for catching your targeted species. Whether you fish for tuna, marlin, swordfish, dolphin, wahoo, stripers, or bluefish, each will readily eat a properly presented live bait. While a variety of live baits will work at any given time, for any given species of gamefish, we have found that matching the hatch significantly increases the odds of success. If tuna are eating herring, we prefer to fish with herring. If marlin are eating small tuna, we prefer to fish with small tuna. If stripers are eating bunker, we prefer to fish with bunker. You get the point.
    No matter what species you target and no matter what live bait you want to use to catch them, in each instance you need to be able to transport your live bait to the fish you want to catch. It doesn’t matter whether you buy your live bait or catch it yourself; it is essential that your boat have the proper set-up to transport your live bait from where you acquire it to where you deploy it. Let’s take a look at those set-ups and look at ways to maximize your live bait transporting capabilities.

    There are two main categories of set-ups to transport your live bait: built-in livewells that are permanently integrated into your vessel’s construction; and movable bait tanks that are later installed on the deck of your vessel.
    It goes without saying that livewells that are permanently integrated into your vessel’s construction generally cannot be modified to increase or decrease their capacity. Movable bait tanks, however, can be modified, upgraded or downgraded in size, moved around your boat, used as a single bait tank or used in conjunction with multiple bait tanks or your built-in livewells, all depending on the size, power, and capability of your vessel, creating a number of possibilities.
    Bait tanks come in a variety of sizes and shapes. There are a number of companies that manufacture and sell movable bait tanks, including Kodiak Marine Products, AquaWorld Products, Chem-Tainer Industries, KeepAlive, Moeller, and C&M Marine Products. That said, we also have seen some very impressive homemade bait tanks constructed out of plastic barrels and livestock feed and water tanks.
    We prefer to use round bait tanks because they do not have corners or edges for the bait to swim into and they allow the bait to consistently swim in one direction, into the flow of the water. We prefer to install plumbing in our livewells and bait tanks that causes the water to flow into the tank in one direction, thus creating a steady current for the baits to swim against. Depending on the species of bait, the flow and current will need to be increased or decreased to provide the optimal condition and environment. Search and review these bait tank products on the internet to determine which makes and models best suit your live bait transportation needs and capabilities, but be mindful to avoid tanks that are square, rectangle or have anything less than a smooth rounded interior.

    The ultimate livewell set-up allows you to pressurize it so there is no open-aired space between the water level and the lid. This is achieved by installing a gasket seal between your lid and livewell and, pumping a sufficiently high volume of water to push out the air between the water level and lid. If the water flow is set correctly for optimal pressurization, just enough excess water will overflow and push out through the gasket-sealed lid.
    Removing open air space in your livewell or bait tank prevents your baits from being sloshed around, beat up, and/or injured while underway, even in the roughest sea conditions. This will help them arrive at your fishing destination with as healthy and frisky as possible.
    To create optimum pressurization, you will need either variable speed pumps and/or a manifold, or a multiple valve system so you can adjust the water flow as needed. To make a gasket seal, we buy EVA skid-proof top deck traction pads with adhesive that are made for stand-up paddleboards. We meticulously cut the pads to shape and adhere them to the top lips of our wells and tanks. To prevent an unwanted air lock that would prevent us from opening our livewell lids, we make sure to cut a small 1-inch notch or gap in each gasket seal to break an otherwise 100 percent airtight seal.




In the South they call it “poor-man's fishing.” You have to have patience. But sometimes, patience is rewarded.


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