Kayak Bait Tank (Live Well) – Which One To Buy And How To DIY


Many kayak fishermen know a thing or two about keeping their bait alive in a bait tank. We all have our strategies, whether it is using a cooler with ice, or a pump running continuously to keep the water oxygenated.

However, I found myself at a loss when I started to do some research on different options for an aerated bait tank that will work from my kayak when I’m out fishing in saltwater. This wasn’t going to be just another post where I throw up some links and let you figure it out. So here’s everything you need to know about how to keep your bait alive in a kayak bait tank – buy one or DIY.

First Let’s Dive into the most important question

What is a live well on a kayak?

A live well is designed to keep bait fish alive, but it doesn’t come close to the capabilities of a marine fish tank. Some types of fish, like carp and catfish, can survive for extended periods of time. Others like shad and perch can only last a few hours. Some models are able to hold around two gallons while others cannot hold over a gallon of water.

The live well on a kayak is a storage compartment that stays full of water. In some manufactures’ models, the water comes from below and fills up the space as needed.

It may be possible for other species to survive in a live well because some fish can breathe air from the surface. However, there are no guarantees that they will make it. A live well is not an aquarium. It is a compartment that provides the right amount of water and oxygen to keep fish alive for a while, but it cannot do anything else.

How Long Do Fish Live In A Live Well?

The short answer is that it depends on the species of fish. In general, large fish may only last a few hours. Smaller fish may be able to survive for more. It just depends on how quickly the water drains into the well and how much oxygen is being passed over the top of the water.

The live well on a kayak should not be used as an extended storage facility. The fact that it was designed in order to keep fish alive in transit does not mean that it can do so indefinitely. The live well is meant for baitfish or for keeping small fish alive during the fishing trip, not for keeping them alive all day while you are out on the water.

How to clean your live well on a kayak:

The live well on a kayak should be cleaned after every use. This will keep it from becoming an environment for parasites or disease. When cleaning the live well, you need to take all of the water out and wipe the walls dry with a towel. Then fill it up with a bleach solution made of one part bleach to five parts fresh water. Next, let it sit for about five minutes. Finally, empty that mixture out into the sink and clean the live well with soap and water.

The live well on a kayak is not designed to hold fish overnight. Cleaning it after every use will keep any fish from being exposed to disease or parasites It also keeps the live well from growing algae or any other type of bacteria.

What kind of fish can live in a live well for bait?

Shad, perch, mullet, and other species that are both smallish and abundant can live in the live well for a few hours. Large fish like carp may only be able to survive for around 6 hours. Generally speaking, the smaller the fish is, the longer it will last in the live well.

How do you carry live bait on a kayak?

Most people fish with dead bait. If you’re not into kayak fishing then you might think that’s strange but it makes sense because typically fish feed on the bottom and dead baits sink allowing them to get in the zone quicker than live baits. It is advantageous for us kayak fishermen to use live bait though since we are typically bottom fishing or chumming, so the better action of a lively bait can attract more bites – especially when targeting large gamefish like snapper, grouper, cobia, etc…

A few other options are popping up for kayak fishermen carrying live minnows on their boats.

The best option to keep your bait fish alive is a bait tank for kayaks, you Can DIY or to choose one from our recommendations

How to DIY a bait tank for your kayak?

Option 1 – The bucket bait tank

The most common option for seasoned kayak fishermen is to buy the components separately and put together your own 10-15 gallon capacity kayak bait tank. This can be done fairly cheap if you shop around, or you can choose one of our top solutions which are pre-made and cost-effective.

You will need a container to hold water (in this case we advise using plastic) that will fit in the back of your kayak, an air pump system (we recommend either Sea Star or Finnex), tubing, freshwater hose or faucet attachment, saltwater hose/faucet adapter, and indicator beads (or premixing saltwater if you’re out for an extended period of time).

Option 2 – The DIY kayak bait cooler

Get a cheap camping cooler at Walmart that will fit your kayak, then you will need to buy the same components as stated above for the bucket bait tank, plus some long zip ties (to affix your tubing) and two small padlocks (one for the lid, one for the pump switch). Don’t use this system if you are leaving your kayak unattended.

Option 3 – The pre-made kayak bait tank

The third option is to buy a complete system, which is probably the easiest route since everything is included and it’s hard to mess up. If you want something that’s

There are many options when it comes to choosing a kayak to live well. All of the systems work slightly differently, but basically, you need to get your live bait in water that is oxygenated and circulating so they can breathe. Some systems come with built-in aerators while most require external pumps. Often recently manufactured kayaks even come with live wells or areas specifically designed to hold bait. You will want to be careful when buying your new yak not only with the size of the tank but also whether or not it has an aeration system installed on it.

Next, we will review bait tanks that we already tried, so let’s dive in:

Frabill Magnum Bait Station 30 Quart Bait Cooler with Dual Aeration

This is the most expensive and well-built out of all 3 options we tried. It comes pre-assembled and has a good quality pump system with an indicator gauge that won’t die after one season like some other cheaper models. This unit also allows easy access to your live bait since it opens from both ends which make feeding them very convenient. This one runs on (2) D-Cell batteries or included a 12v plug.

If you aren’t on a limited budget this is your best option!


  • Great size
  • Comes with a divider to store different baits
  • Super long battery life
  • Best bang for the buck

Marine Metal Individual Bait Saver Livewell

This unit holds up to ten gallons of water which is smaller than the others but might be ideal for someone who only fishes with two or three bait. The lid has a hole in it, so you can feed live minnows without opening the box.

The Marine Metal Individual Bait Saver Livewell is made well and looks like it will last many years on your kayak or boat. This would be my second choice because of the small size and closing price to our top pick.


  • Great price
  • Looks like it will last many years
  • Built-in Pump
  • This kayak bait tank is very affordable and can hold up to ten gallons


  • Doesn’t work on batteries

Fishernomics Collapsible Fishing Bucket Livewell Live Fish and Bait Container with USB Rechargeable Oxygen Pump Aerator

The Fishernomics Collapsible Fishing Bucket Livewell is a great option for anyone who does not want to drill their kayak or boat. The pump isn’t the best quality but it seems to work for a season or two before needing replacement, and the size is perfect for small trips.

This is your cheapest yet functional live bait tank!


  • Cheap price
  • Built-in aerator that maintains oxygen content within the water without a source of external power.


  • The pump could be of better quality.


All of the items listed above are great options for keeping your live bait alive in a kayak. The Frabill Magnum Bait Station 30 Quart Bait Cooler is definitely my top choice, not only because it’s easy to use but also because it will last many years with proper care. I would recommend adding some sort of battery backup system so you don’t have to worry about draining your boat battery when using this live well on long trips. A solar panel is a good option if you are on the water all day long.

There are many things that you can do to keep your bait alive when kayak fishing, but for me, it’s not about catching one or two fish, I want to catch several on each trip! Bait tanks are truly necessary for my book. Of course, you don’t have to use a bait tank when kayak fishing. A lot of people use a bucket or a cooler with ice instead.

I hope this blog post helped give you some insight on what to buy and how they work!

Happy Kayaking!

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