DIY Home Bait Tank

Having fresh live bait at your disposal before you plan a trip is a big bonus for any catfisherman.  Many of the livewells and bait tanks commercially available are not well suited for home use.  Most are filtered/aerated by a 12 volt pump which, is just not practical at home.  In this article we will show how to make a very nice, well insulated home bait tank for around 100 bucks, much less if you are thrifty.  Many of the same principals are the same for building portable and boat livewells also but, we will cover that in another article.

Materials and Costs:

Most of the items I am using to build this tank were either free or cheap from Craig’s List.  I will also provide some links to all of the products used for the build.

  1. Old, broken chest-type deep freeze.  Find one that will fit its placement at your home.  I found this one on CL for 20 bucks.
  2. 120V pond or pool pump.  500-1000GPH is plenty to filter the amount of water a deep freeze will hold.  I am using an old Intex pool pump that I picked up from a friend for free.  If you cant find a pump on craigslist, check out Amazon.  Pump – 40ish bucks.  These pumps do not have great longevity but, are inexpensive.  For a more permanent solution look at pond pumps.
  3. A filter of some sort.  In my case, the filters that fit the pool pump  will work ok but, they will only work to remove particle wastes and the mesh is so small they become clogged very quickly.  We will need to address the issue of ammonia waste.  This can be done by adding charcoal to a canister filter or it can be placed in a mesh bag and placed between the pool filter and outer case of the pump.  In an upcoming series of articles, we will show you the Akwalung and a few ways to build your own filter.
  4. A couple of through hull fittings and a mesh strainer.  The fittings allow you to get a waterproof seal and attachment points for an exterior mounted pump.  The strainer will keep large objects and fish from being sucked into the pump.  I was able to reuse the strainer from the pool filter.  Thru-hull fittings – 5 bucks each.  Strainer – 9 bucks.
  5. Silicone – 8 bucks.  This will be used to seal seams and fittings.
  6. Hoses.  To connect the pump/filter to the tank.  These were on the pump I got, zero dollars.

First on the list was to remove the compressor(already evacuated).  This was really pretty simple: a few bolts, a little wiring, and the coolant lines.  I decided to mount the thru-hulls at the bottom of the step where the compressor was located.  To make sure the fittings did not leak, I cut and removed the inner wall and insulation.

Next, using a 1 1/8″ hole saw, I cut the inner wall out for the thru-hulls.  Thru-hulls were then siliconed and installed.

All of the corners and any areas where shelving hardware was located were scuffed with a red scotchbrite pad and caulked with silicone.

Then the hoses were attached and the pump slid into place where the compressor was located.  Now, after the silicone is dry we are ready for some water!

I cut a small screen from 1/2″ hardware cloth and fitted it inside the pump where the filter goes and added filter floss and a mesh bag with charcoal to keep the water safe and clean.  In the near future, we will have an article on putting together a large, low maintenance filter that will work for nearly any pump.  Originally, I thought it would be nice to have the pump contained in the tank but, after running this tank for 2 years, I think it is time to change.  The filter surface is far too small to handle a large amount of fish waste and I do not see this pump lasting much longer.  New bait tank articles are coming soon!

As of now, there is a spray bar attached to the outlet of the pump.  The spraying action introduces a bit of oxygen into the water.  I plan on removing the spray bar and adding an air induction that will oxygenate the water directly out of the pump.  This can be done on nearly any water pump!

Be sure to check your local and state laws regarding baitfish.  In some states, keeping and transporting live bait may be illegal.

SHOUT OUT: Do you keep live bait at your home?  Did you build your tank and if so, what is it made from?  What types of live bait do you like to have at the ready?

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5 Responses to “DIY Home Bait Tank”

  1. jeremiah anderson
    January 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    def gonna make me one of these this year. get very tired of having to catch bait every time before i go, and sometimes the morning before and having to try to keep them alive until
    that night.

  2. Rob
    January 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Dont you need a biological filter too? I would like to ask you a few more questions I have a intex pump and a deep freeze and am beginning this project come spring and would like to talk to you to see if you have any advice since i am running virtually the same system.



    • Catfishadmin
      February 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      For long term, a biological filter would be a big benefit. I am usually cycling bait out so fast, I dont have any issues. I have an idea for a large canister type filter that you could make yourself. I need to get that done here soon! Ask away Rob or, you can hit me up on FB.

  3. catfish hunter
    June 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    what is your favorite live bait for yellow cats and what is your favorite dead cut or dough bait

    • Catfishadmin
      July 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

      I have probably caught more flats on large bluegill than anything else. Cut bait is a tough one for me lol. On the rivers I like cut shad or any variety of carp. Some lakes I (and the fish) prefer cut bluegill. If I had to pick just one it would be good old common carp.

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