Live Bait Systems for Freshwater Fishing

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A variety of equipment is available for catching, holding and using live minnows and other freshwater fishing baits.

Equipment for Catching Wild Baitfish

Depending on the area, species, local regulations and other factors, minnows and other baitfish may be caught with cast nets, seines, minnow traps, fish traps, lures or by other methods.

Before harvesting baits such as minnows, suckers, shad or other forage species, it is imperative that anglers check with local regulations. In some areas such as the Great Lakes region, the harvesting and relocation of baitfish has been strictly regulated in order to curb the spread of dangerous diseases and aquatic invasive species.

Live Bait Tanks – Containers

Containers are important when storing minnows or other live baits for long periods. In most cases, anglers must keep minnows in closed systems such as live bait tanks, large aquariums or other containers. Regardless of the type of container, minnows and other fish require a clean, oxygen rich environment to remain healthy.

Some anglers have shoreline access to freshwater ponds, lakes or other bodies of water. In some cases, live baits can be stored in these areas, through the use of in-water pens or cages.

Live bait cages can be constructed by hand or purchased from aquaculture supply stores. Most models are designed to float and are often anchored to a dock or pier. Other designs lie on the bottom with a line attached for retrieval.

Live bait pens offer several advantages. Holding pens usually do not require aerators. Problems associated with feeding fish and waste are also reduced. Disadvantages of live bait pens includes their susceptibility to predators, theft and weather damage.

Aerators and Live Wells

Live wells are essential for live bait fishing. These containers are designed to keep fish alive and healthy while out fishing. Most designs incorporate some form of aerator. The simplest aerators use an air pump and bubbler stone to saturate the water with oxygen. Aerators can be either battery powered or powered by a boat’s electrical system. For containment systems, aerators are available that are powered by standard electrical outlets.

Other models of aerators use a flow of water, rather than pressurized air. These are often the best choice for larger applications. Smaller units simply pump water to a short outlet, which sets up a swirling current in the container. More elaborate designs sometimes use a bar with a series of holes to spray multiple streams on water down into the container.

When choosing a system for maintaining baits, the angler should consider the length of time it will be needed, amount of bait that must be kept healthy and other factors. For anglers that fish only occasionally, a simple battery powered aerator and 5 gallon bucket may be all that is needed. Other anglers might go a step further and maintain a dedicated live bait system on their boat.

Although most anglers simply visit their local bait and tackle shop to purchase baits, this option is not practical for everyone. In some areas, live baits are not available locally. In other cases, cost or convenience warrant the construction of a long term bait storage system. These are especially useful for fishing guides, tournament fishermen or other anglers that need a reliable supply of minnows or other live baits.