These handy, portable buckets keep bait fresh and frisky.
By Gibbs Milliken
Remember those squeaky, rusty metal bait buckets from your childhood? They are now a thing of the past - replaced by durable plastic containers that are like portable life-support systems in themselves. Most of the new designs incorporate small, battery-powered aeration pumps and chemical additives that help delicate bait like minnows, shad, croaker and shrimp stay lively even on hot summer days.
The convenient Flow Troll ($10.99, Model #4501, Frabill, (800) 558-1005, www.frabill.com) six-quart container is a proven design that may be towed at trolling speeds or used attached to a belt for wade fishing. The hydrodynamic, torpedo-shaped bucket glides through the water without rolling or flipping over and automatically aerates the bait. A weighted keel keeps the bucket floating upright for easy access to the spring-loaded push lid, door lock and retracting handle. When the bucket is carried away from water, a small aerator can be added to supply oxygen. The Flow Troll holds only a small quantity of bait, but it is about the right size for an individual fishing alone.
The larger, 10-quart Four Seasons Live Bait Bucket ($12.99, Model #4505, Frabill) is a two-piece traditional unit with a solid outer container and perforated inner shell that may be removed and floated separately for natural aeration. Bait is accessed through a manual, snap-closing lid. During transport, insert a weighted air stone attached by tubing to an aeration device on the bucket's side.
Both of these models have a tendency to slosh water when you carry them. It is best to place them in a second open container, like a five-gallon plastic utility pail, that can later double as a seat or fish receptacle.
The Cool Bubbles system ($46.15, Model CB-5, Marine Metal Products, (727) 461-5575, www.marinemetal. com) is sturdy and excellent. It includes an insulated 11.5-quart low-profile pail with a detachable Big Bubbles 1.5-volt watertight aerator and accessories. The lid is well constructed with extra insulation and positive snap closure. The Styrofoam liner helps keep the temperature consistent and may be removed from the pail for cleaning. The manufacturer claims the pump runs reliably in both fresh and salt water for more than 80 hours on one set of 2-D alkaline batteries.
One of the newest and largest portable units is the Aqualife Bait Station ($64.99, Model #1406, Frabill), consisting of a six-gallon insulated container with air-pump and batteries sealed in a watertight lid. The interior has no exposed cords or tubes, allowing easy retrieval of the bait - even at night, with a light that automatically turns on when the lid is opened. The system runs on one or two D-size alkaline batteries or converts to a 12-volt system with a special adapter included in the kit. The combined weight of the pail with water and hardware is considerable, but also ideal for many fishing situations.
For additional care in keeping bait alive, add a small amount of formula like Bait Saver ($3.29, two-ounce size, Professional Sporting Goods, (800) 835-2248) to the container water to control toxic ammonia waste, chlorine and heavy-metal contamination. This product also stimulates the production of protective mucus coating on bait fish and calms their behavior. An even simpler solution is the new Aqualung Packet ($5.99, three packages, Model #1043, Frabill), which turns any one- or two-gallon bucket into an aerated bait well for up to nine hours without accessories or power. In each package, dissolving tablets supply the correct dosage of oxygenation and water-conditioning ingredients.
For best results with any live bait system, try to keep the water temperature within a constant plus or minus 10 degrees of the original water source. Every few hours, especially in warm weather, exchange about one-third of the water in a closed system.