Build a Live
Bait Well on a Budget
By Mike Christy
This is a simple design for a live bait well which circulates and aerates water. I use
this design, and depending on the size of the barrel, it keeps 8 to 10 baits alive and
kicking. The barrel is manually filled with a 5 gallon plastic bucket. Every 15 minutes I
discharge an amount of water and replace it with a fresh bucket. This keeps the toxins
from building up too high.
The discharge feature is a simple in-line garden hose value. When switched off, the
water circulates in the barrel, when switched on, the water discharges out the hose and
over the transom of the boat.
Live Well Parts List
- 30-40 Gallon Barrel (not trash can)
- 6' 3/4" plastic hose
- 360 GPH Rule bilge pump
- 90 degree 3/4" elbow
- In-line garden hose valve
- 16" 3/4" PVC pipe
- Hose clamps
- Battery clips (red/black)
- 4 PVC hold down brackets
- Mount pump in bottom of barrel with stainless screws.
- Either secure wires to side of barrel and run out the top or (recommended) drill hole
near pump and feed wires thru hole. Seal with goop.
- Drill 8 3/8" holes along one side of a 16" length of PVC pipe. These holes
circulate the water back into the barrel.
- Secure PVC pipe to inside of barrel with PVC hold down brackets.
- Measure and cut length of 3/4" tubing then attach to pump and one end of PVC pipe
(hose clamps optional)
- Drill 1" hole near top of barrel adjacent to other end of PVC pipe. This is for the
- Build the following assembly: short hose to 90 degree elbow to short hose to inline
garden hose valve to main discharge hose.
- The previous assembly is attached to the one end of the PVC pipe then fed out the
1" hole in the top of the barrel.
- Solder pump wires to black and red battery clamps, be sure to observe correct polarity!
- Dab any screw threads showing with goop. This is help you (and the bait) not to get cut
or scratched by them.
- Fill with water and test her out!
Catching Live Bait Tips
- The two predominant bait fish in seacoast New Hampshire are mackerel and pollock. You
CAN possess a maximum of 6 pollock less than 19 inches in Maine, so be careful knowing
where those invisible state lines are located.
- For picking up mackerel you will need mackerel jigs or christmas tree rigs and a chum
bag, although I personally just pitch chum over the side a little at a time. Two popular
spots for mackerel are the Red Buoy "2KR" just outside the mouth of the harbor
and Red Nun "2" just off the West Sister. Drift with the chum bag over the side
and jig until a school of mackerel stops by. You'll have a live well full of bait in no
- I haven't fished them all but it appears to me that other good spots outside the harbor
should be Murray Rock, Stones Rock, Gunboat Shoal and anywhere around the Isles of Shoals.
Just look for a flotilla of jigging fools, that's probably where the bait is located.
- Sometimes pollock are reluctant to hit a jig, so a #8 hook with split shot and a small
piece of chum will get them to cooperate. This technique requires that you watch the bait
drift down until a pollock sucks it in. You must set the hook immediately otherwise they
will swallow the hook. Bend the barb down to make removing the hook easy. Polarized
glasses are a must! When mackerel are scarce, look for 15 to 20 feet of water with grassy
bottom, chances are there may be pollock hiding down there.
- Using light freshwater tackle makes catching bait as much fun as the stripers!
- Tip of the Day: Sometimes it's a lesson in futility just catching live
bait, so keep those swimmers and poppers readily available!