Building a Budget Round Baitwell for Live Bait

DIY: Building a Budget Round Baitwell for Live Bait

The top bait for Lake Lanier here in Georgia is the blueback herring. In their native range, they are an anadromous species that go up rivers from the ocean to spawn every year. Capable of reaching up to 16″ in length the average size you’ll find in the bait shops around Lake Lanier will be about 6″- 8″ long. The problem is they are a bit fragile like most herring and shad-like baitfish. If they’re too stressed they blow off their scales and die real quick. They also will not survive in a baitwell that has corners. They have a bad habit of swimming into the corner in mass and suffocating themselves. So, to keep bluebacks you need to have a round baitwell, but round baitwell tanks aren’t cheap to buy. So, here’s how to make one at home for cheap.

For this project, you will need these power tools: a jigsaw or sawzall, a soldering iron, and an electric drill. For materials, you will need a food-grade 55-gallon barrel, an aerator pump, some 3/4″ pipe and fittings, Teflon tape, PVC primer and glue, gator clips, and either rubber gaskets or some 3m 5200 sealant. An optional thing you can do is add a drain to the baitwell using male/female fittings along with a ball valve.

This project is honestly very straight forwards and easy to do. Get your 55-gallon drum, the blue ones are food grade and safe for fish. I got mine from a local salvage/surplus store. I paid $10 for a barrel after-tax; it did need a good washing though. Hot water and dish soap does a good job at pulling out any color – in my case strawberry syrup – out of the plastic.

Finished baitwell, with rope handles, drain, and lid.

Once you have your barrel, you want to cut it to whatever height works for you. I went about halfway up the barrel to have a 25-gallon baitwell. Marking a full circle to follow with the saw first, I cut the top half of the barrel off. There can be plastic burrs left on the edges, just drag a knife along the corners to clear them. Now that the barrel is cut, it’s time to drill some holes for the pump and water outlet. The T500 pump should be about 3/4″ in diameter so drill 3/4″ holes in the barrel. But do measure the pump stem just in case it is a different size.

The two holes should be in line with each other, one near the bottom of the baitwell and the other near the top. These will be your inlet and outlet for the pump. I used threaded male/female 3/4″ fittings with gaskets to act as bulkheads for the barrel. Teflon tape should be used to seal any threads that are connected. You can use 3m 5200 marine sealant too. But you have to be sure the baitwell is set up exactly how you want it to be. 3m 5200 is pretty much permanent, so there’s no going back once you apply it.

Once that’s all done, the main body of the baitwell is pretty much done. Solder on the gator clips to the pump wires so you have an easy way to connect the pump to a battery. Make sure to match the colors of the positive and negative of the clips and wires respectively. Once that’s done you’re ready to hit the water with your cheap DIY round baitwell. Going this minimalist route should have you spending around $70.

If you want the baitwell a little nicer you can add some rope handles, a drain, and make a lid. The rope handles should be pretty straight forwards, drill a couple of 3/8″ holes on each side across from each other. Cut two 16″ lengths of 1/4″ rope, and then insert one end into a hole from the outside going into the baitwell. Tie off the end of the rope with a couple of half hitches and then run the rope through a hand-sized piece of PVC pipe for a handle. Then do the same for the free end of the rope to complete the handle.

For a drain, do the same as the inlet and outlet holes you made for the pump. Use male and female fittings threaded through the drilled hole as a bulkhead. Make sure to use the Teflon tape on the threads and a gasket. Then using a small piece of PVC pipe as a link, glue a ball valve to the exterior fitting so you can drain the baitwell easily. For a lid, you can just cut the top off the other half of the barrel a little ways down. This should just friction fit into the top of the baitwell. Another option is you can use 3M 5200 to glue on the barrel top and make a small hatch.

With all the extras, you’ll spend about $80 or less on a baitwell with a pump attached.

  • $35 – T500 pump
  • $10 – Barrel
  • $6 – 3/4″ PVC Pipe
  • $8 –  various 3/4″ PVC fittings
  • $4 – Ball Valve
  • $1 – Teflon tape
  • $10 – PVC Glue & Primer
  • $3 – Gator Clips
  • $6 – Rubber Gaskets or $14 – 1oz 3m 5200 sealant

So the total cost is $83 if you have nothing on this list already, excluding power tools.

Fruits of my labor, spotted bass caught on a live blueback herring kept in the Livewell

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