Inshore: Dockside Bait Storage - The Fisherman

Inshore: Dockside Bait Storage

Having bait on tap give you the edge out of the gate on most trips.

Create your own dockside bait storage system.

Dockside bait storage, for those that have the ability, can be a fantastic perk that truly enhances the fishing experience. Arriving to the vessel in the predawn hours knowing that a supply of live bait is swimming securely cannot be undervalued. It saves time, and in addition, can save substantial money because leftover live bait does not need to be discarded. Instead, it can be housed appropriately for the next outing.

There are a variety of methods to keep live bait at the dock. The most basic is the yellow and white flow troll buckets that have been around seemingly forever. They can certainly keep a small amount of minnows or eels alive. They are minimal in capacity, however, and a larger storage method is needed for any modest to significant amount of bait. Furthermore, they don’t work well for baits such as spot or mullet. Enter custom bait pens. These oversized containers are great for buying or catching bait in bulk, particularly large forage fish like spot and mullet. In case you are wondering, adult or peanut menhaden will live overnight if the water is cold and the pen is circular. Flowing water is a major bonus. However, menhaden are difficult to keep in a storage situation at the dock. They survive better in a vessel’s large livewell with a high-octane pump powered by the dockside electricity. All that said, bunker can be a bust if any of the key ingredients for success are missing.

Five-gallon buckets with holes drilled in the side are perfect for keeping lots of killifish and a dozen or more spot. Even better, a 12-gallon swimming pool-style chemical bucket that has a screw-on lid is perfect. They have the capacity to hold a few dozen spot or mullet, if not more, when the water is cold. Several gallons of minnows can easily live in one of these containers also. The key to making a custom, DIY bait pen out of a 5- or 12-gallon bucket is to drill numerous small holes around the sides of the bucket. The holes should be about a quarter inch in diameter, so that none of your valuable bait can escape. Many, many holes should be drilled in the bucket. Likewise, if the bucket is used to hold eels, they can’t slither through the openings. Dockside storage like this can hold 100 eels easily if there is some water flow coming through the unit. Holes should be spaced about an inch apart so the bucket maintains its integrity. Now, there’s one more huge detail that cannot be skipped. The inside of the holes will have jagged plastic shards extended from where the drill bit exited. These must be sanded to a smooth finish or the bait will mortally injure itself from the abrasions.

When deploying a large bucket of bait at the dock, I sometimes use a rock to sink the bucket and keep it out of sight so as long as it doesn’t lay in the mud. Also, with any bait pen or bucket, it’s essential that it doesn’t get wrapped up in dock ladders or pilings so it’s doesn’t end up hanging above the water at low tide. Oh yeah, I’ve had it happen more than once! Over the years, you learn what works well and what doesn’t. Floating docks and vessels are the best places to hang bait because they go up and down with the tide rather than moving all around wooden docks.

Giant pens, and they are sold at many tackle shops or online, can be locked or even zip tied for security. Otters and even lazy fishermen may try to grab some bait. Sometimes theft takes place from the water with visiting boaters pulling up to docks in order to steal. This is very rare, but it does happen thus sinking bait storage is smart.

Eels, minnows, and spot will all eat during captivity. Drop a few old skins with a sheen of meat into the pen, and they will pick away. Don’t overfeed the bait, or the water could become contaminated, especially if the marina is stagnant. Green crabs, white leggers, and a variety of other crabs also do well in dockside storage for tautog and sheepshead fishing. The same goes for feeding them a little bit every so often, and they’ll live a month or more in captivity.

Those who don’t have a boat slip can ask their friends if they can drop a bucket at their dock. They might say no, but why not ask? Or better yet, barter your skills or wares. A trade just might land you some great bait storage.



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