Don't Go Broke on Bait

Don't Go Broke on Bait

Tim Zweig  |  Pro Staff


Plain and simple, the cost of live bait and especially minnows has gone up significantly over the last few years. Knowing how to care for your bait properly will not only result in decreased bait costs, but will also increase your fishing success.



If you take anything away from this article, note that it starts with your water. The first thing I do is to make sure my bait is stored in fresh cold water. Typically, the water from the bait shop is ice cold to start, and if you purchase the bait in a bag, the bait shop will put oxygen in the water for you as well. Do not shock your minnows by dumping them into warm water that is already in your cooler, use the water from the bait shop! Be sure to keep the water cold, which is not too difficult to do in the winter, as you can always toss in some chunks of ice.

If any minnows should die, get them out of the cooler so they do not contaminate the water. It’s also important to avoid putting your bait in city water that has Chlorine in it. In a pinch, if you live in the city like I do, I’ve hauled in well water from the cabin and I have even bought gallons of spring water at the grocery store for my live bait.

Just remember that the water you’re putting your minnows into needs to be cold. You don’t want to shock the minnows by going from cold water to warm water or vice versa.



Thinking about the amount of bait you’ll need on the lake can add to the longevity of your initial purchase. Too often anglers will swing into the bait shop and take everything they’ve purchased onto the hard-water. This can result in spills, drastic temperature changes, or the annoying brother-in-law who didn’t come prepared stealing minnows out of your bucket like a rabid otter.

I don’t take all my bait onto the lake with me; leave some at home or in the cabin. Try to take just what you think you’ll need for the day, that way you are not bouncing around your entire supply of bait.



Aerating the water can significantly add to the longevity of your bait. Once I have selected the amount of bait for the day, my bait goes directly into my portable aerated minnow cooler. Using the aerated cooler will keep your bait lively and fresh all day long. Livelier bait is more attractive.

I use an Engel Cooler which is insulated and has an aerator that will run on two D Cell batteries, it also has a 12 volt plug, and an optional 120 volt for use at home. Engle has 3 different models of bait coolers, they have a 30 quart, 19 quart, and a 7 ½ quart. They all come with the aerator and a nice net the size of the cooler, so you can lift the net up and get all your minnows in one scoop; this is nice when you are changing the water.



With the remaining bait you have left at home here are a couple items to increase your longevity. Pick up a standalone aerator at your local bait shop, drill a small hole in your new or used cooler in the side near the top, run your aerator hose through the hole, and there you go. You are on your way to a collection of bait coolers like me. Like fishing rods, you can never have too many!

Aerators are around $20 if you have a cooler already, which if your cooler keeps one or two
purchases of bait alive, you have saved money. I also have a small oxygen tank with a diffuser on it that I will run some oxygen into the water. I don’t let it run for a very long time, 15-30 seconds is enough to last a while.

You can avoid the coolers if you have a large enough fridge to store your minnows in a 5 gallon bucket. This type of premium real estate is normally reserved for the additional barley waters or the extra sports drinks a household tends to use.



First thing I do when I get in at night is I address my minnows that were left behind for the day. I check the water, and if it’s dirty I’ll replace it with the same temperature water, or replace half of the water. I’ll also pick out any minnows that may have died so they don’t contaminate the water. If your water warms up during the day as it sits in the cabin, you can also add ice to it.

You might consider me to be a bit extreme when it comes to bait, but it’s well worth it to make your dollars go further. After I have taken care of my minnows back at the cabin, it’s time to relax, eat some dinner, play some cards with the buddies, and just maybe if we had a good day, fillet up some fish.