Hard-water anglers know that a good ice fishing bucket is a staple on the ice, and whether you use it to carry pop-ups, lunch and beverages, or fish home from the hole, they need to serve a number of purposes well.
Of course, a simple paint bucket with a strong lid can get the job done, as long as you don’t need insulation or worry about durability. But they tend to be too short to sit comfortably, and you’ll find you’re much better off with something designed for this purpose.
Now, not every angler has the cash to throw down on the latest, hottest gear - and we get that. So we’ve assembled a list of products that we’re willing to stand by, all of which will get the job done, covering all your needs. Below, you’ll find a list of some of your favorites, as well as a buying guide to help you make the best choice for you.
Quick glance at the best ice fishing bucket:
- Frabill Sit-N-Fish- Best Ice Fishing Bucket for Sitting
- Frabill 4822 Insulated Bait Bucket- Best Ice Fishing Bucket for Bait
- Frabill 4825 Insulated Bait Bucket with Built-In Aerator
- YETI Loadout 5-Gallon Bucket
- Custom Leathercraft Wild River
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Best Ice Fishing Buckets Reviewed
- 2 What to Look for in a Good Ice Fishing Bucket
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Ice Fishing Buckets Reviewed
Frabill Sit-N-Fish - Best Ice Fishing Bucket for Sitting
Frabill knows the needs of hard-water anglers, and you’ll find that the Sit-N-Fish is well thought out.
This 6-gallon bucket is taller than most, creating a more comfortable seating height that's augmented by a cushioned lid. That height really reduces stress on your knees, making this one of the best options for longer trips on the ice.
The downside to this design is that larger anglers may really wedge that lid shut, requiring a screwdriver to pry the lid off the body.
Inside, you’ll find thick foam insulation to help keep bait alive longer or prevent your lunch and beverages from freezing solid. This insulation is removable should you need the extra space for gear like pop-ups or a flasher, making this a pretty versatile choice.
The handle is strong, and you don’t need to worry about breakage.
Personally, I like to improve the Sit-N-Fish with two additions.
The first is an inflatable seat cushion, upping the ante on all-day comfort. This one from Klymit packs down to nothing and is easy to inflate.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s just not a lot a manufacturer can do to turn an ice bucket into a La-Z-Boy, so expect some compromises here from every product.
The second modification to consider is to drill a hole that matches your aerator, increasing oxygen levels in the bucket if you use it for bait. It’s an easy fix with a drill, and it’ll make a huge difference in how long your bait will stay active and kicking.
Some anglers are going to balk at the idea of needing to “upgrade” a bucket that’s already not cheap, but with these additions, this is one great ice accessory.
- Strong and durable - 300+ lbs. no problem
- Tall enough to be easy on the knees
- Padded seat
- Removable insulation
- Not set up for a bubbler
- The lid can be tough to open if subjected to heavy loads
Frabill 4822 Insulated Bait Bucket - Best Ice Fishing Bucket for Bait
Frabill’s 4822 is a fixture on the ice, and if you’re looking to keep bait alive as long as possible, it’s hard to beat.
Holding 1.3 gallons of water, this insulated bucket is aerator-ready, sporting attachment points for your bubbler hose. It does a great job keeping live bait active and ready, even when the mercury is dipping dangerously low.
Nevertheless, you might want to keep the lid cracked open a touch, as freezing water can ice the lid shut, making it a devil to open again.
This isn’t a bucket I’d use as a stool, but as a dedicated bait option, it’s worth every penny of its incredible low price.
- Really inexpensive
- Well insulated
- Light and small
- The lid can freeze shut with enough ice build-up
- Not a good stool
The final Frabill product on our shortlist is essentially the 4822 with an integrated aerator.
This insulated bait bucket has all the strengths and weaknesses of its brother - for instance, icing the lid shut - but it includes a built-in bubbler in the lid that runs off 4 AA batteries.
Now batteries are very sensitive to temperature, as ice anglers already know all too well, so how long they last is directly impacted by ambient temperature. Expect running times between 4 and 12 hours depending on just how cold it is and always bring spares.
Some anglers have reported issues with the aerator tube coming loose - a simple fix with tape will solve that problem. You could even hit it with a dab or two of silicone and have a water-tight seal that will really hold.
I can recommend this ice bucket for freshwater anglers, but brackish and saltwater seem to give the bubbler a lot of trouble.
- Really inexpensive for what you get
- Well insulated
- Built-in bubbler that works well in freshwater
- Light and small
- Good battery life
- The lid can freeze shut with enough ice buildup
- Not a good stool
- Aerator tube can come loose, but the fix is easy
Yeti has a well-earned reputation for their high-end coolers, and everything you’ve heard about them is true - including the astronomical price.
That commitment to quality is just as evident with this bucket. Built tough, I doubt there’s a more robust alternative out there, and if you’re hard on your gear, this Loadout is definitely worth a look.
But be aware: this is little more than a tough bucket. No lid, no insulation, no extras - everything else you might want is aftermarket, and the price starts to add up fast, leading lots of ice anglers to ask if it’s worth the overall price to get the Loadout fishing ready.
A good buy? We’re not convinced.
- Tough and durable
- Food safe
- Comfortable handle
- No insulation
- No lid
- Ridiculously expensive for a bucket
- Extras increase the price even further
Custom Leathercraft’s Wild River is a great idea: take a solid cooler and upgrade it with a comfortable lid and gear-holding pockets around the exterior.
The insulation on this bucket is minimal at best, so freezing could be an issue if your shelter isn’t warmed by a good heater. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend fishing with this bucket out on the exposed ice.
The lid is plenty comfortable as a seat, especially with an added inflatable seat cushion, but the height may stress the knees of taller anglers.
Around the exterior, you’ll find two pockets that fit 3500 style trays, plier holders, and LED light, a retractable lanyard, and a zippered pocket that can fit an aerator.
Unfortunately, the tube that feeds oxygen into the bucket will get pinched by the lid when it’s closed, so some careful modification with a drill or Dremel may be a good idea.
For anglers who need the extra storage, this is certainly worth a second look.
- Reasonably comfortable seat
- Lots of external storage
- Not much (if any) insulation
- The lid will pinch the bubbler tube closed
What to Look for in a Good Ice Fishing Bucket
Ice fishing buckets do a lot more than hold bait, though they frequently do a lot of that, too.
But they’re often called upon to tote pop-ups, flashers, batteries, cables, heaters, drinks, lunch, and the thousands of other things you bring out on the ice.
That’s why capacity matters and good, solid handles are always appreciated.
Cold temperatures are murder on hard plastics, and they can turn even the toughest bucket into a brittle mess when the mercury plummets.
Look for buckets from companies that have a hard-won reputation on the hard water. For our money, it’s tough to go wrong with Frabill.
A bucket that can accept an aerator, keep drinks above freezing - and when the insulation is removed, double as a carry-all - is a tool worth buying.
We look for ice fishing buckets that work - and work hard.
Finally, insulation is important.
If you’re fishing in the relative warmth of a heated shelter, insulation may not be a critical factor. But out on the exposed ice, sitting over a hole with your rod in hand, watching your minnows freeze to death or your sandwiches slowly turn into tooth-breakers is no good.
We can’t tell you whether insulation is a big deal for you - only you can answer that question. But think it through carefully, and be realistic about how and where you fish.
The Sit-N-Fish is better designed as an all-rounder that you can sit on than any other product we could find, and while you could outfit the Yeti to match, you could buy quite a few Sit-N-Fish buckets for the same price.
In our book, that’s just not worth it.
The Frabill 4822 squeezes its bait bucket competition into second place because aftermarket aerators just tend to work better than the ones Frabill delivers with their products. And as long as you’re careful about lid icing, you’ll really come to appreciate this bucket’s utility.
As always, we hope you learned something from this article, and if you have, we’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below.