Whether you chase slabs with minnows, toss shad to big cats, or throw shrimp to reds, you know that hot weather and live bait don’t mix.
And to keep your expensive or hard-won bait at its best, you need a the best bait bucket that can provide hours--perhaps even days--of cool, aerated water.
Unfortunately, bait shops and Amazon stock a wide range of products, some of which are simply too terrible to even consider. But time and again, I see anglers relying on sub-standard bait buckets--with predictable results!
Don’t be tempted by styrofoam buckets!
If you’re in the market for a good live bait bucket, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find a brief buying guide, as well as reviews of some of our favorites.
Quick glance at the best minnow buckets:
Capacity: 7.5, 13, 19, or 30 quarts
Engel produces what by any metric are the Cadillacs of bait coolers, and if you have an appropriate power source and the space, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.
Engel starts with a reasonably high-quality cooler body that’s rugged, thick-sided, and well-insulated with molded polystyrene foam. High-quality gaskets create a tight seal between the lid and body, and the result is that Engel’s bait coolers hold their temperatures at bait-pampering temps in even the hottest weather.
It comes with a 2-speed aerator that runs on two D-cell batteries or via plug into a 12v accessory socket. Those batteries will typically last for 72 hours or more, running constantly.
And if there’s a weak point to the Engel system, it’s this aerator. Typically quite loud, it can stop working unexpectedly, which can cause serious bait issues! Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often, and most anglers find that this bait cooler works well season after season.
If it does happen to you, I recommend an after-market aerator rather than a replacement from Engel.
The Engel cooler also comes with a bait net, making retrieving your minnows or shrimp a snap.
Overall, I rate this bait cooler very highly. Keeping shrimp alive for days in the Florida sun is normal performance from an Engel, and minnows are simply no sweat. For multi-day excursions with live bait, this is a very hard cooler to beat, and for on-shore anglers like surf-casters or crappie addicts, it’s nice to have a bait cooler that doubles a seat!
Capacity: 10 quarts
Frabill’s Flow-Troll has been a favorite of bank anglers since it was first introduced, and for folks who fish from a Jon-boat, kayak, or canoe, it’s a great way to keep live bait alive longer.
The Flow-Troll is meant to be partially submerged in the water, allowing natural aeration and the ambient temperature to do its thing. Since the Flow-Troll is just barely buoyant, by design, it rides pretty low, keeping all but the hatch wet.
Built to be relatively hydrodynamic, the idea is that you can run your trolling motor or paddle with the Frabill in the water. For maneuvering with the trolling motor, this is fine.
But actually running from place to place under electric or human power?
That doesn’t strike me as a good idea: you could rip the handle free or snag the Flow-Troll on debris, and for paddlers, it’s going to cause some significant drag.
Drag will be a problem for paddlers.
To defeat these problems, anglers tend to keep an empty bucket handy, fill it with water, and pull the Frabill out, keeping it in the bucket while they move. Whether this defeats the purpose or not is up to you.
To my mind, where the Flow-Troll is excellent is from shore or while wading.
Without the worries about drag or snags, the Flow-Troll works pretty well to keep bait alive, assuming that surface water temperatures are to their liking.
Capacity: 1.3 gallons
Frabill’s 4825 has seen more than its fair share of fishing adventures, and it’s proven itself to be a worthy choice for keeping live bait swimming.
Built with a durable plastic exterior that houses plenty of insulation, keeping temperatures liveable is no sweat, even on the Gulf coast. Plenty of anglers I know use this bucket for live shrimp, and they take their bait seriously!
The aerator is powered by four AA batteries, which typically last 12 to 16 hours. For trips longer than that, you’re typically using a boat big enough to handle an Engel-sized cooler, but if not, you want to bring plenty of spares!
The aerator does its job well but can be a bit fragile. I’ve seen the hose come loose from the styrofoam fitting in the lid more often than I’d like, but it’s easy to slip back in place, and you can try a quick fix with silicone (at home) or duct tape (on the water). Personally, I’d recommend a quick hit with a dab of silicone when you get it--problem solved permanently!
The lid design on the 4825 is good and does its job, but it won’t prevent splashes over-topping the bucket. That’s not a problem on the water or in the bed of your truck, but if you transport this bait bucket in your car--watch out!
In terms of durability, this Frabill bait bucket has you covered. Knocks and bumps aren’t going to do any harm, and it should last for years.
Overall, the Frabill 4825 is a decent buy that’s trusted by hot-weather anglers.
Capacity: 15.2 quart/5 gallon
Marine Metals’ Cool Bubbles is a great choice for hot-weather anglers. Not as well known as the Frabill, it’s both a bit bigger and better designed, and to my mind, the better buy. But it is about twice as expensive as the Frabill. Whether that’s a deal-breaker, only you can say, but given the cost of bait--I’d say no.
The Cool Bubbles is essentially a tough, no-nonsense, 5-gallon bucket with a ¾-inch thick styrofoam liner and inner lid. It works well to keep bait alive in high temps, especially if you do your part and add a small bottle of ice or a few cubes.
Trust me; it’ll take the heat!
The Cool Bubbles’ aerator is excellent. Powered by 2 D-cell batteries, it’ll run for no less than 72 hours, and it can run on just one if needs be. That’s a lot of battery life, and if you have ice on hand--and what angler doesn’t?--it’ll get you through even the longest fishing trips.
Be aware that the Cool Bubbles comes in various sizes--and with different aerators!
The CB-115 is also a 5-gallon model, but its aerator will not give the same battery life as the CB-35.
Bait buckets come in a variety of sizes, running the gamut from the 6-quart Frabill Flow Troll to 30-quart Engel bait coolers.
This Engel offers a lot of capacity, but also takes up a lot of space.
Picking the right one for you isn’t rocket science, but you still need to ask yourself a few questions.
Are you a minnow angler, or is your bucket going to do double-duty for live bait like shrimp?
Shrimp demand more space than minnows, and crowding them will dramatically impact their life expectancy even if you keep them cool and aerated. And while a slab chaser may want to keep his bait bucket on the smaller side to prevent it from eating up precious deck area on a small boat, inshore anglers typically have a bit more space at hand.
How much space do you have for a bait bucket?
Answers to this question are important. And while you may technically have the space for a big Engel bait cooler, you may find that in practice, it gets in the way a lot. Realistically assess how much room you have and make a sensible choice.
For kayak and canoe anglers, that typically means opting for small options that don’t rely on aerators.
Every time I hit the bait shop, I see styrofoam bait buckets for sale.
They’re temptingly inexpensive, and you might just decide that it’s worth a few bucks to give one a try. But let me warn you ahead of time: they’ll break, leak, and tip over with the slightest bump.
They’re really not worth even the pocket change you’ll spend on them.
Instead, you want a bait bucket that can take a few hard knocks without leaking like a bad fitting under an old sink.
I don’t mind a simple paint bucket with a clip-on aerator--if the weather’s cool. But for hot weekends where there’s not a cloud in the sky and the mercury’s soaring out of control, you really need insulation.
Even with good insulation, the water in your bucket can heat up fast, killing bait.
A small bottle of frozen water or a few small pieces of ice--working in tandem with a well-insulated bait bucket--can keep your bait alive when the weather threatens to boil them.
But don’t overdo it: a little ice goes a long way!
Some bait buckets sport aerators that can be powered via a 12v accessory socket, and if your boat is equipped with one, power’s not a problem.
But for most anglers, the aerator will be battery-powered, and battery life matters. Bait like live shrimp can be expensive, and dead shrimp can mean an equally expensive ride back to the bait shop!
Long battery life is essential, and it’s one of the things we consider carefully.
Dead bait can ruin a fishing trip faster than a broken outboard--and far more frequently. To get the most from your investment in shiners or shrimp, you need a good live bait bucket--one that combines thick insulation with a quality aerator and plenty of battery life.
We hope that this article has helped you choose your next bait bucket, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.