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Guide To Fishing Kayak Livewells

Mark Armstrong
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You might be considering adding a kayak livewell to your gear, but is it really necessary?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this guide, we’ll explore the pros and cons of using a livewell on your fishing trips.

By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to decide if a livewell is the right choice for you.

Guide To Fishing Kayak Livewells - Pinterest ImagePin

What Is A Livewell And Do I Need A Livewell In My Fishing Kayak?

A livewell is a tank, similar to a cooler by design but it has the addition of a pump to oxygenate the water inside. This can help to keep fish alive, whether it’s your fresh catch or your live bait.

You fill the tank with water and then store your fish or bait inside the tank, with the lid closed. The livewell aerates the water and the insulated cooler box keeps the water at a maintained temperature, helping to keep your fish alive.

Is A Livewell Necessary On A Kayak?

Whether you need one or not will probably depend on the type of fishing you plan to do. If you plan to use live bait to catch fish, a livewell can be useful. If you plan to catch small fish and want to keep them alive and fresh to eat later, a livewell can help you keep them swimming for as long as possible.

Because kayak livewells tend to be small enough to fit on the deck of a kayak, you’re probably not going to be able to keep a lot of fish alive in it, as there might not be room. If you want to catch and keep your prize fish, you may need to think about upping the size of the tank.

Kayak livewells can be better suited for keeping bait alive, such as minnows, shrimp, and other baitfish. This can be ideal if you plan to fish for several hours or overnight, as the livewell can help to keep your fish alive for the duration of your trip.

Live bait can be a great tool to catch fish in the ocean. Some lakes may not allow you to use live bait that doesn’t already exist naturally in the lake, in case it gets loose. If you’re using live bait for kayak fishing in lakes, it can be best to catch it from the lake beforehand.

If you use artificial lures and practice catch and release fishing, chances are you’re not going to have much use for a livewell on your kayak.

Do Fishing Kayaks Have Livewells?

Most fishing kayaks don’t have livewells as standard. Some fishing kayaks may have the option to add a livewell or convert storage hatches into livewells.

Most livewells on fishing kayaks will tend to be aftermarket features. Some kayak brands make livewells to fit certain fishing kayak models. These can be a great idea as the livewells are built to fit into a specific space on the kayak.

Fishing kayaks generally don’t come with livewells as standard because it’s a feature that not every kayak angler will necessarily need or want. For some kayak anglers, it can be more beneficial to use the extra space for other gear.

Livewells Vs. Coolers: Will A Cooler Do The Job?

A livewell has an aerator pump to oxygenate the water. A standard cooler does not. This means if you fill a cooler and put live fish inside, they’re probably not going to survive for very long because the oxygen in the water will run out.

So a livewell is designed to keep your fish alive for much longer than a standard cooler.

That being said, there are coolers that can double as livewells with aerator pumps. This means you can use the cooler to hold ice or lunch when you’re not using it to hold live bait.

You could modify a standard cooler to create your own livewell if you are DIY-minded, using an aerator pump and some PVC pipes.

> Tips on storing fish on a kayak

Video: Homemade Cooler Livewell

Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Livewell

Select Your Bait

If you want to fish with live bait, you should select the right type of bait for the fish you plan to catch. Local bait and tackle shops will often sell live bait that’s known to work in that particular area or body of water.

Rather than purchasing the bait, you can also catch it yourself. This can sometimes be better than buying it in a bait shop, as it can let you know what fish in that area are likely to be eating. This means you can target them with their natural food.

Be careful not to handle the baitfish too much, as this can cause injury to the fish. If there are any injured fish, it’s best to remove them from the tank.

Don’t Overcrowd Your Livewell

The capacity of your livewell will determine how many fish you can safely keep. If you overload the tank with too many fish, there likely won’t be enough oxygen to go around or space for them to move.

Fish also create toxins in the water. So the more fish you have, the more toxins will be produced, causing a shorter lifespan for your baitfish. You can also change the water regularly to avoid the toxins building up to dangerous levels.

It’s a good idea to clean the inside of the livewell after each use so that toxins don’t carry over to your next tank of baitfish.

Keep The Lid Closed

It’s a good idea to keep the lid closed on your livewell otherwise your fish could jump out.

Keeping the lid closed will also help to make sure the temperature of the water stays consistent and cool. If you fish in warm conditions, it won’t take long for an uncovered livewell to heat up, even if the sidewalls are insulated.

Kayak Livewell Position

Your livewell will usually be best installed in the rear tank well of your fishing kayak. However, you may have options that can let you install a small livewell in a center hatch or bow hatch.

If your livewell is positioned in the rear of your kayak, you may want to think about how you access it from your seat. It can be a good idea to sit sideways on your seat rather than try to swivel your body around.

Use Ice

Adding ice to your livewell can help to keep the water cool and your fish happy and healthy. This can be a useful tool if the water temperature in your livewell starts to warm.

Some kayak livewells have a pump that takes water from the lake or ocean, which can keep the water temperature more consistent.

Our 3 Best Livewell Picks For Fishing Kayaks

1: Hobie Livewell Bait Tank V2

Hobie Livewell Bait Tank V2Pin
  • Dimensions: 14 x 12 x 21 inches
  • Weight: 9 pounds
  • Capacity: 8 gallons

The Hobie Livewell V2 can be an excellent option for Hobie fishing kayaks. But it can also be used on other sit-on-top kayaks that have enough space in the rear cargo deck.

A great feature of this tank is that it has three integrated rod holders. It also has rod leash clip points. But it is a little pricey.

The bait tank has a sealed marine switch for safer use of the on/off controls. It also benefits from having an adjustable downspout so you can control the level of water easily. The downspout should be positioned through a scupper hole on your kayak. It can also be easily filled using the nylon pickup tube.

It comes with a high-flow self-priming Attwood pump to aerate the water in the tank. It also features a 6-volt sealed gel cell battery and charger so it’s ready to go out of the box and can last around 10 hours on the water.

It also benefits from having removable tank partitions so you can divide the space inside the livewell. 


  • Battery included (and battery charger)
  • Easy to fill and drain
  • Additional rod storage


  • Expensive

2: Engel Live Bait Cooler

Engel Live Bait CoolerPin
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 8 x 10 inches
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Capacity: 7.5 quarts/1.75 gallons

The Engel Live Bait Cooler can be a great kayak livewell if you’re looking for something more compact and lightweight.

While this one won’t hold as much as the Hobie V2 tank, it can be ideal for holding smaller bait, such as shrimp or minnows. It can also be a more convenient size for smaller deck spaces.

You may even be able to fit this livewell on your kayak alongside a fishing crate or secondary cooler, depending on the space you have available. 

This one comes with a net inside so you can lift it up for easy access to your bait.

It also comes with a two-speed three-way aerator pump. The pump runs on two D cell batteries. But it can also be powered using a cigarette lighter in your car or you can plug it into a 110-volt AC outlet (AC adapter is not included).

A nice feature of this one is that the air tube port is on the top of the cooler instead of the sidewalls, where it was on previous models. This means you get to make the most of the cooler’s capacity and minimize splashes caused by the air circulation.


  • Compact
  • Easy to access bait
  • Two-speed pump


  • Small capacity

3: Frabill Magnum Bait Station

Frabill Magnum Bait StationPin
  • Dimensions: 19.5 x 11.5 x 13.8 inches
  • Weight: 9.75 pounds
  • Capacity: 13 quarts/3.25 gallons

The Frabill Magnum Bait Station can be an ideal livewell for fishing kayaks with large cargo decks. This is a pretty heavy livewell but it has a decent capacity and a lift-out net liner for convenient access to bait.

One of the best features of this bait tank is the integrated aerator pump. The pump is built into the lid of the cooler so you don’t have anything on the exterior that can get snagged on other gear.

This is a heavy-duty cooler with an injection-molded base that runs off of two D batteries or a 12-volt battery (batteries not included). You can also run it from an AC adapter (not included).

This insulated bait station has been tested in freezing conditions, so it can be great for all weathers. It also benefits from having composite latches for added durability and corrosion-resistance in saltwater environments.


  • Very durable
  • Integrated aerator
  • Lift-out net liner


  • Heavy

Are Livewells Worth It For Kayak Fishing?

A livewell can be an excellent addition to your fishing kayak if you prefer to fish with live bait and need a way to keep it alive on your kayak.

A livewell can be particularly useful for ocean kayak fishing or an overnight fishing trip.

Remember to think about the amount of space the livewell will take up on your deck, as well as the extra weight when it’s filled with water.

If you only fish with live bait occasionally, a livewell that doubles as a cooler might be more suitable, as you can get more use out of it.

Do you use a livewell on your kayak? Let us know.

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