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Bait tanks that can be built at home (build your own bait tank 101)

Bait Tank For Shad Bait tanks are something that many catfish anglers keep in their catfish fishing arsenal. A few years ago I built this homemade baitank for holding shad and other catfish baits both on my boat and to keep fresh bait alive at my house.

I have since sold the tank so I don’t have it any longer so I am going to do the best I can to walk you throw building your own bait tank for catfishing with the photos I have.

I am short on some of the photos but it should be enough to get you started on your bait tank.  I am going to add some notes to the bait tank photos to guide you along in building your bait tank. This may not be the prettiest and most detailed step by step I will every do but it will give you a good basis on what you need to do to build your own bait tank.

If you are even halfway mechanically inclined and have some basic building skills you should be able to get through building your bait tank for catfishing with no problems.

I used a tank like this for many years with no issues and it worked like champ, it would even keep bait alive for days.

You need an empty and clean plastic 55 gallon drum (or smaller) just determine the size bait tank you want to have.

If you will be using the bait tank for catfishing from a boat, you need to take the weight under consideration. Keep in mind that gallon of water weights about 8.35 pounds per gallon, so you need to estimate the number of gallons of water based on size that you will be building and calculate weight. I honestly don’t remember how many gallons I made this tank to hold but I do remember that I cut the lid off and measured water one five gallon bucket at a time by dumping it into the empty 55 gallon drum after I cut off the lid.

Keep in mind that I would build the bait tank a bit bigger than what you think you need and put less water in it if you think it is too heavy. That is much easier than starting over with a new bait tank.

Example: 40 gallons of water x 8.35 lbs = 335 Lbs

Step 1: Cut the drum where you want based on the size bait tank you want to build. Should be pretty self explanatory. See the photo.

Bait Tank For Shad

Step 2: Take the top section that you cut off the 55 gallon drum and trim it down so it will fit down inside the bottom section of the 55 gallon drum. See photos it should be self explanatory. Just make sure that you cut less than what you think you will need. You can always trim a little off to make it work.

Step 3: Fit the top piece of the bait tank into the bottom piece of the bait tank.

Step 4. Cut a square hole in the top of the tank for your access area.

Bait Tank For Shad

Step 5: Take some scraps from your left over piece of the drum and cut 4 small pieces. I screwed these under where my door was cut in the top of the tank and slightly inset so the door would not fall through.

Step 5: Drill a hole opposite the access door for your filtration system (I used 3″ pvc for my filtration system) I used a big 3″ hole saw and then took a dremel tool and shaved off the inside of the hole until the PVC pipe fit.

Step 6: Take stainless steel hardware (nuts, bolts, washers) and bolt the top piece of the tank to the bottom piece and seal with neoprene washers. (I used around 8 nuts and bolts around the circumference of the top.

Step 8: Drill two small holes in one side of the lid and two small holes in one side of the opening for the lid of your bait tank (towards the hold where the PVC filter will go through). Drill another hole for a handle so you can easily open the lid (opposite the side of  where your hinge will go). You can attach with hinges but I just used two cable ties and left them a little loose instead of hinges. (I also mounted an extra piece of plastic on the open side with one bolt placed through it so you could slide it around to close the top of the tank).

Step 9: Build filtration system. Take 3″ PVC, drill hole for aerator water output. Insert aerator into bottom of 3″PVC pipe and run plastic tubing into the aerator and attach to the aerator water output. Put PVC end cap on bottom of pipe to hold aeration system into place. I used a keep alive aerator because I already had one. My fishing buddy built the same tank and used the Fish Saver Portable Aerator I also have another friend who built a smaller one and used a Bait Saver Aerator.

Step 10: Drill pilot holes several inches above top of aerator and insert long screws that will run the width of the PVC pipe, or at least most of the way. This will hold filtration above aerator.

Step 11: Determine water intake line and drill multiple 1/4″ holes around water intake level for water to be drawn into bait tank filtration system and into filter material. Water enters here, runs through filtration and exits through aerator plastic hose. This filters scales and debris, and outputs clean water and oxygen through the plastic hose at the bottom. Add PVC cleanout cap at the top so you can remove and clean filter material from bait tank as needed. Drill hole on side top above water intake to run wires out of to run to battery.

Step 12: Add multiple bath scrubbers (shown in photo). These are inserted into pipe and rest above the aerator on the screws and stop at the water intake holes.

Step 12: Insert filtration system into hole. Run and mount wires.

This tank was very heavy when it was full. I went to the hardware store and bought a plastic spigot and mounted it on one side at the bottom to use for draining water from the tank and doing water changes.  This helped a lot.

I also added some insulation to the outside by wrapping it in fiberglass insulation scraps like they use on houses, and wrapped the material in plastic and duct tape. This helped to keep the tank insulated on cold and hot days and regulate water temperature to keep the bait alive.

Product Links:

Fish Saver Portable Aerator

Bait Saver Aerator

Catching shad is an essential part of targeting blue catfish. Not only is fresh shad one of the best baits for blue catfish but learning to pattern shad will do wonders for you in your quest to catch blue catfish.

To get more information including an in depth guide on choosing a cast net and tips and tricks on finding and catching shad and everything else you ever need to know on catching bait, click here.


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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. This is a great looking bait bucket. I will build one a little smaller than you show here but what a great idea. Thanks so much.

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