Frabill AquaLife Bait Station

As a fisherman, you already know that fresh, lively bait is key for some species. A live well is of course the solution. But a live well on a kayak can be a particular challenge because of the limited real estate.

This season I'm targeting large blue and flathead catfish, which bite best on fresh cut or live bait respectively. Moreover, they prefer bait species native to their waters. So I need a way to store live bait, potentially overnight given the limited hours I can devote to fishing in any one day.

My current solution to the live bait problem is the Frabill AquaLife Bait Station.

The Bait Station is essentially a large paint bucket that's been pimped out with bait tank features. It has a 6 gallon capacity, which is the largest aerated, bucket style bait container I've found. I like a bucket container because the vertical orientation gives you a lot of water capacity in a small footprint, which is ideal for a kayak. In fact, the Bait Station will fit into a standard milk crate perfectly. On the other hand, its 19" height could make it awkward to retrieve bait from a seated position, especially if you're short and you don't have a raised seat on your yak.

There's a foam liner inside the bucket that provides thermal insulation, helping to maintain a more stable water temperature for your bait. It's probably not as effective as a cooler, but it certainly beats a plain plastic bucket which has no insulation at all and effectively turns into a miniature greenhouse in the sunlight.

Pimp my bait bucket

The magic happens mostly in the lid, which screws onto the bucket for secure attachment. Without it, the Bait Station is just a plastic bucket, albeit an insulated one. The lid has a molded-in compartment for the aerator, which attaches securely with screws. The aerator's on/off switch, power adapter port, and battery compartment are all water-sealed. I don't know if they would keep water-tight in a tip-over, but they're definitely up to the task of keeping rain and incidental splash from seeping in. The lid has an easy-access hatch to store and retrieve your bait. The hatch is thoughtfully designed. It's wide enough to allow dip net access. And it has detents in the hinge to keep it open or closed as needed.

The Bait Station's aerator is identical to the Frabill Cooler Saltwater Aeration System. The most likely part to fail on a product like this will be the aerator. So it's good to know that even if the Bait Station is out of warranty, you can buy a drop-in replacement aerator if needed. I'm sure you could also buy a regular aerator and DIY it to adapt to the Bait Station. This would undoubtedly be a cheaper way to go, but the system wouldn't be as seamless.

Out of the box, the aerator runs on two size D batteries or a cigarette lighter adapter (included). You can also purchase a 12-volt adapter for powering the Bait Station from a regular A/C outlet. If you have designs on keeping your bait overnight, I think that option is well worth it unless you already have a bait tank at home.

The noise level from the aerator is reasonable in my opinion. I wouldn't want to sleep in the same room with it running, but I'm able to quickly tune it out when I'm sharing the kayak with it out on the water. Earlier models of the Bait Station apparently attached the aerator in a way that amplified the electric motor. (You can identify the earlier model by its gray lid.) The updated version (yellow lid), doesn't have this problem.

There is an airstone, which diffuses the air from the aerator into tiny bubbles. The aerator delivers air to the airstone via plastic tubing that sits in a recessed channel in the foam liner. The air stone also fits into a recessed well at the bottom of the liner. This thoughtful detail keeps them from interfering with your dip net when pulling out fresh bait. A very nice touch.

Being built off what looks like a standard paint bucket, the Bait Station comes with a standard paint bucket handle. This means the handle is seriously undersized and underbuilt for schlepping gallons of water between the car and the lake/river. It digs into your hand and is very uncomfortable. I highly recommend upgrading with an aftermarket grip.

Let's talk bottom line. The MSRP on the Bait Station is $110, which would be too much in my opinion. But the street price is more reasonable. I got mine for $68 from That's still more than if you built your own from a paint bucket and aerator, but the Bait Station includes an insulated liner and cigarette lighter power adapter, both of which are significant. Plus it has all the handy little features I've described and everything works together very seamlessly. Finally, it's ready to go out of the box so you wouldn't have to spend time shopping for parts and building. For me, the extra cost was worth all that. At the time of this writing, a replacement aerator went for $39 at Once again a bit pricey, but probably worth it for me.

All in all, the Bait Station is a great solution for keeping fish alive and well until it's time for them to become bait. Its portability works well for kayak fishing, yet it's big enough to manage larger bait fish reasonably well. I haven't had mine long enough to make a pronouncement about its durability, but if it lasts as well as it performs, I will be a delighted customer.