You can do a lot of things to keep your live bait alive while fishing in warm waters. I don’t even use a bait bucket most of the time. I typically use my fish basket or minnow trap, and I allow them to swim around in their natural habitat while I fish.
That’s not possible when you’re ice fishing, though. You have to have a proper bait bucket.
How do you pick the right bait bucket, though? Well, it’s a little more complicated than picking one for warm water, but it’s not too difficult.
Here are my favorite models, and I’ve included some helpful tips to keep your bait alive once you buy a bait bucket.
Ice Fishing Minnow Buckets Mentioned In This Article
The Best Ice Fishing Minnow Bucket Reviews
Below is where I’ve taken an in-depth look at each of the bait buckets recommended in this article. Under each of the bait buckets, you’ll find a link that will take you to Amazon.com where you can read more about each of the products. You can also follow the same link to read more user reviews.
1. Engel Coolers Live Bait Cooler/Dry Box With Air Pump
This Engel cooler has a spacious opening to allow for plenty of bait storage, and the lid creates a seal that prevents water from leaking out of it. That makes it a great choice for carrying live bait onto the ice with you. It’s also a pretty robust cooler.
You can buy it in 19-quart and 30-quart variants, and both variants come complete with insulated walls, bottoms, and lids, and the hardware used for both variants is top notch.
The hinges, latches, and screws are all made from corrosion-resistant steel, and the hinges are designed to stop themselves from being over extended. All of the pieces are impact-resistant.
Finally, it comes with a battery-operated aerator to help you keep your live bait alive for a much longer period of time. The aerator does a great job at keeping your bait supplied with oxygen, and it doesn’t run nearly as loud as other aerators within this price range.
- Hardware is excellent
- Both sizes are spacious
- The included aerator is almost silent
- I would have liked to have seen a few extra carrying features.
This is a solid bait bucket for just about anyone. A set of wheels with grip for rolling on ice would have been nice, but I can’t complain too much about that. Just go with something else if you think transporting it will be an issue for you.
2. Frabill Insulated Bait Bucket With Built-In Aerator
This Frabill bucket is a lot more like a bucket than most of the cooler designs that modern companies are coming up with, but it’s still packed with all of the modern features.
It also has a few budget options available if you pick up one of the smaller models.
First, the bucket itself is made out of polymer, and the walls are heavily insulated to keep your bait at an appropriate temperature.
One of the great things about the lid is that it has a carrying handle to help you transport it, and you don’t have to remove anything to open it.
There’s a small hatch on the top for loading or unloading bait. The lid is removable for cleaning and filling purposes, though.
Finally, an aerator is built into the unit. It’s not as quiet as the one on the Engel cooler, but it can stay on for at least a week before it needs new batteries, and it keeps your bait alive. However, I would have liked to have seen more durable hardware on the bucket. That’s especially true for the more expensive variants that hold more water and bait. As it is, the lid is held on by some basic clasps, and the hatch is held shut by friction. One good topple on the ice can cause all of your bait to fall out.
- Easy to carry
- The hatch is handy
- Long-lasting aerator battery
- The lack of proper hardware makes me have a few reservations about it. I wouldn’t want an accident to make me lose tons of bait.
This is a great choice if you want to go ice fishing casually, but its low level of durability makes it difficult for me to recommend it to hardcore fishermen. It might survive some nasty falls, but it won’t take as many hits as some of the more robust options. However, it’s more than enough for casual ice fishing, and it’s great if you do a lot of normal fishing, too.
3. CLAM Insulated Bait Bucket
This is a versatile bait bucket, but it lacks one feature that I consider a necessity. We’ll talk about that later, though.
First, this is simply an insulated bucket with a screw on lid. A rubber gasket forms an airtight seal when you close it up. There’s not much else going for the main unit. However, it comes with an insulated carrying bag that fits right around the bucket.
The bag helps regulate the bucket’s temperature in extreme conditions, and it gives it some padding to protect it from impacts. If that were all I was looking at, I’d call this one of the best bait buckets you could buy.
It’s inexpensive, well-built, and heavily insulated. It also has enough room for plenty of bait for a single person. However, it doesn’t have an aerator, and you can’t add your own without drilling into the bucket.
The second you start drilling through it, you lose a lot of its insulating capabilities, and you run the risk of making it leak. Without an aerator, this is a bait bucket that will kill any bait fish you put in it after several hours. So, you can’t expect to keep your left over bait for another day.
- Comes with insulated carrying case
- Without the option to add an aerator, you can’t keep bait in this thing for more than one trip. The lack of oxygen will kill all of your bait fish pretty quickly.
I recommend this bait bucket to people who want to occasionally spend a few hours ice fishing. It’s lightweight, durable, and financially accessible to everyone, but the lack of an aerator or the ability to add your own really hampers its usefulness for hardcore ice fishermen.
Things To Look For In A Bait Bucket
Your bait bucket is the item that will fuel your entire fishing expedition. So, you obviously want a good one. If you buy something that kills all of your minnows in half an hour, you’ll be left sulking during the entire trip home. Here are the things I expect from a good bait bucket.
If I’m using a bait bucket, it has to be aerated. I want my bait to last the entire time I’m on the water. When I use minnows or other small bait fish in warm water, I usually just use a minnow trap the whole time because of that. However, that’s not a valid option when ice fishing.
I like aerators that are relatively quiet, and they have to do a good job of keeping the fish alive. I recommend getting a battery-operated one. The electric ones will force you to stay close to your vehicle. However, you shouldn’t let the lack of an aerator make you automatically hate a great bait bucket.
There are aerators available that you can attach to your bucket yourself. Some buckets aren’t suitable for this, but it’s good to know you can do it with a lot of buckets in case you find one you really love without an aerator.
You should also consider the amount of time you spend fishing. If you’re just going to fish for an hour or two, you can safely use a non-aerated bucket.
Pretty much any fish you use as bait is going to be susceptible to weather changes, and a lot of them don’t handle the cold very well. So, you’ll want plenty of insulation in your bait bucket.
The insulation helps keep the water in the bucket near the same temperature it was when you filled it, and it can regulate the temperature if weather conditions make a turn for the worse.
I recommend using bait buckets that are fully insulated in their main chamber when you’re ice fishing. Buckets with less insulation are fine for warm weather, but the cold environments that you ice fish in can overwhelm cheaper buckets.
Portability is a big deal. You have to remember that you might not be able to drive out to your favorite ice fishing spot. If the ice is too thin for vehicles, you’ll have to carry all of your gear out to your favorite hole.
Do you really want several gallons of water, fish, and the bucket itself to weigh you down?
I recommend getting a bucket that is big enough for your needs but still small. That will obviously lower the total amount of weight you have to carry.
You should also try to get a bucket with a handle attached to it. Most buckets do, but sometimes you’ll find one that is designed more like an ice chest, and those are a pain to carry if they don’t have wheels.
Tips To Keep Your Bait Alive For Ice Fishing
Keeping your bait alive while ice fishing is pretty much the same process that you’d use during any other form of fishing. I’ll list a few of the basics, but the main difference here is insulation.
- Use or dispose of dead bait
- Keep your aerator on when there are fish in the bucket
- Try to keep it warm
Insulation is the main thing you should focus on because of how cold it is when you ice fish. Those harsh temperatures can quickly kill fish that aren’t insulated well. The only real way to help is to wrap your bucket in a spare jacket. The insulation inside of your bucket should be good enough if you buy a good one, but you can never be too careful.
Getting a proper ice fishing bucket isn’t difficult. There are a lot of options available in several price ranges, and even the most expensive ones don’t cost more than a decent rod. To get the right one for you, try to follow my tips, and keep your own needs in mind.
If you’re looking for the best minnow bucket for ice fishing, you won’t go wrong with any of the 3 bait buckets I mentioned in this article. But the one bait bucket I recommend as the best is the Engel cooler with the air pump.