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Bait Tank Troubles? – Part 2

Bait Tank Troubles

In the first part of this series I outlined a few ways to add more bait capacity to your rig. There are many ways to accomplish the goal; add a bait bag, plumb in a separate tank on the swim step, mount a new tank in the center of the cockpit or swap out a smaller one to replace it with more. You can cut out an existing east coast style well and drop in something more suited to our west coast fishing or rip out an entire rotted bulkhead console with a sink, freezer and tackle storage and replace it all with a totally custom dual tank setup. There are endless options depending on your space, budget and time frame.

But sometimes it’s not just about more bait-water.

A classic example is a job we did starting about this time last year on a 48-foot Pacifica. The original service request was for a bow tank with rod holders to make it easier when baiting marlin. But as soon as I dropped down into engine room to take a look at the plumbing situation I could see this job was going to be a far bigger challenge. A few questions for the boat owner confirmed my suspicions.

Without a doubt the Pacifica fleet is some of the “fishiest” West Coast sport fishers ever made. Designed and built to fish efficiently both here and Mexico it’s no surprise the boats have remained so popular. But as with all older boats, and especially those that spent some time in Mexico, some of the work that gets done is sub-standard. So when I saw the nightmare of plumbing for both the ac and dc pumps and found out the dc pump never functioned at all and that the valves and kinked hose downstream of a ½-hp ac pump so restricted the flow it took over 20 minutes to fill the cockpit tank I wasn’t a bit surprised.

bait tank troubles

Once I explained the issues to the owner and outlined the necessary steps to make it right I got the green light to proceed. It was a blast getting in there and ripping out all that old plumbing and as usual I was amazed at the complicated (and unnecessary) pile of old “stuff” I was able to remove. We opted to go all new with both ac and dc pumps and manifolds so either pump can supply the bow tank or cockpit tank or both. The new ½ horsepower ac pump, even when restricted, now fills a 200-gallon cockpit tank in 6 minutes. The original flow would barely support a couple of scoops and now the tank will hold up to 8 scoops with room for more if necessary. New hose was run forward to supply the bow tank and once the tank was scribed to the deck and caulked it had the custom look we love to see on our finished installations.

Just like on the previous boat where one project pointed out problems in another area, on another boat a similar situation with a simpler solution recently came to light. A customer removed his double tank and brought it in for some gelcoat repair. During the season he had noticed one side filled faster and held bait better than the other but he had never really looked into the reason. Once the tank was up it was easy to see the issue; a kinked inlet hose. Even reinforced hose will fail over time if stressed by too tight of a bend radius. A new section of hose is a simple fix for the problem and will insure the proper flow needed to have healthy bait.

bait tank troubles

On another installation we were removing a small single tank and replacing it with a larger double tank. The existing pumps were too small for the bigger tank so all the plumbing came out to make room for the new gear. I was shocked at the unnecessary long, looping hose runs and the excessive amount of fittings used to accomplish a simple task. Remember that centrifugal pumps can move a high volume of water but at low pressure. Those loops and dips in the hose can trap air and cause airlocks, bringing the whole system down.

bait tank troubles

Along with the lengthy hose run issues there were too many elbows and valves. The plumbing gurus have determined each 90-degree elbow will reduce the flow by about 10%. That’s a lot of good water flow to be charged off to bad plumbing. Whenever possible run the hose uphill all the way from the pump to the tank and use the shortest route available with minimal fittings. The ultimate result is far more water to keep your bait in better shape.

The locations of both the inlet thru hull and drain thru hull can also have major impact on the effectiveness of your plumbing system. Fortunately, we don’t see nearly as many issues as in the past. I used to see the high speed pickups installed backwards, with the screen facing aft, on a regular basis but nowadays not too often. But I do see them still installed in poor locations on a regular basis.

It’s important to recognize that a location that’s easy to get to is not a worthy reason to start drilling. Of far more importance is a spot close to the keel, forward of the props, with clean water flow and sufficient access to install a ball valve and whatever combination of pump/sea strainer suits your needs. In addition to checking on the inside for enough space to drill and assemble, make sure on the outside there is sufficient access. Drilling down into a trailer bunk or cradle support is virtually guaranteed to ruin your day.

bait tank troubles

The inlet side has the most issues but it’s important to throw some thought to the drain side also. The vast majority of our installations are drained aft through the transom and above the waterline. On most boats this is not a problem but not always. Sometimes, even on bigger rigs, there is just no perfect spot available. When faced with a situation that mandates a below-the-waterline drain it’s not a problem but we follow a precise regimen: bronze fittings only and double clamped heavy wall, reinforced hose with a shut-off valve if space and budget permit.

I do get asked about draining through the bottom of the boat. On rare occasions there is no other alternative available so we have to go that route and it actually works just fine. We use a regular high speed pickup but we remove the grill and grind the edges smooth. Then we install it backwards so the smooth, rounded side faces forward. This serves as a deflector to preclude any restriction of the drain water when the boat is at higher speeds.

Draining out the sides can also be a problem. We once had a customer whose tank drained fine until the boat was heavily loaded and doing 12-14 knots. Above or below that speed there was no problem but at that speed the tank would overflow. We eventually discovered that the hull design focused increased water pressure right at that location at that speed and it disrupted the flow. A small scoop served as a deflector and solved the problem.

There are a couple other issues to consider if you’re planning to drain out the side. One is the sound. For me it’s hard imagining that some find it annoying…but they do, especially if the drain is well above the waterline. The other problem that occurs with drains when their higher up on the side is getting water on the docks (and soaking shoes) when tied up to a dock. To eliminate the crankiness factor drain aft if at all possible.

To wrap up this part of the story I want to again reiterate how important it is to use quality components for your installation. When you’re putting a small tank on a 14-foot skiff with all the hose visible and accessible that’s one thing. But a bigger tank on a larger boat where much of the plumbing is difficult to get at mandates the best possible materials. Bronze fittings for below the waterline, double clamped with stainless steel clamps tightened down on Coast Guard approved hose for below the waterline installations makes for a professional job and offers up solid security on those long offshore trips.

bait tank troubles

Here is a beautiful example of a job well done…right down to the red protectors on the sharp ends of the hose clamps.

In “Part 3” we’ll talk a bit more about pumps and some bait handling techniques to help keep your bait in better shape. And with the way this season developing so quickly…don’t wait till summer to get ready because you’ll be missing out!!!

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Well-known California captain, writer, speaker and tackle shop owner, Capt. Mark Wisch has been helping anglers catch fish along the West Coast for decades. As an author, Mark has written three books, including “Between Two and Twenty Fathoms,” “In The Gray” and “Lessons from a Lifetime on the Water.” He's currently working on his fourth book, “Way Out West, a Private Boaters Guide to Fishing Offshore Waters.” Mark owns and operates Pacific Edge Tackle (www.pacificedgetackle.com) and manufactures a complete line of live bait tanks. He also specializes in outfitting sport-fishing boats with electronics and fishing equipment. Mark graduated from Cal Poly, Pomona, with a degree in marketing and currently resides in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Chris and their dog Emma.