Bait Tank Troubles? – Setting Up A Bait System

bait tanks

Part 1 – The Tanks

Even as I’m finishing up this piece in mid-December the deep-water yellows are still biting in several areas along the coast. And additionally, they’re likely to continue to do so given the abnormally warm water remaining along the coast. A short-billed spearfish was just caught on a party boat while fishing the unprecedented December yellowfin and bluefin bites out on the Cortes and Tanner banks. A marlin was hooked on a mackerel on a dropper loop in 130′ of water aboard a ¾-day boat fishing yellows at the Deep Hole above Point Dume and another baited off Box Canyon. Right at the moment, the weather is up on the outside. But as soon as this system passes the forecast is for less wind and near 80-degree temperatures a couple of days before the 25th. I’m betting some hardcore captains will make the long run and score on the tuna for both a slightly different Christmas dinner and the envy of their friends.

For the past several years a cold-water La Nina regime was firmly in control of our water temps. The rockfish, lingcod, whitefish, and sheephead loved the nutrient-rich water and they thrived. Squid was super abundant and we reaped the benefits once the tanker-sized yellows and seabass got on it. But the pelagics were sorely missed; there were but a handful of above-the-border yellowfin caught in 2011, 12 and 13, and minimal amounts of marlin. I heard a lot of sniveling about the conditions, lack of fish, and high fuel prices during those years.

Fortunately, this season was way different. With the tuna showing up in May and still biting in December, 8 months of biting fish allowed many private boaters to get back on the water and actually catch something again. Stir in many more marlin, a huge influx of yellows and dorados on the kelps plus the unheard-of opportunity to target and catch wahoo in local waters built the optimism quickly and kept it at a fever-pitch for months on end. Even today I had several customers in the store still all fired up and waiting for our breezy conditions to subside so they can get back out there.

But sadly…not everyone did well this year.

Of course, there are the inevitable tough days when the fish go down, the weather comes up or boat gremlins get the best of you. These are the inevitable and to-be-expected challenges of offshore fishing. You just suck it up, deal with the drama and start to plan your next trip. But these are not the issues I’m referring to. There are more; some easily remedied and others not so much.

One of the more manageable troublemakers was the bait situation this past season.

Every year the summer months tend to deliver lesser quality bait right when the demand is at its peak. 2014 was over the top in this respect. At first, it appeared the younger generation was going to be forced into learning how to gear down and fish with anchovies. Fortunately, that scenario largely passed and a decent amount of sardines showed up to tide us over.

But unfortunately, much of what was catchable for the bait haulers were the tanker-grade models. These bigger units are marginal at best even during perfect conditions; cool water, minimal crowding, and time to cure out in the receiver. All of which were non-existent this year. Instead, we had water in the mid-’70s coupled with a tremendous demand that made it virtually impossible to get any bait that had hardened up at all. It was an issue we all faced equally but with some foresight, planning, and preparation you can minimize the frustration.

The process starts with an honest evaluation of your bait requirements and your boats bait-carrying capacity.

Many of today’s smaller “fishing boats” come factory equipped with a woefully inadequate east-coast style built-in wells with a propensity to extensive sloshing, leakage, and poor circulation. I seldom get involved with trying to upgrade that type of tank, as it’s almost always an exercise in frustration. But what we’ve done many times with great success is just whack out the existing well and fit in something new.

On smaller skiffs, our proprietary “Flat Back” designs like the PE-30-FB and PE-40-FB have proven to be the answer for many owners. I get out the “Tools of Mass Destruction”, then demo the existing area, do whatever reconstruction is necessary to support the new tank and then fit it in, hook up the plumbing and finish off the install with a fine bead of caulking, starboard trim or some fiberglass/gelcoat work depending on the situation and the budget. It’s really gratifying to hear back from owners how nice it is to have quality bait to fish with.

On the bigger rigs, many of the exact same problems exist but we have the luxury of more options to solve their problems. In just the past year a sample of our projects includes cutting out the transom on a 78′ motor yacht and glassing in a large, custom double tank; removing old bulkhead cabinetry from a 46’Hatteras and installing a double tank in its place; hacking out an existing well from a 36’center console go-fast boat and glassing in one of our 90-gallon tanks and building a custom double tank with tuna tubes to mount on the swim step (and be removable) aboard a beautiful brand new 90′ yacht fisher.

The net result of all of these projects is to provide the owners and their guests more and better bait.

The custom stuff is a large component of our business. But we also have a full complement of stock tanks, both poly, and fiberglass, to solve your problems. Ranging from our 12-gallon “Micro Tank” up to a 250-gallon fiberglass double tank we’ve got you covered. For those of you with an inclination to do-it-yourself…it’s no problem at all. We’re happy to set you with the right parts and pieces and point you in the right direction to get started. Just be forewarned that without a full complement of tools and a solid understanding of basic boat work some of the installations can be very challenging!!!

Our manufacturing process allows us to easily customize a stock sized tank into one that’s ideal for your specific needs. A perfect example is some of the fine-tuning we’ve done to one of our most popular models…the PE-43-S. Its stock height is 30′, which is proportional and works well for most applications. But since this is a popular size and shape to fit under leaning posts on center console boats there are times we need to shorten them up a couple of inches to fit. It’s no problem to trim the height a couple of inches before we fit in the bottom and finish the tank.

We also have the ability to add height if necessary. We just finished an installation aboard a very nice 33′ Riviera. Although our customer actually wanted a bit more tank, physical space, and access to both the lazarette and the engine room precluded any possibility of bigger base dimensions. So we just went up a couple of inches. He gained another 5-gallons and the extra height made his full-sized lid just right for a taller guy when cleaning fish.

For those of you with the space, budget, and inclination to have the most options available for holding bait you may want to consider a double tank. Although we’ve built and installed divided tanks over 250-gallons for the bigger rigs, one of my favorites is one of our newest tanks…the PE-60-D. The first one was installed on a 23′ Parker. Even before the mold was done I explained to a customer what was coming and he ordered one sight unseen for his new rig. Since then it’s been a hugely popular tank as you get big boat capabilities in a smaller sized package. I fished many trips this summer/fall season with my good friend Mike Harrison aboard his 25′ Proline. His new 60-D worked perfectly to hold straight sardines on both sides for the tuna trips.

On the combo trips, we took a few passes of ‘dines on one side and caught a tank of mackerel for the other.

It’s the flexibility to keep two different types of baits separate that is one of the reasons our double tanks are so popular.

And the full-sized lids make a great surface for cleaning your catch at the end of the day.

Part one of this article is a brief overview of some of the ways to both increase the capacity and functionality of your bait system.

Almost all boats have the ability to carry a decent amount of bait; it’s just on question of how to accomplish the task.

In part two I’ll touch on some tips for both the installation of the pumps and plumbing as well as the all-important operating instructions that will help to eliminate “operator error” as a leading cause of bait tank troubles.

Good Luck and Good Fishing in 2015

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...