Versatility is an admirable trait in a boat, which explains why one style continues to be so popular with coastal anglers. Bay boats have a fairly shallow draft yet enough deadrise to also provide a dry, comfortable ride in a chop. As a result, they are being used for everything from drifting the flats to coastal trolling for king mackerel to competing in redfish or striper tournaments. That’s why builders have refined the bait and livewell systems on these boats to meet the growing demand.
“It’s important to determine how you are going to fish when comparing livewells,” says Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Company, builder of the Pathfinder bay-boat line. “For example, Texas anglers might fish exclusively with artificials or only live croakers, which are very hardy and don’t require as much water. Some guys in Florida, however, are loading up with hundreds of delicate baits like Spanish sardines or pilchards for live-chumming, so capacity and circulation are important. For flexibility, we provide our customers with different lengths of stand pipes to control the water volume. It’s crazy to put a couple dozen shrimp or finger mullet in a full 40-gallon livewell.”
Deal says Pathfinder wells are designed to meet three criteria: to maximize space, ensure there are no dead spots and remove bad water. Every Pathfinder can be ordered with two wells; the TE tournament editions have a capacity of up to 50 gallons each.
“Most of our models draw from a sea chest, so the well stays full without being overpressurized,” Deal explains. “They also have upper and lower fills. If you feed and exhaust water only from the top, then the slime, waste, and ammonia from the bait settles to the bottom and contaminates the well. We have a unique design with the stand pipe behind a filter plate so raw water comes in and mixes all the way up and then exits, so there’s always a clean, fresh flow.”
Keep It Real
Wylie Nagler, president of Yellowfin Yachts, is another builder who pays special attention to keeping baits and trophy fish alive and hardy. Yellowfin offers the 21 Hybrid and 24 Bay models. Both come standard with 35-gallon bait and release wells with ice-blue finishes. Adding recirculation is an option.
“We design our wells and then build the boat around them,” Nagler says. “We carefully consider factors like where the water comes in and exits, the shape, water volume and pressurization. Ideally you create a natural environment with current. The closer to real-world conditions your well is, the better your bait will be.”
Yellowfin wells are round or oval, so the current flows smoothly and the baits swim naturally. Each can be filled and pressurized to minimize sloshing while under way to keep baits from getting slammed. A thick layer of insulation helps to keep the water cooler during the hot summer months.
“It all depends on how the well is used,” Nagler adds. “Tournament guys want to be able to hold a 27-inch redfish without putting it under stress. If you’re keeping bait, the type and hardiness of the bait is important. In either case, being able to keep the well water clean from top to bottom and from bottom to the top is critical. Circulation needs to cover the entire vertical water column.”
Shearwater Bay Boats turns to its program guides for expert advice on livewell and baitwell design, says Shearwater’s Nils Ackerbloom. Pro angler Capt. Jim Huddleston from Tampa, who averages 300 trips annually, recommends the well interiors be finished in light blue to mimic nature and calm the baits. High-speed pickups keep the well full when the boat is under way, and they are mounted flush to the hull for better hydrodynamics and to avoid picking up debris (Pathfinder and Yellowfin also flush-mount for the same reasons).
Shearwater’s seven models offer a choice of rectangular release wells 34 inches long that hold 35 gallons. Livewells are round and vary from 12 to 25 gallons. “We try to incorporate as many sizes as possible to give owners plenty of options,” Ackerbloom adds.
These builders agree that well pumps should have at least an 800-gallon-per-hour capacity, depending on the size of well and the type of bait kept. Too much water flow can be detrimental, however. The stress level rises if baits have to constantly struggle against the flow. And stressed or unnatural-looking baits get bit less often.
Plexiglas lids are convenient for monitoring purposes, but the material isn’t as durable if it’s in a location where it gets stepped on often like the rear casting deck. A opaque lid also cloaks the well in darkness, which adds to the bait’s comfort. Stainless-steel drains are the norm now, and all drains are required to have safety shut-off valves. For service considerations, pumps, valves, and plumbing should be easily accessible for maintenance and replacement.
If you’re in the market for a new bay boat this spring, first consider your style of fishing and bait needs, and shop accordingly. It’s always better to have more than not enough capacity, or the option to carry different kinds of bait. And if you find you don’t need an extra, it can always double as a fish box or dry storage compartment.
• Never use soap or bleach to clean a livewell or baitwell. Use fresh water only to avoid harmful residues.
• For large delicate baits like menhaden, stick to the one-bait-per-gallon formula. Don’t overload.
• As much as possible, avoid handling baits with bare hands. Use a dehooker or bait net instead.
• Always fill a well with water where the bait was caught.
• In the dog days of summer, small sealed bags of ice in the well can help lower temperatures without contaminating the water.