How to keep your bait and catches fresh

Aeration system 05-2020Want to fish with live fish? Want to keep caught fish fresh?

Then you need a livewell.

Many boats have built-in livewells. But what should the owner of a simple john boat or for the shore fisherman do?

Answer: Get a cooler, and add a marine Metal Products 12-volt aeration system.  It installs easily in a cooler—preferably one with wheels—with no tools needed. You powre it with a 12-volt rechargeable battery, which you can recharge with a charger.

You can create a serious fishing set-up by screwing rod holders onto the side. Here you can see my set-up.

I pull the cooler, which holds four rods, and inside includes the aerator and battery. Then when I get to my fishing spot, I remove the  battery, and use the aerator to suck water into the cooler. Then the I rig the aerator to bubble the cooler water. Catch your baitfish, toss them in the cooler, and let the chasing of big catfish or whaetevr you are chasing begin.

Shad spoons and darts I like

Nungesser shad spoon 05-2020Spoons

  • Nungesser 30G-2: The second largest shad spoon I use. UPC # 044269120147
  • Nungesser 20N-1: The largest shad spoon I use. UPC # 04426912025
  • Luhr Jensen 13 Pet Spoon with feathers: The largest shad spoon I use. UPC # 012553385626
  • Luhr Jensen 12 Pet Spoon no feathers: The second largest shad spoon I use. UPC # 01255333444


  • Nungesser 2RDG-1 1/2 ounce dart with feathers: Largest dart I use. UPC # 044269121090
  • Nungesser 4RDG-2 1/4 ounce dart with feathers: Second largest dart I use. UPC # 044269121106


How to Turn a Cooler Into an Awesome Rod Holder and Bait and Fish Keeper

So, my previous post crowed about the bucket rod holder contraption I built for $20.

This rod holder is a little more pricy, but it is terrific, not least because it has the extra advantage of being something you can keep the fish you catch in. Additionally, this Coleman cooler also has measurements on the top, so you can lay your fish on it to assess the length.

All told, this cost me about $75, although one can buy a smaller, cheaper cooler, or get one used from someone on Craig’s List or somesuch. The pieces are:

  • 100-quart Coleman cooler with wheels (buy here)
  • Brocraft rod holders (buy here)

The Brocraft rod holders come with the installation screws, which you can drill straight into the cooler (no need to drill holes first: the cooler’s plastic will give way to the screw tips.)

As with the bucket, when you get to your fishing spot you must fill the cooler. You can use a bucket to fill it one-third to half-way full, or you can use a little pump and battery. A pump also can aerate the water in the cooler, which will keep your baitfish and catches alive. (Yes, this is a simple live well, one you also can use on your boat.)

Update: If you want to make your cooler even easier to pull, put it in one of these garden carts.


How to Make a Great Rod Holder Bucket for Fishing for Catfish, Carp, and More for $20

Raise your hand if you ever have set a rod down and had a fish hit and pull it into the water?

This has happened to me, and it is a real (reel?) drag. (Oh, the puns.) I have had catfish and carp both yank rods into the depths, never to be seen again.

This rod holder bucket is the solution to that problem, and can be made for about $20 in 30 minutes.

The materials are:

  • 1 5-gallon plastic bucket;
  • 3 nuts/bolts/washers (3/8″ or so);
  • 2 24-inch pieces of 1.5-inch by 3.5-inch wood; and
  • 4 large close line hooks (Bring your fattest rod to the hardware store to ensure you buy a large enough hook)

Drill holes in one piece of lumber that are the same size as your bolts; drill holes in the bucket aligned with the holes you just drilled in the lumber; etc. Watch the video: this simple contraption is pretty self-explanatory.

I love this rod holder. When you go to fish on a dock or next to a river or lake, you bring the bucket (with your bait and rigs inside). When you pick your spot, you take your stuff out of the bucket, and dip the bucket into the water to fill it. Voila: you have about 40 pounds of weight, which will keep your rods secure. (Note, the bucket should face the water, not the lumber cross.)

Give it a try, and let me know how you like it! This bucket last weekend helped me land a 40-pound blue catfish.


Answered: What Gear and Bait Do I Need to Catch Catfish?

People have caught catfish with the most minimal of materials. Heavy thread tied to a hook and milk jug.  A stick with fishing line tied to it and a hook with a live shad on it. Most crazily, noodlers crawl into the water and use their fingers to attract bites.

For those who do not wish to go old school, however, the choices can be dizzying. So many reels, rods, rigs, and baits are used to catch Mr. Whiskers. What to buy?

When you are just getting started, I believe in keeping it simple (not tricky gear or knots) while using effective (but not crazy pricey) equipment is the right approach.

Go with a spincast reel and mid-sized rod that will work from the shore or a boat (an 8-foot rod in a small boat is a hassle), and use a Santee rig to bottom fish while keeping the bait a little off the floor and hopefully out of snags.

So here is my list of the stuff you should buy:

1. Stringer: (so you can keep fish)
2. Small fishing bag: (nice for carrying your equipment)

1. Bag of bells: (so you can hear the bites when they come)
2. Needlenose plyers: (so you can get the hook from the fish’s mouth)
3. Clippers: (to cut line)
4. Heavy swivel-clips: (to clip your Santee rig to)
5. Circle hooks 4/0: (for 12″-18″ catfish) or Circle hooks 6/0: (for 19″-36″ catfish) Alternatively, this packet of varying sized circle hooks is a good deal:
6. 2-oz round, flat sinkers: (tied above the swivel via a Palomar knot)
7. 20-lb braided line: (braid is easier to tie than plasticky monofilament)
8. Rod, 6-foot and medium weight: (those chasing smaller catfish will better feel the hits and land them with a medium weight rod)
9. A wide-mouthed net: (For bringing the fish into the boat or onto the dock or shore. Don’t try to jerk them up by the line—they can snap your rigs off!)
10. Santee rigs (red; 3 boxes):

Oh, and a cheap, excellent bait is a stinky chicken bait. You can see my recipe for it below.

To Buy a Motorized Fishing Boat or Not?

Jon Boat DirectBoatscom

Jon Boat, Pelican Intruder 12, 2016 model. Source:

Recently, I have been stricken with a terrible affliction: I want a fishing boat.

No, I don’t want some big, bazillion dollar water-beast with a motor that can skip me over the water at 50 miles per hour. I want something more modest: a low-maintenance, easy-to-transport basic boat with rod holders and a small motor that can get me where I am going. I have no need for a craft with steering wheel, panel of instruments, or CB. A Jon boat, like the Intruder 12 pictured above, would do very nicely, even without the rotating seats.

Mostly, I could see using this boat to fish at Fletcher’s Cove, and to explore the Potomac River and the Anacostia River. Maybe I’d also take it to other spots in nearby Maryland and Virginia.

Indubitably, there are good reasons why getting one would benefit me (see below). But the truth is it is simply one of those things I want. Indeed, as I tally the associated costs (see below), it probably is unwise to get a boat.


  1. Access: Having you own boat means you have the ability to go fish any hour of the day rather than having to limit oneself from 7am to 7pm, which is when Fletcher’s Cove rents boats.
  2. Hassle: The rowboats at Fletcher’s Cove are not easy to row, especially when there is current.
  3. Disappointment: Having my own boat means never having to worry about all the boats at Fletcher’s being taken.
  4. Freedom (1): My own boat gives me the freedom to further explore the Potomac River…. and to explore other waterways [Freedom (2)].


  1. Cost (1): A boat will cost upfront money: $250-$300 (or more) for the motor and battery, and $500 or more for the boat. (Unless I get a steal on a used one.)
  2. Cost (2): A boat will need to be registered ($25) and will be taxed at 6% of its purchase price unless it is an inflatable one.
  3. Storage: Where to store the boat? It won’t fit in our apartment’s storage room, and purchasing an extra parking spot for it in the garage would run $75/month. Docking fees are even higher and there are no nearby slips.
  4. Transportation: if you need to buy a hitch, that is extra money and also will require an extra parking spot.

Other thoughts

  1. In addition to the Pelican Intruder above, I like this Jon boat—110 pounds with 4 rod holders and room for a motor (but I need to assess how strong a motor it can handle).
  2. A canoe might be workable: it could be lashed to the roof of the van. And some canoes can handle motors.
  3. To look for used boats, I can search
  4. A middle ground solution would be to buy a motor and battery to attach to Fletcher’s boats. This solves the Hassle and Freedom (1) issues, but it does not solve to Access, Hassle, or Freedom (2) issues.
  5. My fishing friend Brian offers this motor advice: “I have a Minn Kota 55 pound thrust motor. You can get them on Amazon for about $220. The 55 pound will get you up to Chain Bridge and back – perfect for Fletchers, and also will work for some of the other spots – Riverbend Park, the Occoquan River and Reservoir – where you can rent boats. You’ll also need a battery to go with it. (Size 24 or 27, deep cycle (not starting). Those will run you about $100 at the auto parts store.”
  6. Inflatable rafts have problems: how to anchor one? And if they deflate on the water you could be a dead man.

So, when I review the all of the above, the inescapable conclusion is: the costs of a boat —even a simple one— are high.

But I still want a boat.

July 15, 2016 update: The American Spectator published a revised version of this piece at