Build yourself an aerator

June 1, 2013


Based on recent requests, I am running this article on how I build my floating aerator. Keeping shad alive can be tricky as they can die very easily if they don’t have sufficient air. Today I will discuss how I assemble the aerators I use in my tank. You can buy a similar floating aerator for about $40, however the filtration is not as good (but it will work fine as long as you don’t let it get clogged).

Keeping a well-aerated tank of water and not letting it get too hot is the key to keeping your bait alive. You also do not want to overload the tank with baitfish. A good safe number for the hottest days is about 1 large baitfish or 2 smaller baitfish per gallon. This aerator system also works great for all live bait including shad, perch, minnows etc.

This floating aeration system can be put in any tank and it does work. It is preferable to have as large a tank as possible and this tank should be smooth inside to allow the bait fish to swim unobstructed around the tank. Sharp corners or obstructions will have the bait fish congregating in those corners which will kill them. The more water volume the better. I would not use anything under 20 gallons (I use a 50-gallon tank). Remember that you will need to add about 1 cup of stock salt for every 20 gallons of water and add “Amquel” ammonium neutralizer to this closed system. Stock salt is around $6 for a 50-pound sack at the feed store and Amquel is available for about $10 for a pint which treats around 1,000 gallons.

In addition I add frozen sealed gallons jugs of water to cool the tank down slightly in the summer. In my 50-gallon tank, one gallon in the morning is usually good. Sometimes on the hottest days, I will add two gallons early. If you use tap water in those frozen gallon jugs and it leaks into the tank, the added chlorine can kill your bait fish. Amquel will also neutralize chlorine.

This aerator will fit in most any tank. As I have mentioned before, you need to pick a tank/container that will fit in your boat, but the more water you can carry, the better off you’ll be. A white 55-gallon drum cut to size is a good option and these are available at most feed stores for about $10. You will have to fashion a lid for this drum when you cut it to size (to prevent spillage and to keep the sun off the fish). Make the opening as large as possible to be able to have sufficient access to the bait and your aerator.

First drill two groups of 5/8 inch holes on each side of the 1 gallon bucket at the bottom (these holes on each side will be the intake for the pump and the filter material will be placed in the bucket between the holes and the pump). I suggest making a couple of tightly spaced horizontal rows of 6 to 8 holes on each side of the bucket on the bottom edge. Next drill a larger hole where the T-fitting can just fit through. Drill this larger hole on the bottom edge of the bucket dead center between the two groups of holes you just previously drilled on each side of the bucket.

Now assemble the pump system together by attaching the T-fitting to the pump discharge with a small piece of the 5/8-inch hose and the clamps. The T-fitting outside diameter is smaller than the pump discharge diameter so you will have to rely on the hose clamp to squeeze down the 5/8 inch hose to make a good seal around the fitting or modify it accordingly. Screw in the tubing connector on the top of the T fitting and attach the clear tubing. First make sure the assembly will fit in the bucket. Then put the discharge part of the T-fitting through the larger hole you drilled previously and mark where you want to mount your pump in the bottom of the bucket.

Once you fasten your pump to the bottom of the bucket with the stainless steel hardware, you will have your pump system complete. You can either hang this pump system in the side of your tank with wire or you can cut the floating material in a donut shaped ring so it will fit tightly around the top of the bucket and float it in your tank. Route your wires and air tubing outside the tank. Put your filter material between the pump and the holes in the sides of the bucket and you should be good to go. I recommend using something like standard circular aquarium foam filters cut and folded to cover the intake holes inside the bucket. You can rinse and reuse these filters.

When you place the pump system in water and connect the battery you should have an aerated discharge that shoots water and air mixture across the tank a few inches below the surface. You’ll be able to hear the air line drawing air into the clear tubing. If this doesn’t work you probably have the wrong T-fitting.

When you first catch your shad, put them in a 5 gallon bucket filled with water for a minute and let them excrete their wastes in there. Then place them in your tank. After you have loaded your tank with bait, you may have to clean the filter material several times at first, then periodically after that.

Sometimes the pump and aerator will create foam in the tank. Foam can kill the bait. A small piece of a saltine cracker will work. Just crumble the piece of cracker over the foam.


Granbury continues to be 7 feet low, and water temperatures are in the middle to the upper 70s. Sand bass, crappie and black bass continue to be good. Sand bass action is excellent on many areas of the lake on slabs. Watch out for hazards as more and more are showing their ugly face. Pray for some good rain.

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Category: Sports Archived