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How to Build a Cheap DIY Fish Livewell

DIY Fish Livewell
Pinterest/Ed Vinneau

A DIY fish livewell can be a great thing to have on your boat whether you are fishing in tournaments or just spending a day on the lake.

Let’s face it, a livewell is a must-have accessory for high-quality fishing. If your boat doesn’t have a livewell or one in working condition, it is time to build your own DIY fish livewell.

There are many different methods of DIY fish livewells that you can build, and they can range in price and complexity. I will keep it as cheap and as simple as possible, so that anyone who enjoys fishing can enjoy the benefits of a DIY fish livewell.

Supplies needed:

  • 1 cooler (size is up to you but make sure it is big enough to hold the fish you plan to put in it)
  • 1 aerator (match this to the size of your cooler)
  • Drill
  • Caulk (optional)
  • Metal Strap
  • Pliers or snips
  • Screws

A couple of points to make on buying your supplies: Get the biggest cooler that will fit in your boat. If you have a 20-quart cooler, it doesn’t matter how much air you pump into it once you get a few fish in it they will use the oxygen faster than you can supply it. Also, remember that you are usually only going to fill the cooler up about halfway with water, so a 54-quart cooler, like this one from Bass Pro Shops, will only have about 26 quarts of water in it.

DIY Fish Livewell cooler
Bass Pro Shops

The main component of your DIY fish livewell is the aerator. Make sure you have one that works for your needs. If it can’t pump enough fresh air into the water then it will not work to keep your fish alive. This aerator from Cabela’s comes with two air lines and alligator clips and will work great for up to 15 gallons of water.

If you have more water than that you can always go with this one, also from Cabela’s. It works to keep up to 50 gallons oxygenated, but you will also need to get an adaptor unless your boat has household plug outlets.

DIY Fish Livewell areator

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The build:

The DIY fish livewell is one of the easiest DIY projects you will do this fishing season. After you have all of the parts, the assembly should take no more than 15 minutes and you are ready to get fishing.

First you need to figure out the best place to mount your aerator. You want it to be somewhere on the outside of the cooler where it will not be in the way. Things to consider are to make sure it is out of the way of opening and closing the cooler and out of the way of the handles for transportation.

Also think about where the livewell will sit in your boat. You need to put the aerator somewhere on the upper half of the cooler but make sure the aerator is not going to get in the way. Once you have selected the best place, just take a pencil and trace the outside edges of your aerator.

Now it is time to take the metal strap, like this one from The Home Depot, and create a housing for the aerator. Just use your hands or a pair of pliers to shape the strap into a crate that will hold the aerator in place on the side of the cooler. I recommend at least one horizontal, one vertical strap and more, if you think it is necessary.

DIY Fish Livewell metal strap
The Home Depot

Once the metal straps are cut to shape, it is time to attach the aerator to the cooler. Just stick it in the box you traced and use some 1/4-inch screws to attach the metal straps to the cooler. Once you are finished, the aerator should be safely and firmly attached to the cooler.

Now you need to drill a hole or two for the aerator line to go inside the cooler. I recommend doing this around two inches from the top of the walls of the cooler. The number of holes will depend on your aerator setup, if you just have one air line you only need one hole, if you have two lines you will need two holes, and so on. Select a drill bit that is as close as possible to the diameter of your air line (you don’t want a lot of air going in and out of the cooler around the line) and drill your hole.

Now you simply feed your line through the hole to the inside of the cooler. I recommend taking another section of your metal wire and, very carefully and gently, screw it into the base of the cooler. Not all the way through! Just enough so that you can slide the bubbling end of the aerator underneath it to make sure it stays at the bottom of the water.

If you want to make sure the water stays cold, then patch up around the hole you drilled with some caulk.

You now have a DIY fish livewell that is ready to go on the boat for a whole day of fishing!


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How to Build a Cheap DIY Fish Livewell