Friday, September 30, 2011

Deluxe DIY Kayak Bait Well with Light

Although I don't usually fish with live bait, it is hard to ignore the action that live herring can generate this time of year on Lake Murray when targeting stripers.  On a handful of occasions I have used a simple Frabill aerator in combination with a small cooler to get the job done.  The whole apparatus fits in the tankwell of my kayak, but this setup is far from ideal.  The aerator is an inefficient power hog (remembering to purchase D batteries every trip gets old) and the durability is just not there.  This may be satisfactory for one season of fishing with minnows, but I wanted something for the long haul that would do a better job of keeping the  herring alive. In addition, an insulated container (i.e. cooler) is a must with the summer heat we have in SC.

Commercially available versions of kayak bait wells gave me sticker shock considering the key components include nothing more than a power source, a low volume bilge pump and a watertight container of some sort.  Finish it off with a couple of rod holders and handles and there really isn’t much to it. 
If you aren’t into the DIY stuff, then check out Hobie’s Kayak Live Well for around $300.  Pick up an inexpensive waterproof Nano Spotter light from PKF’s online store and you can get the same lighting result as this DIY version.  I give the designers at Hobie a thumbs up as the ergonomic design is quite nice.  If you want to save over $200 though, keep reading.

Let me start by saying that this DIY bait well write up should serve as a general guide and that the principals and components used can be interchanged with a cooler or other parts you may already have on hand .  If you decide to purchase the same Igloo cooler that I used in this build, all the measurements and parts listed below will match up with the pictures, minus the added light.  I made everything removable so that I could use this cooler for other purposes.

Hardwiring the LED light was the most tedious task of this entire build.  I knew it was going to be a pain soldering wires to the leads on the small circuit board that controls the LEDs.  I chose to showcase what is possible if you wanted to take this project a little further.  At the end of this build, I will teach you how to get the same lighting results without the headache and added cost of hardwiring the waterproof light.

Basic Parts List:

Standard Cooler (for this build, I chose Igloo’s 36 quartMarine Cooler - $22

6 Volt 10 AH Sealed Lead Acid Battery ($17.95 shipped from this Ebay Seller who stocks them regularly as of 9/2011) 

1 – Radio Shack Toggle Switch - $3.50 (Currently waiting on a delivery of 2 screw on rubber marine toggle covers, $2 Ebay)

Igloo 24011 Replacement Drain Plug - $4 (to pass wires through the cooler wall)

4 feet of marine bungee -$5 

1 - Nite Ize S biner, size 2 - $2

2 – suction cup wreath hangers $1.50 each (locally in the Columbia area at “Carolina Pottery”)

Large Zip Ties 

Length of ½” Sched 40 PVC pipe, 2 – 90 degree PVC elbows, 1 – PVC cap, 1 – PVC threaded to slip adapter

2” long section of any ¾” inner diameter hose to make connection from bilge pump outlet to PVC threaded adaptor (see picture)

1 – NANO Spotter Light package WITHOUT base - $12.99 from


Start by cutting the ½” PVC pipe to the following lengths:

A)  3 ¾“
B)  6 ½“
C)  16 ½“

Drill 5 holes in the long horizontal PVC pipe and assemble as pictured.  I did not use PVC glue on these pieces as the friction holds them together just fine and makes breaking everything down for storage much easier.  Firmly seat one end of the ¾“inner diameter hose onto the output of the bilge pump and the other end to the threaded section of the ½“ PVC adapter.  Secure the hose in place with large zip ties.

Reposition the plastic wreath hooks to the suction cups as pictured.  Press both suctions in place and slide the horizontal PVC tube in place – you will hear it “click” once it is properly seated on the suction cup clips.

The 6 volt SLA battery was chosen so that the force of the streams of water wouldn’t injure the baitfish.  The bilge pump (rated for 500 GPH at 12 volts) now circulates 250 GPH with the 6 volt battery.  This setup is more than enough to keep the herring happy and makes hardwiring the Nano Spotter light (also 6 volts) possible. 


After drilling holes, installing the switches, running/soldering wires, sealing everything with Goop, etc., I wedged some scrap foam around the battery inside the box to keep it from moving.  I used some left over “Duct Seal” to make a gasket to seal the plastic project box door once it was installed and screwed in place.  This step ensures a watertight housing, yet allows the battery to be accessed if needed. Once the rubber marine toggle covers get delivered they will be installed to protect the switches from water damage.  I have used it as pictured in fresh water with no issues so far, but think that this step is important for long term durability.

The black project box from Radio Shack comes with two rear doors - one is plastic and one is thin aluminum.  Use a hacksaw or other tool to shape the aluminum plate as noted in the picture.  Drill the proper sized holes in the thin aluminum sheet in order to mount it to the cooler using the existing screws.  Bore out the two bottom holes large enough to pass the bungee cord through.  I just knotted the ends of the bungee cord that pass through these holes.

Once the plate is installed, assemble and zip tie the two pieces of bungee cord as pictured and attach the S biner.  This setup secures the battery box quite nicely. Use a hole saw drill bit to carefully bore a hole through the top corner of the cooler below the lid.  Be sure to keep pressure on the opposite side of the cooler wall with a scrap piece of lumber so the bit actually cuts a hole instead of cracking the inside wall.  (I drilled through the outside wall first, carefully cut away the foam on the inside, then reinserted the bit while pressing a block against the inner wall.)

Install the replacement drain and seal liberally with Goop.  Now you have a nice, clean connection sleeve for the 2 pole flat connectors.  When the cooler is not being used for bait, the drain cap can be screwed back on.   

I charge the 6 volt SLA battery with this 6 volt charger from Walmart.  Instead of taking the battery out of the sealed box,  just attach the charger’s alligator clips to the proper +/- connections on the  2 pole connector and flip the toggle switch on the project box to the “on” position to open up the circuit.

In order to hard-wire the Nano Spotter, I cut the flashlight with a hacksaw as pictured.  I then molded an end cap to fit securely over the exposed portion, drilled a hole in the cap and passed the wires through the flashlight body.  Next, I carefully soldered the wires to the positive and negative leads on the circuit board of the light.  A liberal amount of Goop was used to seal the end cap and the hole drilled for the wires.  I reassembled the flashlight head and left it in the "on" position, allowing the additional toggle switch to control the on/off settings remotely.  The rest is pretty self-explanatory – if you need an explanation on the basics of wiring up the connectors (w/o a switch) see the pictures on the Battery Box Blog Post HERE.

You can get the same lighting result by just using the Nano Spotter without modifying it.   4 AAA batteries deliver 60 hours of run time and the waterproof flashlight can be zip tied to any of the PVC parts, either under the waterline or above.  A twist of the rubber flashlight head is all it takes to turn this light on and off.  In fact, if you attach the supplied diffusion cone on the light, it will float and it can be turned on and just be tossed in the bait well.  Whatever route you take, the light option makes it so easy to net the baitfish in low light conditions.  The Nano Spotter packages include the 4 colored disks as pictured here to change the color output if desired.

Available at Palmetto Kayak Fishing's Online Store - Click HERE

This bait well is solid and I have experienced great results from the battery.  So far during the testing phase, I left both the battery and the light on for over 3 hours and it was still going strong.  Herring also hold up quite well in there as I have noticed far fewer casualties compared to my previous setup.  Lastly, I only fill the cooler up with water about a 1/3 of the way full which keeps the center of gravity of the bait well somewhat low in the back of my kayak.  It is very manageable on the water and the light function is an much appreciated addition.

Enjoy! - Paul 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Build a Rod Leash for Kayak Fishing

“If you don’t want to lose it, strap it down or make sure it floats.”  While I can’t remember where I first read this, I certainly haven’t forgotten its importance when fishing out of a kayak.  I tend to carry four or so rods with me when I head out on the water and have been used homemade rod leashes since day one.  These cheap leashes have saved me from losing a rod on a couple of occasions so far.

I made my first DIY Rod leashes from cell phone car charger, a brass clip and a section of strong, waterproof Velcro.  Large zip ties and marine adhesive shrink wrap create the clean and strong connection points.  The spring-like action of the coiled car chargers help to keep the cords bundled and out of the way.  

While the Velcro option is secure, I found a connection method that I like even more.  About 6 months ago, I was in Home Depot and came across a product designed to keep cords and wires organized called the “Cable Cuff".

I purchased a couple of the smallest versions for $0.99 each.  These little cuffs are surprisingly strong for their size and fit perfectly on most fishing rods.  They ratchet into place and wont scratch or damage the rods.  The kicker is that it is very easy to secure and remove these cuffs on a rod – even one handed.  This factor alone gives them a large advantage over the Velcro version. 

These are very easy to construct.  Start by drilling a hole in the tail end of the cuff as pictured below, making sure the Cable Cuff is in the open position.  Secure the charger wire to the Cuff with a large zip tie.  I used a small length of marine heat shrink to dress up the tag end but this is not necessary.

The pivoting arm of the Cuff needs to be trimmed at the second tooth back to make room for the cable wire.  A little pressure on a sharp hand chisel makes a very clean cut.

Add a clip of your choice to the other end of the car charger wire, utilizing the same connection methods used on the Cuff end.  Here I used light weight Nite Ize S clips available at The Backpacker if you are in the Columbia area or most Harbor Freight stores.
Enjoy! - Paul

 ****One note on coiled cell phone car chargers - they aren't all built the same!  Look for a thick coiled model that is uniform in shape and will stretch to at least 6'.  Most of the Nextel branded chargers are very strong, as are the Motorola and Verizon branded models.  I often donate old clothes and other items we don't use anymore a church-based consignment shop called "His House".  I purchased 4 thick Verizon car chargers there for $1 each.  The money goes to a good cause the chargers stay out of a landfill and they work perfectly for this application.****

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ultimate DIY Kayak Crate

The kayak crate.  It is probably one of the most coveted pieces of equipment a kayak fisherman can own and for good reason.  While most anglers use a standard plastic milk crate, I tend to make mine out of inexpensive and readily available store-bought containers.  When I first got into the sport, I used file crates for storage.  The problem with these is that the plastic is thin and the crate tends to flex.  Zip tie a couple of rod holders to these units and over a short period of time, the plastic crate will deform.   After designing my first DIY LARGE KAYAK CRATE, I found that there are some great, heavy duty containers just waiting to be modified for this application.

This build utilizes an "Itso" storage cube tthat can be found at Target for around $9.  The plastic construction of this cube is extremely solid and it is an ideal size for most kayak tankwells.  It measures  in at 14.8"x14.8"x14.8" and weighs a little over 4 pounds.  What makes this cube unique is that it has pre-drilled holes that match up perfectly for the PVC rod holder install.

The first step is to cut six 15.5" segments of 1.25" diameter PVC for rod holders.  Although I don't usually carry 6 rods with me at one time, I use the holders for my DIY Telescoping Camera Pole for the GoPro HD and other accessories.  I also built a removable carrying handle that  utilizes the center rod holders and allows for one-handed portability - more on that later.

Once the PVC segments are cut, use Brillo soap pads and some water to remove the lettering from the PVC.  My dad taught me this trick about 17 years ago when he would make furniture-grade rod holders out of various hardwoods and use the cleaned up PVC for the inserts.  

If you don't own a heat gun or are not comfortable using one, simply sand the inside edge of the PVC pipes so that they don't bite into the rod handles.  If you decide to go the heat gun route, do this OUTSIDE and wear proper safety gear including a respirator mask, eye protection and thick leather gloves.

I like to keep the heat gun stationary and rotate the PVC by hand as this method ensures even heating.  I use a Modelo bottle for this next step for a handful of reasons.  Most importantly, the glass is thick which is crucial for proper safety.  I also really like the beer and the shape of the neck makes a perfect and uniform mold for the PVC every time.   

Once the PVC is up to temperature, slide it over the Modello bottle until it stops on the notch below the neck as pictured.  The PVC should easily slide into place.  If it doesn't expand smoothly with little pressure, it is not hot enough.  Leave it on the bottle for a few seconds and slide it back off.  Repeat this sliding-on-and-off process as it cools.  DO NOT leave the PVC on the bottle for an extended period of time.  As the PVC cools it shrinks.  If it is left on the bottle, this could lead to obvious safety issues.  I keep a cold bucket of water next to me to dip the warm molded PVC (of course, without the bottle attached) in order to speed up the cooling process and set the PVC to shape.
Attach the PVC rod holders to the inside of the crate using large zip ties as depicted in the photos.  For the middle rod holders that aren't on a corner, I ran two zip ties through the top hole and attached a brass claw style clip to serve as an anchoring point when the crate is used in the tankwell of the kayak (see photo). 

One extra step I took was to drill a hole in the bottom of each PVC pipe and 2 more holes, side by side, in the bottom of the crate.  One zip tie attached through the floor of the crate and through the PVC gives the rod holder that much more stability and keeps it from twisting or pulling out of the crate.  

Using masking tape, mark out a section on the front of the crate that will be cut out.  This "door" makes it very easy to access items in the crate.  Use a hacksaw blade to carefully cut out the pattern.  I installed Cowles Products - Door Edge Trim (Part #T3802 - O'Reilly Auto Parts LINK) to cover the rough edges and to dress the crate up a bit.  This trim has strong adhesive housed inside the U-channel and only costs a couple of bucks.

You could stop here and have a really nice setup.  I decided to go further with it and make things a little more organized.  I took some scrap 7/8" fiberglass rods (1" PVC could be substituted), added rubber chair tip protectors to the ends and zip tied them to the PVC rod holders in the back of the crate as pictured.  This provides a shelf for my Plano boxes and makes them easy to reach.

I ran a section of bungee cord through 2 of the existing holes in the top of the cube and knotted the ends.  I made another loop of bungee cord and passed it over the horizontal bungee and around the two fiberglass rod supports (see photo).  The tension that the combination of these two bungees creates holds the boxes in place, whether it be as many as 5 boxes or as few as 2.  I left enough room under the bottom of the shelf to store my water bottles.  There is still a lot of storage space left over in the front of the cube for other items.

Lastly, I built a handle out of a 10.5" length of 1" diameter PVC, two 6" sections of 1" diameter PVC and two 90 degree couplings.  I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to throw 3 or 4 rods and my camera in my loaded crate and carry it one handed like a suitcase.

The top portion of the handle was sprayed with truck bed liner.  I drilled two holes at an angle through both the rod holders and the vertical legs of the handle for an attachment point.  PTO pins, available in this well-priced assortment available at Harbor Freight, make quick work of attaching and detaching the handle.  

Enjoy!   - Paul