If you’re in the market for a kayak livewell, the self contained Thrive from Wilderness Systems may be your solution.
Wilderness Systems Thrive Baitwell Review
I started my fishing as a young lad using live or dead bait with my father in saltwater on the west central coast of Florida. This later transitioned into live worms and minnows in freshwater on my personal adventures exploring ponds and creeks. Worms were great as they are very hardy and easy to transport via my bicycle. But we didn’t live anywhere near a bait shop so they were a rarity. Minnows on the other hand were free and plentiful. Back then I just carried an empty bucket and a dip net to catch them on location. Livewell’s on boats were the next transition but used to keep bass alive for weigh-ins. Then offshore battle wagons with multiple livewells keeping hundreds of baits alive at a time. In all cases getting the bait alive to the fish is the task at hand.
This can get very complicated for kayak anglers as we don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to catch your own bait when you don’t have an engine to make up for lost time. And we are limited to a relatively small amount to carry. Most current kayak livewells are in the 5-8 gallon capacity. These sizes will only carry a couple dozen shiners or less for saltwater baits like goggleyes, sardines, or pilchards.
The most common types you will see are the 5 gallon buckets rigged with air pumps or in some cases a custom setup with a raw water pump. I started out in that vein but in my Tarpon 140 at that time it definitely made it top heavy. The other common sight is the Frabill towable bait buckets which create a ton of drag. My second attempt at a livewell was using the pet food Vittles Vault with just an air pump for shiners and shrimp. I still have it and it does work well but still a bit tall. Hobie was the first to introduce a self contained livewell specifically designed for their boats. It is a low profile 8 gallon unit with its own power supply and self priming pump. It draws its water supply up through the rear tankwell scupper holes.
At ICAST 2017 Wilderness Systems introduced their Thrive Baitwell. It is also a self contained stand-alone model with its own lithium battery pack and self priming pump. Unique features to the Thrive are its spring loaded lid, mesh net bait bag/separator, intermittent pump control, and auxiliary power supply options. It’s design allows it to be used universally in their boats or most other brands as well. The pickup line is long enough to adapt to any boat. The fine screen filter on the hose end keeps out contaminates and is fitted with a grommet that fits perfectly in the scupper holes. The mesh net insert has two nylon handles making it very easy to use. It gives you the option to keep smaller bait like minnows and shrimp from escaping out of the drain. Or keeping two different types of bait separated, super convenient. The spring loaded lid is a great design feature making accessing your bait so much easier. Having a loose lid on the deck or one that you are fighting with to stay open can be frustrating to say the least. It’s water capacities are three gallons on the short stand pipe and seven gallons on the tall version. To drain the water just simply unscrew the stand pipe and drain the tank. The Thrive also comes with three rod holders that attach to the rear of the tank. It’s six tie down points guarantee a secure hold.
The Thrive has two USB ports for charging phones or other items which I would only use as an emergency option as that will significantly reduce your run time. In testing I got 5.5-6 hours of continuous run time and 7.5-8 hours on intermittent run. This is plenty of run time for live bait in a kayak as you will most likely run out of bait before you run out of battery. The Thrive recharges via a micro USB port above the two standard USB ports. Which by the way are behind a water proof rubber plug. Be forewarned if you run the battery to empty it can take up to twelve hours to recharge. So if you are using it on consecutive days make sure you give your self plenty of time to recharge it.
In my personal opinion there a couple things that could use some improvement. First is a drain cap (a must) which keeps the water from draining out during transport from the bait shop to the launch. Very easy to resolve but not supplied. I found a rubber furniture cap that fit perfectly on the stand pipes for under a dollar. Another easy solution item is the dark gray color. I love the color scheme of the gray and orange. But as it is not an insulated tank, the gray will add heat to the water especially here in the Florida summer heat. Tan and orange would work very well. The molded in handles for me did not provide a confidant grip when the tank is full as they only catch your fingers to first joint (at least mine anyway). With seven gallons of water plus bait and the tank that’s a lot to carry on finger tips over uneven ground. I will be adding a pair of kayak handles to it like I did on the Vittle Vault Livewell. If you are going to keep bait in it over night an air supply nipple to hook an air pump up to would be a great additional feature. The only major deterrent is the noise level from 50 feet away you can still here the pump running.
The Thrive Livewell is very well made and functions as advertised with some well thought out features. It’s low profile configuration never made my Tarpon 160 feel tippy or off balance and was far superior in use compared to other systems I have used. With an MSRP of 299.00 it is a great option for live bait users.