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So, today is the day that you have decided to fish for keeps. Well, we are here to tell you how to store fish while fishing and keep fresh. There are many reasons why storing your keepers is as important as the techniques you used to catch the fish. Fresh fish is extremely perishable and will begin to decompose immediately after death. The first 20 minutes of handling after the catch is crucial. Bacteria will grow at a rapid rate and you will need to preserve your catch as soon as possible. The proper handling of your fish will maintain its nutritional health benefits, not to mention taste great. The golden rule is to keep it clean, keep it cold or keep it moving.
Types of Fresh Fish Storage
There are several options to keep your catch fresh until it reaches the dinner table. The most popular option while you are fishing is keeping your fish holding on ice. Some anglers choose to use stingers to keep their fish fresh. And, another option is using a live well. In addition, angler specific coolers have also been developed to store your catch. Ultimately, you have two choices for your fish: keep them alive or put them on ice. This article will go over the pros and cons of all the different methods.
Icing: Store Fish While Fishing & Keep Fresh
The absolute best way to keep fish fresh is putting them on ice. When you can keep the fish cold it will help preserve the flesh and freshness. As a general rule, use 2 lbs of crushed ice for every pound of fish. Always let the water drain from the cooler so the fish do not end up sitting in water instead of ice. Continue to add ice throughout the day and with every catch. When using the icing method it is best to bleed the fish prior to putting it in the cooler of ice. If the fish is alive when you put it in the cooler it will fight and struggle causing bruising, stress and damage. Today’s coolers are super duty and able to hold ice for days. You can’t go wrong with the top of the line YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler.
Stringers: Store Fish While Fishing & Keep Fresh
The purpose of stringers is to keep fish alive by allowing them to stay immersed in water. The needle is threaded through the fishes lips and placed back into the water. Some anglers will thread through the gills. However, threading through the lips will allow the fish to breathe easier using its gills and also keeps them upright. The top styles of stringers are nylon rope, parachute cord and stainless steel snap stringers (as pictured). We personally like the Hurricane Stringer with 10 stainless steel snaps pictured above.
Rope stringers are the standard go to set-up. A piece of rope, metallic needle and a metallic ring on one end is all that consists of this basic stringer. This is the easiest to use and most widely available. The down side is that you can only string one fish at a time. There are chain stringers that will hold multiple fish. It is a chain with multiple hooks staggered on the chain. However, if the fish you catch are fighters there is the potential for them to break / snap the chain. The stainless snap stringer is made with stainless steel to prevent rusting. And, the fish will be more secured with the snap mechanism preventing lost catches.
Livewells: Store Fish While Fishing & Keep Fresh
A live well has a circulating pump that pumps water in and out of its container. Livewells are a staple on most fishing boats. They use aeration systems and recirculate the air to improve the fishes survival. Recirculating fresh water and oxygenating is essential. Every few hours pump out half of the water and replace it with fresh cooler water. Tip: try to retrieve water from the depth the fish was caught to avoid shocking. Occasionally, open the lid to allow for ammonia gas to escape. Use a non-penetrating cull system to reduce the stress on the fish. It will also provide ways to keep the fish near the bottom of the well and fully submerged in the water. Check out the Moeller Marine Products Livewell on Amazon.
Floating Fish Baskets
Non-electric livewells are called floating fish baskets or mesh baskets. They are baskets which will hold the fish underwater suspended by a float. Floating fish baskets are placed into the water and then tied to your boat. It is an inexpensive choice for small fish. They are typically 5 gallons so, if the fish you are catching are large then this will not work for you. However, these mesh baskets are a good choice when fishing from a dock, bridge or pier. We like the Hurricane HUR-77A Flex/Flting Mesh Chum Bag.
Angler Fishing Fresh Catch Coolers
Today’s insulated bags have an air barrier with an insulated core. The bigger the bag the better. A typical size is 24″ x 60″, so you are able to hold larger catches. A quality fish bag can hold ice for a couple days and will have a drain plug to remove water. These are often used in catch and release fishing tournaments. These are easy to transport and are affordable. We recommend the Extra Large 2 in 1 Insulated Cooler Bag with Thermal Foil Section and Water Resistant Section.
Keep your fish fresh and edible. The best keepers will have clear eyes and solid bouncy flesh. They will not be overly slimy or smell “fishy”, they will have a clean “slight” fish smell that is not unpleasant or too strong. Also, you will need to know your states fish limits and size limits. Tip: if you plan on freezing your catch then using vacuum sealer bags is a must. Because, they will remove the excess air to keep your fish preserved avoiding freezer burn. Do not store your fish in the refrigerator for more than 2 days and make sure the temperature is less than 40 degrees. When cooked, make sure the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 145 degrees. For some trout cooking tips check out our video Trout Fishing Catch & Cook. WET LINES & HAPPY BELLIES.