Nothing is worse than spending your day out fishing, only to get home and find the catch you planned on eating for dinner spoiled in the sun. If you don’t want to run to your refrigerator each time you catch a fish, how can you keep it fresh so that you can enjoy it when you get home? 

Option One: Keep Them Alive 

Your first option to ensure your fish is fresh is to keep them alive until you’re ready to eat them. You can use a few different methods to accomplish this.  

You can store small fish on ice immediately, which will make them go dormant. This technique doesn’t work as well for larger fish, as leaving those on ice will cause them to die slowly, which can negatively affect the flavor of the meat. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your catch in a basket lowered into the water or an aerated live well so that they’re able to swim and breathe but not escape. 

If the water is cold, you can also use a stringer, which is just a rope with a needle at one end. You use it to string your fish together, keeping them alive in the water while you continue to fish. This method can be stressful for the creature, though, so it isn’t always the best option. 

Option Two: Kill and Dress Immediately

Your second option is to kill and dress your catch as soon as you get it onto your boat. Dressing a fish is a fancy way of saying that you need to remove the head, fins, gills and guts before you pack it with ice and store it in a cooler. Kill it quickly and humanely — don’t leave it to die slowly.  Not only is that cruel, but it also lowers the quality of the meat. 

Use crushed or flaked ice for the best results, and make sure you drain off any water and add more ice as needed throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to use four pounds of ice for every two pounds of fish to ensure that you’ve got proper cooling, and you’re not allowing any bacterial growth. 

Getting It Home

Once you get your catch home, you still need to scale and fillet it. Then, either cook it immediately or store it in the fridge or freezer. To scale the fish, run the blade of a knife or a fish scaler along the side, moving from tail to head or in the opposite direction that the scales lay. This process is messy, so we suggest doing it outside.  

Then, use a sharp knife to cut filets from the fish before discarding the bones or using them for soup stock. The exact procedure you use to prepare your catch will depend on the species and the size, so make sure you hit up YouTube to learn from the pros. That way you won’t waste any meat you worked so hard for.

When done, it’s time to cook the fish or store it. If you’re storing the filets, you’ve got four things to contend with — temperature, moisture, oxygen and bacterial growth, all of which can negatively affect the finished product. You need to chill raw fish to 32° Fahrenheit to prevent meat decomposition. 

Enjoy Your Catch

Once you’ve done all the hard work, it’s time to sit back, throw your catch on the grill and enjoy. We all know that adding fish to our diet is supposed to be good for us, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a filet that you’ve caught, cleaned and cooked yourself. 

Catch Your Next Fish

Fishidy uses an advanced fishing forecaster to show when and where the fish will be biting. It also has tips and techniques for catching fish and contour lines to make it easier to find weedlines and drop-offs. Download the Fishidy app here.