6 Tips to Keep Fish Fresher While Fishing

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Written By Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler with more than 20 years of fishing experience and a writer whose work has been featured in magazines for over a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States. He also fishes for trout in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, Paddling Space, Man Can Outdoors, Alabama Outdoor News, and Bassmaster.

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To keep fish fresh while fishing, use a live well or bait tank with proper water circulation to maintain oxygen levels, or store fish on ice in a cooler or insulated fish bag, ensuring they’re fully covered. Dispatch fish quickly and humanely, then clean and store them promptly to preserve quality.

One of the most rewarding parts of a successful fishing trip is being able to cook your catch and enjoy the fresh, tasty table fare that fish offer. To do this, you’ll need to be prepared to keep fish fresh while you’re out on the water. 

In some cases, this is easier to do if you’re fishing in relatively cool or cold weather as the lower temperatures outside will help preserve your catch and keep them from spoiling as quickly. When it comes to fishing in the sweltering heat, however, keeping your fish on ice is much more difficult. 

In this article, we’ll cover some of the things you can do and preparations you can take to keep fish fresh while fishing. 

Saltwater vs Freshwater Fish 

When it comes to knowing how to keep fish fresh while fishing on your trip, it’s important to do some planning before you ever get to the water. If you plan to catch some freshwater fish species, you can be assured that normal ice will be ideal for maintaining the freshness of your fish for the duration of the trip. 

If you are fishing on the ocean or other areas of saltwater, it’s actually best to keep your fish iced down with saltwater ice. This type of ice freezes at a much lower temperature than normal ice and should keep your fish fresh for longer periods of time than freshwater ice. 

Many saltwater anglers believe that using saltwater ice helps to maintain the natural flavor of the type of fish you’re catching on the ocean. This hasn’t been scientifically proven to be true, but saltwater ice will undoubtedly work better than freshwater ice when it comes to keeping your fish colder and more fresh for longer periods of time. 

Prepare to Store Your Fish

Many anglers are well aware that they need to put their fish on ice in order to keep them fresh while fishing, but few know the secret to maintaining the fish’s best possible flavor for the frying pan or grill. It’s actually a good idea to reduce the amount of stress and suffering of the fish after you’ve landed it in order to experience the best possible filet quality and taste. 

Most experienced anglers actually recommend piercing the fish’s brain with a knife or other sharp tool in order to shorten the amount of time the fish spends under stress outside the water or even in a cooler. This stress has been proven to negatively affect the quality of the fish’s meat due to the flood of stress hormones and other chemical reactions that take place once a fish is removed from the water. 

Most saltwater anglers know that it’s crucial to put the fish into your cooler or ice bin of your boat as soon as possible after you’ve ensured that it is dead. Doing this might seem like a bit of extra effort that isn’t really necessary, but for angler who want to preserve the quality and freshness of the fish’s meat to the best of their ability, it will truly make a difference. 

Time is of the Essence 

If you’re fishing in an extremely hot environment, you only have a short amount of time before the decomposition process begins and the quality of the fish’s meat will begin to deteriorate. Extreme heat means your fish’s filets will start to break down faster and the taste and quality of the meat will be significantly affected or even ruined if you don’t get the fish on ice as quickly as possible. 

If you’re fishing in a very hot climate, it’s often a good idea to keep your cooler in the shade if at all possible. Some anglers even cover their cooler with a towel, blanket, or other material in order to keep as much of the sun’s rays off the surface of the cooler as possible. 

Maintain the Ice

The single most important thing you can do to ensure that your fish stay fresh while you’re on the water is to maintain the ice in your cooler. Once the ice begins to melt, it will significantly lose its ability to keep your fish cold and fresh. Making sure the ice in your cooler doesn’t melt begins with the efforts of the angler to eliminate any potential for the ice to start melting. 

Keeping a regular check on the ice while you’re on the water will help to guard against spoiling any fish that are kept inside. It’s very important to inspect your cooler before each trip to make sure there are no holes, cracks or other damage that might cause it to allow heat inside the cold compartment where fish and ice will be kept. 

Clean Your Fish Quickly

Once you’ve returned to shore, it’s incredibly important to clean your fish as soon as possible if you want the meat to be in the best possible condition. Be sure to clean and filet your catch as soon as you can once you’ve docked the boat and returned home. Once the fish have been cleaned and fileted, put them into sealed plastic bags and place them back into your cooler with fresh ice if possible. 

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Cooler Quality 

As you might expect, having a high-quality cooler will go a long way in making sure your ice keeps for a longer period of time and your fish remain fresh. It’s a good idea to invest a little more money in a better quality cooler if you plan to fish in areas where you might have several hours before you’re able to get the fish back home and placed in a freezer or on the grill for cooking. 

As with any other type of fishing gear or equipment, coolers that are made with better quality components and to higher standards will undoubtedly do a better job at keeping fish fresh while fishing. There are a large number of well-known brands in the fishing industry that now manufacture coolers that are exceptionally well made and are capable of maintaining ice for multiple days at a time in most cases. 

If you’re not quite sure which cooler to choose when you’re looking to purchase a new one for your boat or to take fishing, you can be assured that spending a bit more and investing your money wisely might help ensure that you get a cooler that’s more capable of keeping your fish fresh while you’re on the water. 

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