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So you've finally caught a bunch of fish and are excited to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Maybe you're already thinking about your next few meals, what recipe you’re going to try, and even who you want to share your catch with. But before you get ahead of yourself, there’s one thing to keep in mind: how to store your catch properly. Doing so ensures its freshness and safety, preserves its flavor and texture, and allows you to thoroughly enjoy your catch.
I think I speak for most of us, but when you’re out fishing, chances are you don’t pack up and leave after landing your first fish. Instead, you aim to catch as much as you can, even on the more challenging days. But while waiting for another bite, the last thing you want to do is let the fish you already caught spoil and go to waste.
You have several options: to keep the fish alive in a live well or stringer, or to use ice, a refrigerator, or a freezer.
If you go the live-fish route, you can use one of those live wells that most fishing boats come with. Live wells are tanks into which air and water are pumped, and they’re great not only for storing baitfish, but also for keeping your catch fresh. You can also make a portable DIY version if you’re fishing from shore or if your boat doesn’t come with a live well.
Some anglers like using a fishing stringer, which is a rope, paracord, or chain with a needle on one end and a ring on the other. With a stringer, you pierce the needle through the fish’s lower lip (not the gills), secure the fish in place, and allow them to keep swimming (and breathing) in the water.
If you can’t be bothered to keep them alive, you can always dump your catch immediately into a cooler with ice. You want to cover most of the fish, and you want to do it evenly, so opt for shaved or crushed ice instead of ice cubes so more ice comes into contact with the fish. Don’t forget to leave the drain plug open to allow melted ice to drain out without spoiling the flavor. Remember to store the cooler in the shade as well, as the heat and sunlight will cause your ice to melt faster.
You can also use a thermometer to make sure your catch stays at a safe temperature, somewhere below 40°F, while you transport it. Don’t forget to clean your cooler with soap and hot water after using it so your next catch doesn’t get contaminated with nasty germs.
Some fishermen and women like to bleed out fish before chucking it into the cooler. This makes for cleaner and tastier fillets, prevents discoloration, and gets rid of the lactic acid that causes that strange metallic taste. To do this, use a sharp knife to cut into the throat, then into the gills, then into the artery between the gills, and bleed out the fish.
If you don’t have a cooler and have a refrigerator instead, you can also use that for storing fish. First, you want to wash the fish in cold water, then dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth or paper towels. Then, wrap the fish in plastic or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge. Refrigeration keeps fish fresh for up to two days.
Now, if you want to store your fish for longer periods of time, use a freezer, which can keep your catch fresh for three months up to a year (some say even more) if stored correctly. To use a freezer to store your catch, wash the fish, clean its scales, and then dry it completely with paper towels or cloth, just as you would if you were keeping the fish in the fridge. Then take a freezer-safe Ziploc bag and put your fish in it. Make sure all air is removed from the bag, as any trapped air can destroy the flavor of the fish. It’s a good idea to write the date when you froze the fish using a marker on the Ziploc so you know exactly when you stored it.
Whether you choose to use a live well, a stringer, a cooler, a fridge, or a freezer to store your catch, you have to be aware of the precautions to take so you can reap the rewards of your hard work. Proper storage ensures fish’s freshness and keeps you safe and healthy for another adventure out on the water. Happy fishing!
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