Critical Tips to Keep Fish Alive After Catching

So you are out for your fishing trip. 

 After a long and exciting day of waiting for and catching your target game fish, you may have the same question every fisher has in mind: how to keep fish alive after catching? 

Why the interest in this question? 

Well, after catching your target fish, you will surely have a long time back home. While it is okay for some to enjoy their catch once they rich home even when they have already died along the way, it is still best to present your catch fresh when you get back. Not only will this preserve the freshness of the taste of the fish as it is cooked, but it also gives you that bragging rights as you show your catch to friends and family as you go home. 

The flavor of fish is specifically kept fresh especially if they are cooked only after dying shortly. 

So how do you keep fish alive after catching them to preserve the freshness of the fish? 

 This post will present some tips that you can use to make sure that your catch remains fresh before they are cooked. This consideration is especially important if you plan to store your catch first for a few days before you cook it. 

One thing to remember is that when you go out fishing for game or leisure, the target fishes are often large and agile. Among the most common characteristics of these fishes is that they are rather flavorful when they are cooked the right way. So, as part of your reward of spending hours out in the open and finally catching that elusive fish, keeping your catch alive until the time you are ready to feast on it is part of the satisfaction that comes from fishing. 

FIRST: Ice the Fish 

Remember to bring an insulated cooler every time you go out fishing. 

Unlike what many believe, putting the fish you caught in water will only drain the flavor of the fish. 

Using ice, on the other hand, has been known not only for keeping the fish fresh and safe, but also helps in preserving the flavor of the catch. 

Remember to dress the fish first before putting it on ice. This will help with the preservation better. 

Make sure that the cooler’s drain plug is left open to let the melted ice flow off and not spoil the fish’s flavor. 

SECOND: Refrigerate 

After coming home, and you still do not want to cook the fish you caught you may opt to freeze the fish until you are ready to cook it. But don’t just throw it into the refrigerator just like that. 

There are certain steps you must consider first before you consider your fresh catch ready for storage. 

Before you get it into the refrigerator, wrap the fish in clean waxed paper or plastic wrap. If these options are not available, you may also choose to use aluminum foil if you have one. 

Usually, when a fish is dressed this way, it can stay fresh for up to two days. Often, larger fishes stay fresh longer compared to smaller ones. 

When storing large fish, it is best to cut them into small pieces. This will make flavor preservation more effective. 

It must be remembered too that fishes differ in their length of flavor preservation depending on their type. Lean fish such as panfish and fish groups found in the valley often store better compared to fatty fish which may include trouts. 

THIRD: Freeze Fish 

If you need your catch to stay fresh for more than just two days, you can opt to freeze the fish you caught. 

When fish is frozen, they often can last up to 12 months. However, like in refrigerating fish, there should be some preparations made before you finally store your catch. 

Upon catching the fish, and you plan to store it for a long time, make sure to clean it first and place it in a secure bag. Before storing the fish into the bag, make sure to remove all the fish sit. Even a few sit left inside the fish or if it comes into contact with the skin of the fish, it can immediately affect the freshness of the catch. 

A zip-lock plastic bag often works best for these conditions. Before closing the zip lock, remember to air it out first. If air is stored along with the fish, it may affect the freshness and cause faster decay. 

Upon reaching home, wrap the fish in aluminum foil first before finally storing it in the freezer. 

Airtight package sealers also improve how the air is kept out from the stored fish. This helps the fish keep its freshness. 

Others opt to freeze the fish into a block of ice. This solid block of ice should cover the whole fish from the tip of its mouth to the tip of its tail. To do this, use a refrigerator container and fill it with water. Put the fish in it and make sure that the freezing happens fast so as not to compromise the freshness of the fish’s flavor. 

When thawing the fish from being frozen, do not just toss it on cold water to melt the ice. Instead, it is better to let the ice melt on its own by putting the fish in the refrigerator overnight.

Never use the microwave to thaw the fish. This option will cook your fish even before it hits the skillet or the oven. 

What if you want to Keep Your Catch Alive? 

Often, catching fish and killing then dressing the fish before storage takes time. 

Some anglers want to keep themselves in action and then deal with the preservation and storage strategies later. Here are some tips to keep the fish alive after catching: 

  1. Place your catch in a stringer and lower it in the water as you continue fishing for other game fishes in the area. Make sure to not completely submerge the fish as your boat moves because this may risk the fish from getting away. 
  2. You can also opt to put the fish in a submerged net basket that is attached to your boat. This way, you can simply put your catch into the basket and continue fishing for more. 
  3. If you have a live well, it may keep your catch alive until you finish fishing. 
  4. Put the fish in a cooler with shaved ice. Remember to use shaved ice, not solid blocks to help the fish cool off and rest in the shaved ice at the same time- thus keeping it alive while it becomes dormant. 

 Keep your Catch Cooled Down 

Fishes often stay cool, make sure to keep their temperature low as you journey back home. The temperature has a lot to do with the preservation of the flavor of your catch 

Remember that freshwater fish are known to have delicate flesh. Their skin often deteriorates fast if they have experienced extreme stress during the fishing process. If you have tackled long with a fish before you finally reeled it in, then it will likely experience skin deterioration fast. 

When using stringers, the fish often experience extensive stress. 

Experienced anglers have found it beneficial to use a live well instead of coolers to keep their catch alive and cool and avoid fast skin deterioration as they bring the fishes home.

If you have caught your fish from warm waters, it is best to dispatch the fish into the live well with a few ice shavings to lower their temperature down and avoid immediate skin deterioration. This will help preserve the flavor of the fish until they are ready for cooking.  

If you did not preserve your catch properly, you could expect that the fish would quickly deteriorate in quality once it dies. So, when you finally get home and prepare your fish for storage make sure to remove all intestinal juices first, remove the gut and make sure that the sour bacteria from the stomach is removed properly. 

When gutting the fish, blood will certainly flow off the skin fish. This may also contribute to the skin deterioration in the fish as it is stored. Make sure to wash off any blood left in the skin before wrapping it for storage. When washing the fish, remember to use cold water. Then after washing, remember to surround the fish with crushed ice. This will help in avoiding the growth of bacteria in the fish as it is stored. If cleaning and the fish before storage are not done properly, it may cause faster spoilage that will certainly render your catch inedible. 

What About Freezing the fish in Water? 

Commercial fishers are often required to keep their catch as fresh as possible before they deliver to their customers. To make sure that the fishes are in the best condition once they reach their destination, they are frozen in water. 

This is successfully done by coating the ice with glaze to protect the flavor of the fish and preserving their table quality. The temperature is kept at a low 40 degrees Fahrenheit to make sure the intended result is successfully achieved. 

Take note too, that as mentioned earlier, different types of fish react differently to ice and water. For instance, lean fishes are often kept fresh even with just a little water and little ice in the mix. However, this same approach will not work in keeping trout and salmon fresh as they are fatty and will immediately lose their flavor if they are submerged in water for a long time after being caught from their natural habitat. 

Fishers who bring their catch directly to restaurants offering gourmet meals are required to see to it that proper flavor preservation strategies are considered for their deliveries to be considered acceptable for their clients. 

Another possible method to apply includes using a lidded plastic container. Make sure that the containers are filled with water up to the brim. As you put in the fish, make sure that there is not a large space for water to slip in. The freezing process should happen fast. With water sipping into the frozen setup, the flavor of the fish will be compromised as flowing water would draw the nutrients off from the fish. This will also crush the fishes as the setup frees. 

Put in as much fish as you can to help minimize the empty spaces. Place in your fishes properly without compromising their form so that when they are being defrosted, they still look fresh and do not have any twisted parts in their body which will make them much less inviting when they are cooked whole.

You may also opt to use freezer-grade plastic lock bags. When using these bags, make sure to layer the fish properly and then add a little water into the bag. Leave a little opening to let the air out before you finally lock it. Make sure that before you store the bag, you have already squeezed all the air out of it. This is considered the simplest, fastest, and most adapted procedure of preserving fish fresh and its flavor protected from sipping off from the stored fish. 

When You Cook the Fish, Remember these basic tips: 

  • After removing the fish from being frozen, it was found to be a best practice to soak the fish in milk for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Don’t rinse or dust the fish off through other strategies. Milk will help retain the flavor of the fish as it is being defrosted. 
  • When using flavor enhancers, it is best to add dried herbs to the mix. This will give the fish back its natural flavor. 
  • When sautéing fish, it may be more effective to use bacon fat to bring back the flavor and create a crispy feel in the fish’s skin as you heat it. 
  • Wine also helps when poaching fish. 
  • Use strong sauces for added flavor especially when cooking bass or freshwater drum. 
  • Remember that once the fish has been frozen, you cannot expect it to be firm after being defrosting. Because of this expectation, you will need to add in flavor and perhaps other ingredients to aid with the crunchy texture. You can opt to add sautéed vegetables. When plating adds in the fish on top of the vegetables to make it more inviting. 

The tips to keep fish alive after catching that were mentioned herein are designed to give you an idea of how to contain the freshness and the flavor of your catch for a longer time if you do not aim to cook it immediately after fishing fish off the water. 

Take note that when it comes to properly prepare your catch for storage, it may be helpful to know better what specific strategies would work depending on the type of fish you are preparing. 

Whether you are going to keep your catch for your consumption or you are preparing it for selling out in the market, you ought to consider specific facts that will help your catch retain its freshness, quality, and flavor that is needed to keep it desirable. 

Key Takeaways: 

Keeping your catch fresh and flavorful is part of the reward that you get from hours of waiting and establishing strategies to catch your target fish.

Whether your goal is for commercial selling or personal leisure, being able to eat what you caught is certainly a satisfying experience that will give you the motivation to go back out in the water again for your next fishing adventure. 

The strategies to keep fish alive after catching come in different forms and ways. Picking the best way to keep your catch fresh and flavorful will largely depend on the availability of resources in your area and the time you are willing to put into the preparation needed before you store your catch in either the freezer or the refrigerator. 

Some of the common thoughts to remember to keep fish fresh after you keep it alive after catching is that air, dirt, sit, gut, stomach chemicals, and blood all contribute to faster decay of the fish. 

Take note too that where you store the fish that you caught will determine how long it will be able to retain its quality, its freshness, and its flavor. 

If you opt to store your catch in a refrigerator, it may remain fresh for up to two days of being stored. On the other hand, if you opt to use a freezer for storage, the lifespan of your catch may reach between three months to 12 months. 

When preparing your catch for storage, make sure to arrange the fish properly. Lay them down in a good position so as not to compromise their form when they are being readied for defrosting. This way, it is not only their freshness and their flavor that is preserved, it will also be possible to refine the presentation of the fish as you cook it and serve it for a hearty meal.