How To Keep Fish Fresh After Catching
Fishing is a fun, relaxing hobby that you can enjoy on your own or with family members and friends. Eating your catch is an additional prize that is good for your health as science clearly shows that fish is good for your heart, can prevent depression, and even boosts your brain power. Following is an overview of how to store the fish you catch to keep it fresh until you're reading to prepare it for a meal.
Correctly Storing Fish After Catching: Why is it Important?
Fish spoilage is something you'll want to avoid at all costs when fishing. When this occurs, the raw fish smells and tastes bad; what's more, it may begin to harbor harmful bacteria that could cause serious illness. Salmonella can cause stomach cramps diarrhea, fever, nausea, and headaches. E Coli bacteria found in spoiled fish can, in worst case scenarios, cause severe illness, kidney failure, and even death.
Thankfully, by taking a few precautions, you won't have to worry about fish going bad before you have a chance to cook and eat it.
Preparing for the Catch: Things to Bring to Help Preserve Fish
There are several things you should bring on any fishing trip to preserve your catch. These include:
- Plastic and Ziplock bags: A Ziplock or plastic bag is ideal for transporting fish after it has been filleted. Bring more than one if you expect a large catch or want to sort the different kinds of fish you catch on your fishing trip.
- Ice packs and Ice: Shaved ice is ideal. You'll need it to keep fish chilled during fishing and when traveling home (or to your campsite) after fishing.
- Gloves: a clean, sharp knife, and clean water if you plan on gutting your fish at your fishing site rather than at home.
- Large, insulated cooler for storing dead fish
The Best Ways to Keep Fish Fresh After Catching
Ideally, after you catch fish, you'll want to keep them alive as long as possible. One way to do this is to put your catch in a stringer and place the stringer in the water. However, you'll want to make sure your stringer isn't placed too low in the water; otherwise, you could lose your catch. You'll also need to be careful about using this device for too long during the hot summer months, as the heat can cause your fish to spoil.
Put your Fresh Catch on Ice
Another way to keep fish alive on your fishing trip is to put your catch in a cooler with shaved ice. The fish will cool off and become dormant yet remain alive, thus preventing spoilage. As an added benefit, shaved ice will chill your fish evenly, thus keeping fish fresh as long as possible.
It's inevitable that some of the ice in your cooler will melt while you fish. Leave the cooler's drain plug open, so the melted ice can run out from the cooler. Leaving fish in the ice water will cause loss of flavor and ruin the fish's texture, creating a mushy mess that may or may not be salvageable.
Cleaning Your Fish
It's important to clean out your fish as quickly as possible. This point applies to both saltwater and freshwater fish.
To start, bleed out the fish by making a small cut under the fish's gills and then pulling the head back to snap the spinal cord. Remove the scales If you'd prefer not to eat them and then cut the fish's stomach open to remove the internal organs. Be sure to wear gloves to prevent direct contact with the guts, which contain harmful bacteria, and run cold water over the fish to remove any bits of gut that may have remained inside the fish.
If you clean your fish at home, wipe down your work area with a disinfectant to remove harmful bacteria, as even small traces of fish insides can make you sick. If you plan on cleaning the fish at your fishing site, do some research on your area beforehand as you may inadvertently attract potentially dangerous wild animals such as bears and eagles to your fishing site.
Freeze your Fish
When you're done cleaning and gutting the fish, wrap it in plastic wrap, taking care to ensure there are no air pockets that could cause ice crystals to form on your fish. Put a label on the package, noting the date it was caught, and then put it in the freezer.
Freezing is an ideal way to store your catch as frozen fish can last for up to a year if properly stored. Some say that it can even last longer than this even though some of the flavor is lost due to the prolonged freeze time. However, bear in mind that the fish size, species, and the freezer's degree setting will impact how long a fish can be safely stored in the freezer before you eat it. Lean fish can typically be frozen longer than fatty fish. Lowering your freezer temperature can also lengthen the time frame in which you can keep your frozen fish.
You should never refreeze raw fish (or any raw meat) once it has been even partially defrosted. Doing so can ruin the flavor and cause bacterial growth that can give you a very bad case of food poisoning.
Refrigerate your Fish
Freezing fresh fish and then defrosting it can destroy some of the nutrients in the fish. If you intend to eat your fish fairly soon, you may want to consider refrigerating your catch rather than freezing it. You can safely store fish in the refrigerator for up to five days if you do it right; however, bear in mind that some fish can spoil faster than others. Larger fish tend to last longer in the refrigerator than smaller fish, and fatty fish is likely to spoil faster than lean fish.
Always bleed out, clean, and rinse your fresh fish in clean water before storing it in the refrigerator. Once you rinse your cleaned fish, pat it try with a paper towel, wrap it in aluminum foil or a plastic wrap, write the date you caught the fish on the package and then place it in the refrigerator.
You can either refrigerate the whole fish or cut the fish into fillets for ease of storage and cooking. If you opt to cut the fish into fillets before storage, wrap the fillets with the skin down to prevent air pockets from getting inside your aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
How to Thaw Out Fish
Knowing how to thaw out fish is just as important as knowing how to store it properly. Frozen fish should be placed in the refrigerator to thaw out overnight; alternatively, you can thaw your fish in a cool of water that is slightly cooler than room temperature. If you opt for this thawing method, be sure to change the water regularly to ensure it stays at the right temperature.
Never use warm or hot water to thaw fish. Doing so will result in mushy fillet. Additionally, you should never microwave frozen fish as portions of the fish will cook while other parts remain raw.
Fish is a highly nutritious, tasty meat that can be prepared in a myriad of ways. Catching it on your own instead of buying it from the store is not only an enjoyable activity but also a highly rewarding one. It can take time and perseverance to learn how to fish, but the end result is more than worth the effort.
Even so, knowing how to catch fish on your own isn't enough. Proper handling is a must if you want to avoid food-borne bacteria that can make you very sick. Always bring a cooler, ice, and storage bags along with you when you fish. When you get back home or return to your campsite, clean out the ungutted fish with clean utensils, using gloves to protect yourself from bacteria and bits of guts. Once you rinse your fish out, decide when you want to use it and then store it using an appropriate storage method that will keep fish fresh and safe until you're ready to cook and enjoy it on your own or with others.