You’re out fishing on a beautiful day and are catching tons of fish. You decide to keep your limit and bring it home to cook. What is the best way to store your catch until you get home? The answers vary depending on who you ask. I’m going to give you my recommendations and explain why I believe this is the best way to go.
If you are lucky enough to own a nice fishing boat you probably have a live well on board. What a great idea…Catch all your fish you will be keeping and stick them in there until you get back to shore then deal with them all. If you are fishing in a tournament then you will probably be utilizing your livewell, but for everyone else, I recommend only using it for your bait, not your catch. If you take a fish that is used to swimming around a whole lake and put them into a dark 4-foot tank of water they are going to be freaking out. The stress of being in the livewell is going to cause a release of lactic acid into the muscle of the fish. Lactic acid is a substance produced by stress that negatively affects the quality of meat. It’s the reason that cows are killed quickly. Too much stress and the meat can take on a bitter taste.
So, put your chubs and minnows in the livewell. It will keep them alive while fishing, but for the fish you want to consume, there is a better way.
Bleed and Filet
The best way to store fish you intend to consume is to process them quickly. This is why large and charter fishing boats will have filet tables with running water. First, kill them as soon as possible. You can use a knife or bonk them on the head. Either way, after they are dead you will want to bleed them through the gills. Releasing the blood quickly is very important to the quality of the meat. Once the fish has been killed and bled, you can either filet it or gut and de-gil it. At this point, you want to get the meat onto the ice. This is why coolers are so important when fishing (not just a place to keep your beer).
If you are fishing for dinner treat the fish like you would any other animal. Kill it quickly, bleed it, gut it, and get it on ice. The quality of your fish will improve and you may even find you like the taste of some lesser-eaten fish better than you thought when handled properly.