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Caring For Your Catch

Caring for Your Catch: A Guide to Keeping Fish Fresh While on the Water
CJ Siebler

So youve finally done it!  After countless hours of preparation and hard work you have finally caught a fish worthy of going home for dinner.  But how will you ensure that by the time you have gotten off the water, loaded your kayak, and driven home that your catch will still be eatable? 

The moment a fish dies the meat will start to deteriorate.  When keeping your fish fresh heat is the enemy.  Warm water, the sun, and even the warm air inside your kayak will quickly turn your fish into a mushy mess if it is not cared for properly.  So where does one start? 

            Proper care of your catch should not be limited to the field but also in the preparation stages of your trip.  Preparing for a fishing trip should not end with rods, tackle and kayak if you want to eat what you catch.  There are several options available to kayak anglers that will keep fish cool and delicious.  Game clips and stringers are great for securing your catch however they are not the best way to keep it fresh.  Not to mention a fish hanging off your kayak is an easy target for sea lions. 

With the explosion of kayak fishing, the industry has made numerous fish-storage options available.  Insulated fish bags, burlap sacks, and even coolers are all great options to keep your catch cold.  When using any of these products be sure that you have some form of ice that will immediately lower the meats temperature.  Remember the larger the piece of ice, the longer it will take to melt.  For this reason frozen water bottles are a popular choice.  Also with the water bottle you will have an emergency water supply.  If you choose to go with the Burlap sack remember to soak it with water when it begins to dry out.  The evaporation of the water from the sack will naturally cause cooling of its contents.

Once you have decided on a storage method, your catch will keep much better until you can get it cleaned and cooked.  However there are a few things you can do to greatly improve the taste and quality. 


  • The Gaff Shot-   This is where it all starts.  Try your best to never gaff a fish in the meat.  Always go for a headshot.  I know that it can be exciting when a big yellowtail comes to gaff but take your time and get that perfect shot.  Not only will this prevent waste but also it will help to keep the fish from thrashing around and bruising the meat.  Of course there will be exceptions to the Head Shot rule, you never want to get a headshot on certain fish such as halibut or Dorado as the gaff will often bounce right off of their hard scull.  When gaffing these fish you will want to aim for a different area.  On halibut a gut shot is the way to go.  Not only will the gaff sink in but a properly placed shot will also paralyze the fish for a short period of time, allowing you to easily bleed and secure your catch.  For Dorado one will want to get a gaff shot just behind the head.
  • Stunning fish- Just like the gaff shot, a quick kill will improve meat quality by keeping the fish from thrashing around and bruising the meat.  Also a fish that dies quickly does not emit toxins into the meat like a slow death does.  To stun the fish, club the fish with Billy Club on the soft spot right above the eyes. 


  • Bleeding Fish- Bleeding fish will not only greatly improve the flavor of fish but it will also help to keep the meat from breaking down as quickly.  In addition, It is essential for sashimi grade fish.   Although there are various ways to bleed fish, my choice is to make one cut across the collar/throat, severing the blood vessel between the heart and the gills.  After making your cut allow the fish to bleed for several minutes then wash the cut area to avoid clotting which will cause the fish to not bleed completely.  When the fish has finish bleeding out immediately place into your fish bag or cooler making sure that the backbone is bent as little as possible.


Following these simple steps will ensure quality fish for eating.  When done correctly you will notice a tremendous difference in taste and texture of the fillets.  You will also notice that fish considered by many as trash are actually incredibly delicious when cared for properly.  Species such as Skipjack, Bonito, and Barracuda are awesome if you take the time to ensure quality.  In all honestly I believe that when properly cared for, Bonito is far better tasting than Albacore.  Try it for yourself you may be pleasantly surprised.