How to Keep Fish Fresh While Fishing

All freshwater and saltwater fish that are freshly caught within minutes will start to spoil. They will ruin rapidly especially if it is roughly handled at the Gill Plate and stressed from a fight reeling it in. Added with a sun-baked beach, or lakeside the freshest of fish can ruin fast. Here are some ideas to keep fresh-caught fish fresh while you keep fishing. What are the best ways to keep fish fresh while fishing?

Poke a hole through the fish’s lower jaw
Run stringer through the hole & out his mouth 
Keep fish alive in H2O
Spike fish-dig a hole in the beach below waterline put fish in & cover-up
Bleed them out in a 5 gal. bucket
Keep fish out of the sun/covered with a wet towel
Icefish with crushed ice if available


Once a fish dies the flesh will start to deteriorate soon after death, fish flesh deteriorates quickly if the fish isn’t handled correctly. Once they die, try and gut them immediately when possible to do so. Don’t let sour, bacteria-filled stomach and intestinal juices touch the flesh for long. Being realistic, that situation is not always possible but here are some tips to make that fish you caught better tasting on the dinner plate.

How to Keep Fresh While Fishing


I’ve seen a few tricks while fishing Freshwater and Saltwater over the years, and once you hit on a school of fish off the surf or inside a hole on a lake the last thing you want to do is stop fishing. But in order to keep fish fresh while fishing especially if you plan on being there for a while is to have a plan.

The very best way to keep a fish fresh would be to keep it alive while fishing. Sometimes it’s possible and sometimes it’s not.

You might not think of it until you actually catch one. There is a rush involved and all you can think about at that point is to get your line back in the water. You need to think about it before you land on one keeping fish fresh should be part of the game plan while fishing.


How to Store Fish and Keep Fish Alive While Fishing


The best way how to keep fish fresh while fishing is to attach the fish to a stringer in the water just off the edge. In the ocean, it would be in the surf where the tide will reach the fish. This keeps and will preserve them alive a while longer. The longer the fish stays alive while fishing the fresher it stays.

So as soon as you can get the fish off the hook, add the fresh fish to a Stringer while fishing and get that fish back into the water before the fish start to move. Fish need oxygen and the water provides that on the edge of the water or the surf.

Try to keep the stringer loose so that the fish can move. This swim action can keep more oxygen flowing through the fish, especially on a lake where there is no movement or surf, and will keep the fish alive longer when fishing.

The stringer can be the Chain Stringer or a Standard Stringer made from plastic rope that has a spike on one end and a metal circle on the other. This a way to keep fish fresh until you get home.

The standard way to string a fish while fishing is to come up through the Gill plate and exit the mouth but I feel the most appropriate way to add a fish to a stringer is to poke a hole through the bottom of the fish’s jaw with the metal clip or make the hole with the spike or even a knife and run the rope through his lower jaw and exit out his mouth and connect the fish on the stringer without damaging his gills.

Damaging the fish’s gills will kill him faster and should be an alternative to running the stringer through his gills and exiting the fish’s mouth.

Then get him back into the water where the fish can breathe. There are simpler ways of stringing the fish during fishing but like making the hole through the jaw with a knife some fish don’t have a soft bottom jaw so it’s not possible to make the entrance hole through the bottom of the jaw but surprisingly most salt and freshwater fish do. Check this video out and learn this little trick.




How to Keep Fish Fresh While Fishing


On the Surf, I’ve seen a lot of old-timers bury a fish in the sand until they’re ready to leave:


Just dig a hole on the beach until you hit the water level lay the fish in the hole then cover them up. You can wrap it in a wet rag before placing it in the hole during fishing. This will keep it cool, wet, and out of the sun and prevent the fish from going bad.

You can spike them before putting them in the hole. Spike the fish directly through the brain between the eyes on his forehead as you would in Ikejime. This will keep them alive but brain dead and not able to feel pain on suffocation buried in the sand hole.

I also use the Japanese technique called Ikejime severing the spinal cord and the two major dorsal blood vessels to initiate the bleeding of smaller fish while fishing. You then sever those same vessels at the tail. Later on, you put the fish in salted water to complete the bleeding while fishing.

In larger fish, like Bluefin tuna, it isn’t practical to sever the spinal cord at the head, so cuts are made near the pectoral fin where there are major blood vessels near the surface. For smaller fish, you can use a 5-gallon bucket with saltwater to bleed them out, gradually while fishing then gut them in the water clean them and rinse them clean.

The idea is to get the blood out as fast as you can and keep the meat wet and out of the sun while fishing so there is no delay. This keeps everything fresher if you can’t keep what you just caught alive.

On most beaches, you can’t access it by car or truck so the only way to get ice and coolers out to where you are fishing is to hike out to your favorite spot with a fishing wagon that can hold your supplies. If you can bring a cooler for fish that are caught using crushed ice. It’s better for keeping fish on a hot beach colder because how it can cover more square inches of the fish’s flesh.

Most freshwater fish have delicate flesh that starts to deteriorate before the fish dies, especially if it’s roughly handled or excessively stressed. Keeping fish lively as long as possible in a livewell or in a keep sack before cleaning and gutting them is one step for a  fine-tasting fish. Stringers stress fish more than other methods unless the water’s cold. When the water’s warm, it’s usually best to dispatch fish immediately and pack them with ice. 

After death, fresh fish flesh deteriorates quickly if the fish isn’t handled correctly. Once they die, gut them immediately when possible to do so. Don’t let sour, bacteria-filled stomach and intestinal juices touch the flesh for any amount of time. Gutting fish also bleeds them: blood left in the flesh speeds up the deterioration of the fish. Wash gutted fish in cold water to remove bacteria, then surround the fish with crushed ice to slow any bacterial growth.

When fishing in the field, icing fish is the best way to keep them fresh once they’ve been killed and gutted or filleted. Crushed ice works best because it packs more closely, cools more quickly, and keeps fish colder than would blocks of ice or frozen bottles of water.

So, after gutting the fish, rinse them in cold water and surround them with crushed ice. Don’t let fish soak for long even in icy water.



How Do You Bleed Ocean Fish?

  • Land the fish as soon as you can
  • Hit fish in front of his gill plate above the nose & under the forehead
  • Cut artery that runs along the bottom of the area between gills
  • Flip the fish over to the other side & repeat your cut on other sets of gills
  • Bleed out for at least 3 min. in a bucket of ocean H2O
  • Ice fish…………………………………………………………………………………………………Read more


How Long Does Fresh Caught Fish Last in the Fridge


Freshly caught live fish that are preserved while on ice will prevent loss of taste, but once you thaw the fish, later on, the internal organs will start to decompose very quickly, which can also have a negative effect on taste. In order to avoid this, a way to keep the fish fresh is to try to remove the gut when the fish is still partially frozen. Bleed it-Gut it-Clean it-Filet it-Refrigerate it. 

You should also keep in mind that you can’t refreeze fish that has been thawed, since the thawing process accelerates decomposition. So if you are fishing and catch a big fish, it’s better to clean it right away and then freeze it in small portions that you can take out of the freezer individually.

If you bleed un-gutted fish and then store them on ice or in the refrigerator, they can be kept for 24-48 hours without quality problems. However, it’s essential to keep the fish cool.

If you don’t keep them cool, you only have 6-12 hours after fishing before un-gutted fish goes bad. The reason for this is that bacteria and digestive enzymes inside the gut start to affect the rest of the fish. This is another method for keeping fish in the field during fishing. Super-chilled fish that have been gutted and left in the round can be kept on ice for five days and often long after fishing trips.

Super chill– during fishing-to super-chill, line the bottom of an insulated cooler with several inches of crushed ice, leaving the drain open. In another container, mix coarse ice cream salt and crushed ice at a ratio of 1 to 20. For average-sized coolers, that’s one pound of salt to 20 pounds of ice.

Properly frozen fish keeps well and holds its flavor for months, after fishing trips, although the quality deteriorates progressively the longer they’re frozen.




What is the Ike Jime Method?

Japanese Iki Jime Method is the fastest, most humane way of euthanizing fish, eliminating stress & lactic acid & maintaining quality by:
inserting a spike into the brain

  • Cutting gills to bleed out
  • Inserting a thin piece of wire into the spike hole & down the spinal column.…………………………………………. Read more


JimGalloway Author/Editor



  How to keep Fish fresh


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