What To Do With Fish After You Catch Them?

Going fishing is always an adventure because you never know what you will catch. It is also full of challenges, including how to keep the fish fresh. Properly frozen fish stays fresh for months. But, it is a hassle to lug bags of ice on every fishing trip.

Is it possible to keep fish fresh without ice? The answer is yes! In this article, I will discuss multiple tips and tricks that you can use to keep fresh for longer. Let’s dive in!

How To Keep Fish Fresh Without Ice?

Fish or any other type of sea creature will get spoiled within hours if kept at room temperature because they are accustomed to the cold water, which is nearly above freezing temperatures.

If you buy fish from the market for a meal but are not planning to use it for a day or two, how will you store the fish to keep it fresh till the next day if you are out of ice?

Let me share some tried and tested methods to store saltwater fish and freshwater fish without ice, so they don’t go bad:

1. Keep The Fish Alive For As Long As Possible

When it comes to preservation, keeping the fish alive for a long time is your best chance. Because when a fish dies, unwanted bacteria start to grow and contaminate the fish. Here are some ways in which you can keep your fish alive on a boat:

A) Poke A Stringer Through The Fish

A stringer is a line of rope with a metal or hardwood stringing needle at one end and a ring at the other. Many people insert the needle through the mouth and out through the gills. But this can be fatal for the fish and kill them.

Instead, you should pierce the needle through the bottom of their lower lip. Pull the needle through the metal ring to make a loop. This way, you will not risk puncturing the gills. Now, plop the fish into the water and secure the string.

B) Put The Fish In A Wire Mesh Basket

You can put the fish in a basket and keep the basket underwater. This is because fish flesh deteriorates quickly when taken out of its natural habitat due to the drastic temperature change. If you keep the fish alive underwater, it will stay fresh for longer.

A wire mesh basket is available in many sizes, so you can easily store big fish in them as well. They have a door with a hook to secure it shut. Many baskets have floating tubes on top, so they are easily visible from a boat.

2. Using Ice Packs

Usually, storing your fish in a cooler filled with ice is the best way to keep them fresh. The coolers are portable and can easily be brought along when you are fishing. The cooler is filled with a slurry of salt water and plenty of ice cubes.

But you can manage fine without ice as well! The first step would be to insulate the cooler. To do that, you need to dig a hole at the beach and bury it in the sand. This will keep the cooler’s temperature low even on the hottest of days.

Fill the insulated cooler with salt water from the sea. Now, instead of adding ice, you can just bring along ice packs. One cooler shock ice pack has a capacity of 12 pounds, keeping items cold for up to 48 hours while maintaining a temperature of 18°F (-7.8°C).

Make sure the fish is completely submerged in the cooler so that its whole body is at a uniform temperature.

3. Salting The Fish Inside-Out

If you don’t have ice, the next best way to keep the fish cold is by corning, which means preserving the fish in salt brine. Corning or salting the fish will eliminate the need to freeze it. Follow these steps to properly preserve the fresh fish:

A) Gut The Fish And Drain Its Blood

You have to gut the fish to take out its entrails and other parts that could contaminate the flesh of the fresh fish. So, make an incision starting from the rear fin to the head of the fish and pull out all the innards.

If you caught fish fresh out of the water, gut it as soon as possible. This will ensure a slow deterioration of the fish. Do not remove the scales, fins, or the head

Clean the fish under running water to remove slime, and make sure you have drained all the blood. Pay special attention to the blood in the spine because that is where the spoilage starts.

Did you know that the Japanese use an “Ike Jime” technique? This involves severing the brain and the spinal cord first because a freshly caught fish sends distress signals. It triggers the production of lactic acid, which spoils the meat.

B) Coat The Whole Fish With Salt

Start coating every inch of it with salt. Dry salting will extract the moisture out of the microbial cells through osmosis, inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and killing all unwanted bacteria. [1]

After massaging the entire fish with salt, put it in a container and cover it with a damp cloth. This will keep the fish fresh for 24 hours, which will give you plenty of time to get home and refrigerate it.

Before you cook the fish, you have to rinse it thoroughly and soak it in water for a few hours to get all the salt out; otherwise, it will not taste good. Or you can use the fish in a stew, so the salty taste will not be overpowering.

4. Bury The Fish In Fresh Peat Moss

Peat moss is known for its preservation of organic material. Researchers have conducted experiments by burying some fish in peat moss and leaving others untreated. The fish treated with peat moss stayed fresh for a month, while the others decayed in a day. [2]

Fun fact– In 1984, the remains of an ancient human body were fully preserved due to being covered in peat moss!

Peat moss will be easily available online or at a plant shop nearby because it is used in gardening. Follow these steps on how to preserve fish with peat moss:

  • You need to carry a box or a container that is big enough to hold all your fish. Next, take the peat moss, soak it in water, and wring it to remove excess water.
  • Line the container with 3-4 inches of peat moss.
  • Gut the fish and pull out its insides. Clean it with fresh water and drain all the blood. Then, pat it dry with a paper towel.
  • Fill the body cavity of the fish with cold peat moss.

Do this with all the fish as you catch more of them, but never let the fish come into contact with each other. Always store your fresh catch in stacks with layers of peat moss in between.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here you will find answers to the commonly asked questions about how to keep fish fresh:

Is Drying The Fish Helpful In Keeping It Fresh?

Yes, properly drying the fish will keep it fresh for up to 2 months. Fillet the fish and cut it into thin strips. Hang them on a string in the sun and let them dry. This will stop any microbial activity.

How Long Will A Fish Stay Fresh Without Ice?

Raw fish will only stay fresh for up to two hours at room temperature. This time decreases even more on a hot day. When the temperature is above 90°F (32°C), the fish will go bad within the hour if not kept on ice.


[1]- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt-cured_meat