How To Store And Handle Fish After You Catch Them

So You Caught Some Fish, now it’s time to properly care for your catch so that it can end up on your dinner table.

In this article, I will look at different methods to properly handle, store, and care for your catch. There are various ways this can be done and can depend on your fishing situation. 

The end goal is to ensure that you don’t waste a valuable harvest, keep it fresh, and the end result will be a delicious fish dinner.

How To Store Fish While Fishing?

  1. Keep fish in the bucket filled with water.
  2. Keep fish on a stringer and place it in the water.
  3. Put fish in a live well or boat hold on ice.
  4. Keep them in a wire mesh or fishing net basket in the water.
  5. Put them in the cooler on ice.
  6. Lay the fish on its side on ice while ice fishing.

However, immediate post-care of a caught fish that you do not intend to release really depends on your situation.

  • Are you in a boat? 
  • Onshore?
  • Is it hot outside? 
  • Are you in an area of the world where it’s below freezing or ice fishing? 

All these factors need to be considered and will change the method at which you care for your catch.

Fishing From Shore

a fisherman is storing a fresh catch

If you are fishing from shore, there are a couple of great ways to preserve the fish you catch if you wish to continue fishing to catch more. A great way is a good old-fashioned bucket, add water, and store your fish in it to keep them alive and fresh until you return home. 

Another good option if you have a place to hook it up is a stringer.

Stringers and fishing net baskets allow you to keep multiple fish on them, and you can hook it to a pole or anchor it in place with something as simple as a stout stick, allowing the fish to sit in the very water you’re fishing.

Buckets are obviously only suitable for small fish, while stringers will enable you to keep small and medium-sized fish.

Another excellent option is cooler for keeping things cold. You can even throw ice in it if you don’t want to use water and keep the fish chilled until you clean them.

Fishing From a Boat

fishing boat

Fishing from a boat can give you a few other options. While coolers, buckets, and even stringers still apply here, most modern fishing vessels have livewells with aeration and flowing water to keep fish alive all day.

Larger saltwater boats may even have holds that you can store very large fish in, throw in some ice, and keep large catches fresh and chilled in hot weather.

Stringers will work if attached to the boat, the downside of using stringers in a boat is you have to pull the fish out of the water and simply lay them in the boat if you do not have any other ways to store them.

Ice Fishing

Keeping Fish Fresh On Ice

Ice fishing can be very simple, and obviously, if you’re fishing through a hole in the ice, it’s really cold out. So you can actually just throw the fish in an empty bucket or on the ice if you wish.

While there’s nothing wrong with this, some fish after being frozen solid, thawed, cleaned, and then refrozen if you put them in your freezer and thawed again before eating can sometimes make the meat of the fish mushy and lack the normal firmness of it being cooked fresh. This is true of certain panfish like crappies.

Many ice fishers still prefer to use a bucket of water to keep fish alive and fresh until they are done fishing and are home and ready to clean the fish.

More Post Catch Tips

The process of bleeding out the fish

In some cases, you might want to bleed the fish out immediately after catching it. You can do this by taking a clean filet knife and slitting the fish’s throat to let them bleed out. This is the quickest and most humane way to dispatch a fish that you intend on eating.

This also can improve the taste of some species, and particularly this applies to larger fish, especially if you are going to be holding them for a day-long fishing trip. In this case, you will want to ensure that you have ice on hand in a cooler or livewell.

In most cases, if the fish dies before the end of your trip, you will want to immediately clean the fish. The digestive enzymes in a fish can spoil it quickly and can give the meat an off-flavored taste.

Cleaning the Fish and Further Storage

cleaning and filleting

When your fishing trip is over and you haven’t already done so, it’s time to clean your catch. This depends on how you want to cook it.

The standard way most people decide to clean fish is by simply filleting them, but you can also can the fish or leave the body mostly intact with the entrails removed for grilling. In the event, you fillet multiple fish, be sure to separate them by species.

While this is not always necessary, it’s nice to organize. Seal your fillets in large ziplock-style bags or vacuum seal bags after giving the fillets a thorough rinsing and store them in the freezer.

If your canning fish make sure you have a calibrated or tested pressure canner, fish need to be canned with the proper amount of time and pressure to remain safe to eat later on.


Proper care of caught fish is paramount as an outdoorsman. We want to ensure that we have all that we need to properly maintain the catch until it’s ready to be consumed. It is a responsibility that anyone should be proficient in when harvesting animals from the wild and showing respect to the creatures we harvest.

While there’s nothing wrong with keeping your catch, it’s also important to remember that we only have one planet and responsibly harvest fish.

Practicing catch and release should always be a common practice among fishermen if you can keep 20 maybe only keep 10, and modern catch practices also include throwing some of the larger fish back and keeping the mid-sized fish for food.

This allows the fish with the best genetics to return to the ecosystem, and their genetics will carry on to future generations of their species, providing angling opportunities for the next generation and ensuring a healthy fishery.

Read Also: Your Refrigerator Door Was Left Open All Night – Now What?

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About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, avid home cook, and writer interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.