HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
It is amazing how many articles have been published on how to catch particular species of fish, and equally how few have been written on how to take care of freshly caught fish. For knowledgeable anglers, taking care of their catch is old hat, but it might be another matter for the novice.
Most fish will die after being out of the water for about 10 minutes. Therefore it is essential that freshly caught fish from either freshwater or saltwater must be handled properly to avoid spoilage and maintain a firm texture, a pleasing odor and delicate flavor.
A lot of people believe fish will stay fresh if kept alive on a stringer or in one of those submerged baskets, but that treatment doesn’t make good table fare. A fish on a stringer continues to struggle after it is caught, which produces lactic acid in its flesh. Allowing fish to struggle for several hours after it is caught can only have a negative influence on how it will taste.
If you like your fish to have a light and delicate flavor, it is necessary to kill the fish quickly and bleed the fish. The easiest way to accomplish the bleeding process is to make a deep cut through a couple of gill arches or make a deep cut behind the gill cover. If the blood flows freely from the wound, you did it correctly.
Exposure to the sun and summer temperatures can cause quality problems in lses than an hour. However, simply chilling the fish can prevent quality determination and reduce health risks that can results from elevated temperatures. That is why many anglers carry a cooler full of ice in their car or boat. In general, fish stored in coolers will be well-chilled when there is three inches of ice cover the bottom of the cooler, and fish laid in the cooler are covered with about three inches of ice. A cooler should contain a pound of ice for each pound pf fish.
If no cooler is available, keeping a freshly caught fish in the shade is better than letting it lie in the sun. Putting a damp cloth over the shaded fish is a good idea, because the cooling effect of water evaporating off the cloth will help preserve the fish.
When to clean your fish depends upon circumstances, but the sooner the better. Fish tissue is almost sterile, but the skin surface and viscera contain many types of bacteria. Because skin slime and viscera can provide food for bacterial growth, fish should be washed immediately to remove slime and spoilage bacteria.
In his book, “Washington Fishing,” author Terry Rudnick writes, “It is okay to refrigerate well wrapped fish for a few days, but not indefinitely. If you know it is going to be several days before you eat the fish, freezing is the best strategy. If you do freeze it, those zip-seal type plastic bags are okay for short time storage, but glazing, freezing in water, or vacuum sealing are best for freezing fish more than a couple of weeks. All those methods keep air away from the fish, and remember air is the enemy here. It is also a good idea to label the package with the contents and date.”
Every fish looks its best the moment it is lifted from the water, so that is the time to photograph it, even if you are planning to kill it for the table. Taking along one of those disposable pocket cameras is not a bad idea when going on any fishing trip. “Memory is the treasure-house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.” (Margaret Fuller, American author, 1810-50).