The first question people ask when they start kayak fishing is, “How do you keep your fish cold?” The answer isn’t so easy. Since every inch and every ounce counts, big, bulky coolers packed with ice are out. Throwing the fish in a hatch only works in the winter; even then, cleaning fish goo out of the hull can require a hazmat suit. With the right equipment and the right technique, we explain how to keep your fish fresh while kayaking.
How to Keep Your Fish Fresh
Keeping your catch cold is the only way to keep it fresh. Storing meat below 37 degrees Fahrenheit slows down molecules, making bacteria, yeasts and molds grow more slowly. Without ice, flesh starts to rot. A fish off ice is only safe for a few hours, but properly packed, your catch could stay fresh for days. A fresh fish will have clear eyes and firm flesh. Stay away from red or milky eyes and mushy meat.
Pack Your Fish Properly in Ice
To properly pack a fish, it is best to remove the guts and head then stuff the cavity with ice. Lay the fish on the ice and cover with a layer of ice. For best results, let melt water drain away from the fish. Block ice lasts the longest and chipped ice stays frozen longer than large cubes. For best results eliminate empty space in the cooler.
Fill Your Cooler in Advance
Cooler technology has advanced to the point where a small cooler can keep ice for days. A cooler with a sealed, insulated lid and thick insulated walls is best. For optimal performance, pack the cooler with ice hours before the trip then top off just before launching.
Look for a cooler that fits in your kayak’s tankwell with molded in tie-downs to keep it in place. Use straps to secure the cooler, because bungees could stretch or even break in rough water.
Go Soft-Sided and Freeze the Whole Thing
Soft-sided coolers are a great choice because they pack away when not in use and they can be compressed as the ice melts or stretched to fit one more trophy fish. To keep ice frozen longer, throw the cooler into the freezer overnight.
Advances in technology and design make soft-sided coolers almost as efficient as a hard cooler. Look for a model that can stuff into a hatch. Some are shaped to strap on the bow or stern of the kayak. External pockets and tabs allow a soft-sided cooler to store tackle and gear, too.
The Right Cooler Will Keep Your Catch Fresh
Check out compact options for keeping your catch cool in our 5 Best Kayak-Sized Coolers For Anglers.
Keeping your catch cold is the only way to keep it fresh, and the right cooler goes a long way. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Vibe Kayaks