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Handling Fish the Right Way
- Knock the fish out using a small club
- Bleed out the fish
- Gut the fish (check regulations!)
- Ice the fish
- Freeze or cook the fish
Detailed Explanation of Field Dressing
- Knock the fish on the top of the head using a small club.
If the fish is small enough I'll just whack them with my
needle-nose pliers. The goal there isn't to kill them, but
just to immobilize the fish so that they don't flop around and
damage their meat.
- Bleed the fish by cutting or ripping the gills, which will
allow the blood to be pumped out. I normally just grab the
gills with my needle-nose pliers and rip them out. You
will know if it worked right away because the fish's blood is
pumped through the gills, so you should see lots of blood.
It's best to put the fish into water while it bleeds. This
will prevent the blood from clotting. I put small fish
into a water-filled bucket that I keep on board. Bigger fish can
temporarily be hung over the side on a stringer.
Don't wait too long - you only need to bleed them from 2-4
- Gut the fish and remove the head and gills. This is important because it prevents
'belly burn' caused by the fish's own acids, enzymes and
bacteria. This can be a big contributor to the mushy
effect. Be sure to check your regulations, because this is
prohibited with certain species and on certain bodies of water.
If there are length restrictions you might have to leave the
- Put the fish on ice. There should be ice surrounding
each fish in the cooler. Make sure to allow the water to
drain away from the fish - you don't want your fish floating in
slimy melt water. Sometimes I'll put the fish in a garbage
bag or zipper freezer bag to separate it from the melted water
in the summertime.
Remember to freeze any fish you are not planning on immediately
eating. At home, I'll usually do the final steps like
filleting, skinning, and de-boning
the fish right before I freeze or cook it. It's a good idea to
keep the temperatures ice cold (32 degrees F) to prevent bacterial
growth. If storing the fish in a refrigerator, wrap it and
place it in a large bowl. Now place a waterproof bag of ice on
top of the fish to keep it ice cold.
If you decide to keep fish that you've caught yourself, the quality should
be better then anything you get at your local grocery store or
fish market. So whenever I hear people say things like, "that
fish was mushy", or "it didn't taste very fresh", I really have to
raise an eyebrow. If you want your fish to be fresh, you need
to think like a commercial fisherman. Ever see a commercial
fishing boat dragging fish around on a stringer, or leaving fish out
on the deck to bake in the sun? Of course not, because the
fish they catch have to be delivered to port, and then trucked to
market. Even if you buy freshly delivered fish at a market, it
probably was caught three to four days earlier. Fish you catch
yourself is straight out of the water, so there is no excuse for
mushy or smelly fish!