Clean, prepare your catch correctly to enjoy later
Sometimes it is easy for me to forget I take for granted aspects of fishing that years of experience have taught me. The cleaning, packaging, transporting and freezing of fish are examples of elements I assume everyone who fishes is familiar with. I forget that there is a learning curve that experienced anglers can pass along to the novice fisherman. Many veteran anglers over the years helped to educate me, and I believe all of us veteran anglers need to pass helpful information along to the less experienced.
There are many ways to clean fish, and different ways with different species of fish. One very easy and quick way is to learn to "butterfly" fillet your catch. It would be difficult and lengthy in this article to describe to you this technique, so I will refer you to look it up on the Internet. Youtube.com even has video examples of how to fillet your fish. If you don't have the Internet, most fillet knives have descriptions and drawing examples on the packaging. Many fishing books or magazine articles have been written about this art and are available for you at the public library.
The best way to learn is to ask a veteran angler to supervise you through a couple of practice fish. I use an electric fillet knife. They are awesome for cleaning fish and come in plug in, or battery operated models. I think it is beneficial to learn with a plain knife as well as an electric. The more fish you clean, the better and faster you will get at this skill.
We can probably all remember back to some of our early fish, or watched someone turn what should be a 1/2 lb fillet into a 1/4 pounder instead. It is all part of the learning curve.
The butterfly fillet style will work with all the fish you are fishing for in our area, including crappie and larger sunfish. If you are transporting fish you must leave a patch of skin for fish identification.
Rinse fillets off before putting them in plastic bags. Keep your fish cold for transport, and package your fish for freezing when you get home (unless it is going to be more than three days). If you do freeze your fish, it is important to keep them frozen until you thaw for eating. If your fish thaws out in transport you will want to eat them right away. Do not re-freeze your fish. I believe the best way to freeze fish is to vacuum pack them. They will last in your freezer and will not get freezer burn.
Other common ways to freeze fish is to put them in water in a zip lock freezer bag or suspended in water in a cardboard milk carton. Freezing the fish in water will help them maintain the fresh fish taste, and also prevent the dreaded freezer burn.
If you are planning on eating them right away, or in the next day or two, you can put them in a bowl of salted water in the refrigerator. If you don't get to them in the first couple of days, freeze them for a great fish dinner when you can get to them.
A few weeks ago I shared some ways to cook your fish. I have been given a couple more recipes to share and I will include them in an article in the next couple weeks. If you have a great recipe you would like to share, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share it others via "Fishing Lines."