Keeping things cool is better for the fish
It seems we may finally be over this hot weather cycle we have been contending with for so long. The water temperatures have started to cool thanks to the recent cold front, the cooler nights, and the shorter daylight hours.
All over our state, communities have been dealing with significant fish kill due to the high water temperatures. We have been fortunate in our area to have very minimal impact compared to lakes south of us. Lake temperatures have dropped from the low to mid 80's to the mid to high 70's this week.
Because the water has been so warm, many of the musky fishing enthusiasts have not been chasing fish because of the risk of high mortality in the attempt to release caught fish. The warm water has two major effects on the fish. The first is the shock of going from deeper cooler water the extremely warm water. The second, warm water does not hold the oxygen the cooler water provides so the fish struggle to recover. The musky activity should start to pick up and be safe for maintaining these fish in the next week or so. That is, if we keep trending toward our cool down period and the surface temperatures continue to drop.
For those of you that still hang stringers over the side of the boat, you would do well to keep a cooler with ice in it, and put your days catch in it instead of pre-cooking your fish dragging them around in the hot weather and warm water. It is a good idea to keep your catch fresh. Fish that have been dragged around or been dead for a while get mushy to clean. Keeping them cold will keep the fish fresh and make them much easier to clean.
When it comes to cleaning your fish, you may find it helpful to bleed your fish out before taking them down to fillets. You can bleed them out by cutting the crop or throat. Simply insert your fillet knife into one of the gills and cut across to the other gill at the narrow area between the gills. Put the fish back in your livewell or cooler. By bleeding out your fish before cleaning you will have less mess and no blood in the fillets. Rinsing and cleaning the fillets is much easier after bleeding the fish out before filleting them. It is not a difficult chore to rinse out the livewell or cooler, and well worth it when you see the quality of the fillets. As always, make sure you drain and clean your livewell.
As long as we are on the topic of fillets, I will make a couple other suggestions. If you plan to eat your catch in the next day or two, soak them in salted water in the fridge, put them in a Ziploc bag, or air tight Tupperware container after rinsing them off. If you aren't going to eat them in the next day or two, vacuum pack them for the freezer or freeze them in water in a freezer bag. I have heard from reliable sources that soaking your fillets in whole milk after thawing them, makes them taste like they were fresh caught when you cook them. I have not tried this yet, as we have been eating fresh caught fish. I will probably get a chance to verify this for myself sometime this winter. Have fun on the water, and take good care of your catch.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)