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Brad Laabs: Do it right and you will have ‘fresh fish’

Brian Tangen and the author, Brad Laabs, clean a morning’s catch that had been bled out last week. Notice the lack of blood on the cutting board. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

The last couple of weeks I have provided you with suggestions and considerations regarding tackle, equipment, fishing techniques, and boating etiquette. I have some more suggestions this week for you to ponder over. These will have to do with taking care of your catch. Nothing beats fresh fish, especially if proper care has been taken.

When the water temperatures get extremely warm, water in the live well can get to bathing temperature. Warm water like that won’t hold oxygen like cooler water and fish you may be trying to keep alive for the day may die in the live well. They can also loose the firmness of the meat when it comes time to clean them.

Put a block of ice in the live well and when you fill it with your aerator pump of warm surface water the water in the live well will stay cool and comfortable and keep your catch fresh. If your boat comes equipped with a recirculating pump, you can shut the aerator pump off and keep running the recirc pump and keep the water cool all day. Most boats that have these pumps have them on a timer or adjustable timer to keep the fish healthy with good oxygen until it is time to kill and clean them.

For boats that don’t have aerators or recirculating pumps (or an option even if you do) is to put ice in a cooler and throw the catch on the ice in the cooler. Hanging the fish over the side of the boat is way to old school these days and isn’t a good way to go about having “fresh fish” for dinner.

Something I have been doing for years now before cleaning fish, is cutting their throat and bleeding them out before filleting them. Your cleaning board, knife, hands, and everything else is way less messy. The fish is easier to rinse and prepare for the skillet as there is no blood in the fillets. If they aren’t bled out, it can be a challenge to get all the blood out of the fillets. When you go to clean fish that have been bled out, they don’t fight you on the cleaning table, and no pricks from fins or gill plates. I run my aerator with the fish in the well after cutting throats to bleed them out, or cut throats and let them bleed out while the live well is draining.

If you aren’t going to eat your catch for the next day or two, don’t freeze them. You can keep your catch in a cold water container with a little salt in it for up to three days before you will need to freeze them. If there was still a small amount of blood in the fillets, the salt water will draw it out, if it looks like the water has discolored after the first day, empty the container, rinse the fillets again, and put them into your container again with fresh cold (slightly salted) water.

If you didn’t get around to eating your catch in a timely manner, have left over fillets, or you know you won’t be eating your fish until a later date, it is time to freeze them. The best way to preserve your catch in the freezer is to use a vacuum sealer. They can not only be used for fish, but just about anything you want to preserve. If you don’t have one, you may want to consider getting one. Put it on your Christmas, fathers/mother’s day, birthday, or just because I deserve it list. The old style vacuum sealer was to use a straw to suck the air out of the Ziploc bags as you seal it. That takes more talent than I have.

If you don’t have a vacuum sealer and don’t trust yourself to suck well, the next best thing is to freeze them suspended in water. The gallon freezer bags can work well for this. The old way was to use cardboard milk cartons. This isn’t the way to go anymore as the fish need to be identifiable. Use a clear container of some kind so they can be seen and easily identified. It helps if you also label the catch, and put the date on the package before putting them in the freezer. Always good to know how old stuff in the freezer is!

If you have fish that has been freezer burned in your freezer now, I recommend not eating that fish. Throw it away and go catch some fresh fish for yourself.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)