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Don't let fish freeze before cleaning

Fishing Columnist Brad Laabs

This week will be the week of random considerations when it comes to ice fishing habits and tendencies.

The first up for discussion is about what you do with harvested fish before cleaning them up for the table. Many will just throw the fish on the ice. If the temp is mild or you are in a portable with some heat, probably not a problem. You want to keep them from freezing before cleaning.

In cold temps, throwing them on the ice can freeze the fish before you clean them ... not a good idea. Fish flesh deteriorates quickly in uncleaned fish. The bacteria in "fish guts" also continues to have an effect even in the cold. The blood can also settle into the flesh and be more difficult to rinse out of the fillet. Letting them freeze before cleaning them just interfered with the concept of you having fresh fish.

My suggestion is to leave water or slush in a 5 gallon pail and put your fish in that. You can also put them into a plastic bag (like the bag you got your minnows in from the bait shop) and put them in a pail or the bottom of your portable.

I have preached for years the benefit of bleeding out your fish before cleaning them, I also do that in the winter. It takes a little more effort and you will get some cold hands at times, but it is worth the effort. When you bleed out your fish before cleaning, there will be no blood in the fillets and become very easy to rinse out. You also won't have to fight with a live fish on the cleaning board, get a gill plate cut, or deal with a bloody mess to clean up when you are done.

I slip a fillet knife into the gill and cut the "crop" (little section of skin/throat between the gills). Put them back in the pail of water and in a couple minutes they are ready for cleaning. The pail will be bloody and need rinsing. On the ice I will pull the fish out of the pail after they have bled out, put them into the plastic bag, and rinse the pail out by dipping a cup into my ice holes to get clean water.

Many minnows die premature deaths in the winter. Anglers will dump them out on the ice without giving them the fair opportunity to do for you what you paid them to do. Crappie minnows, fatheads and rainbows are very commonly used wintertime minnows that will survive longer than you think. Putting these minnow in a garage or cold basement area and changing water will keep them alive for weeks.

Just because it may be a week or two between trips for you doesn't mean you can't keep your bait for the next trip. Remember, you cannot transport lake water, so use well water. These minnows are hardy enough to even change out the water with city tap water, but well water is better. If you don't want to keep them, check with a fishing neighbor or buddy to see if they want them before just dumping them on the ice.

Lastly, take your garbage off the ice and dispose of it properly. It has become a habit of too many to just leave garbage on the ice.

Use your plastic grocery bag, a minnow bag, or one of your pails to collect your wrappers, propane bottles, beer cans, sandwich wrappers, etc. Take it with you and throw into your own garbage at home. Don't leave it on the ice, at the access, or thrown out on the road like we have seen done during high lake use times. Enjoy the rest of the ice time we have left.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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