Pro’s Tip: Forever Fresh

While there is a statewide emphasis on both catch-and-release fishing and responsible harvesting of fish, rightfully so, there’s nothing wrong with keeping fresh fish for dinner, as long as all rules and regulations are followed. Additionally, we recommend against limiting out on your target species every chance you get unless every piece of meat will be enjoyed. Only keep what’s going to be eaten. But, for those who don’t get out on the water as much as they’d like, vacuum sealing is an easy way to have fresh fish whenever you want it.

As dedicated anglers who possess a deep love and appreciation for our oceans and the game fish that inhabit them, we hate seeing fish go to waste. In our experience, far too many anglers harvest fish at an alarming rate, only to get lazy when it comes time to process it and store it away. As a result, this surplus of fish sits in a fridge or freezer, improperly taken care of, and simply spoils or becomes freezer burned beyond the point of revival.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Capt. Matt Arnholt

For those who aren’t aware, simply placing fish fillets in a Ziploc bag and throwing it in the freezer is, for all intents and purposes, a death sentence for any hopes of that fish being eaten in the future. Just because you’re freezing it doesn’t mean it’s going to be ready to thaw and eat months in the future. Like anything else, prolonging the freshness and table fare of your catch takes a considerable amount of time and effort, but the results are certainly worthwhile.

Many conservation-minded anglers frown at the idea of killing fish only to fill the freezer and it can be a topic of great controversy among fishermen. The idea that you should only keep what you’re going to eat fresh is certainly valid for those incapable of vacuum-sealing their catch. However, with modern fish and game processing solutions, anglers can keep their catch tasting fresh for months, as long as they complete the process correctly and don’t take any shortcuts.

So, what does proper vacuum sealing entail? Well, it all starts out on the water. Many anglers have their own preferences on how and where to store fish aboard their vessels before returning home, but we’ve learned that quickly bleeding your fish and immersing it in an icy slush is the best way to go. Not only does this cool the fish evenly and quickly, but it also ensures a quick kill and a firm fish to make your life easier at the fillet table.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Capt. Matt Arnholt

Unfortunately, some anglers take a more careless approach and simply toss their fish on a bed of ice, cooling only one side and allowing the fish to flop around violently in the fishbox. This is both inhumane and can lead to lesser-quality fillets. Once a fish is brought on board, you want to minimize its movement. A quick kill with a spike to the brain is both more humane to the fish and better for the meat. Though it’s not widely recognized in the U.S. yet, Ike Jime is a method of caring for the meat on your fresh catch the second it is caught. Stay tuned for more on this fascinating method, as we’ll take a deep dive into the process in our upcoming March/April 2022 issue.

Once you return home and it’s time to clean your fish, there are a few things to consider. Cleaning fish often means filleting them, but this logic applies to those who enjoy their fish whole as well. Instead of pouring your entire haul onto the fillet table or into some receptacle, keep your fish iced down and clean them one at a time. You need to minimize the fish’s exposure to sun and air.

Next, once you’re done filleting or gutting and scaling your fish, you need to store it away and put it back on ice. Whole fish can be rinsed more thoroughly, as the meat is still protected by the skin, but fillets should simply be quickly doused in salt water, shaken dry and put away temporarily on ice before the vacuum sealing. Do not water-log the fillets! When filleting fish, it’s also important to remember that although you’re probably tired after a day on the water, it’s in your best interest to take the time to de-bone and cut the bloodlines out of your fillets. The only thing that should be going into your fridge or freezer is clean meat.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Capt. Matt Arnholt

Finally, it’s time to vacuum seal. For those who only vacuum seal their fish occasionally, recreational grade vacuum sealers like the FoodSaver GameSaver Big Game GM710 food preservation system will get the job done, but it has a shelf life and can’t handle frequent, long-term use. Avid anglers who find themselves undergoing this process a few times a month or more might want to splurge on a commercial-grade sealer.

To complete the process, lay a towel or lots of paper towels down, make sure your fillets or whole fish are completely dry and place them strategically into pre-cut bags. It’s important you don’t overcrowd your bags! Finally, let the vacuum sealer do its thing, label each bag by species and date them, then store them away. If you complete the process carefully, you can enjoy your catch for the months ahead.