So, that fish you caught the other day didn’t quite turn out to be as good on the grill as you had expected. In fact, you decided that it tasted a little too “fishy.” The funny thing is, however, fish shouldn’t ever taste fishy — and when it does, it usually means it was not properly taken care of between the time it was caught to the time it was eaten. The good news is that dreaded fishy flavor can be avoided!
To ensure your catch stays fresh and tastes great, there are a few simple steps you need to follow. First, you need to bleed it immediately after you catch it. Take a sharp knife or scissors and sever the gills on both sides of the head. Then, drop the fish back into the water in the net or on a stringer and allow it to bleed out. This process not only helps preserve the quality of the flesh, but it also means you’ll have almost no mess when you clean the fish.
Next, gut or fillet it right after the bleeding process and then put it on ice. Avoid dragging a fish around on a stringer all day. The water may seem cold enough to you, but they’re often warm enough to spoil a fish.
The best way to ice is to lay a burlap sack over the cubes and then put the fish on top of the sack. If you’ve filleted it, don’t place the fish flesh-side down on the ice because direct contact may damage the meat. You can also place the fish in plastic bags and then put them in the cooler — just don’t completely seal the bags so air can escape. As the ice melts, keep draining the water out of the cooler so the fish doesn’t end up “swimming” again.
If you’re in a situation where carrying an ice chest isn’t possible, your best bet is to try to keep the fish alive as long as you can. Stingers are useful for this — if you know the proper way to attach fish to them. Instead of running the stringer through a fish’s gills, cut a small slit through the soft fleshy part of either side of the lower jaw with a fillet knife and run it through there. That way, the fish can continue to breathe. Where you throw your stringer will also determine how long a fish will live. Tie it off in a place where the water’s clean and, preferably, moving. A fish won’t survive long in shallow, warm water.
Now, worst case scenario: you can’t keep a fish alive and you don’t have access to ice — what to do? Try to keep it as cool as you can. One good way to do that is to wrap the fish in a damp towel or burlap sack and put it in a creel. Keep the towel moist and the creel out of the sun as much as possible. Dried-out fish never tastes good!
Ideally, you’d put the fish straight on the grill as soon as you get home, but what about the excess fillets? Freezing’s not a bad option if you do it right. Frozen fish will never be as good as fresh stuff, but there are some ways to make it keep well.
First of all, rinse it off in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. You can then put the fish into Zip-Loc bags — just try to get as much of the air out of the bag as you can. Fish will remain in good condition for a few months if frozen this way, but a better bet is to vacuum pack them. You can get a packer for a bout fifty bucks at Wal Mart and they’re a great item to have around if you do a lot of hunting and fishing. Vacuum packed fish fillets will taste good for up to about a year.
Be sure to label the bags with the species and date so you can keep an inventor of what you’ve got in the freezer. And when you go to defrost your fish, don’t forget to puncture the seal of the vacuum bag so that the meat has room to expand.
Follow these steps and you shouldn’t have to endure fishy-tasting fish again!