Be sure the fish cooler has an adequate amount of ice, enough to completely surround your fish. Periodically drain the water from your cooler, so the fish will not be submerged in fresh water. Some anglers chill their fish by adding a quantity of salt water to crushed ice, to form a super cold slurry. This is especially effective for larger fish, and is often done by boaters, but you need a large quantity of ice for it to be effective. After the fish is icy cold, drain the water.
Clean your fish as soon as possible, but wait until they are cold throughout. A chilled fish firms up the meat and will be much easier to clean than one that just came out of 80 degree water. Rinse your fish while it's being cleaned to remove scales and slime, but be careful that you don’t overdo it. Use cold water only and avoid soaking the fish in water, especially fillets.
Fish that have been headed and gutted can be stored directly on ice, but I usually avoid that whenever possible, by putting fillets and cleaned in a watertight plastic bag, and surrounding the bag with ice.
There are several schools of thought on freezing fish. I rarely freeze fish, but when I do I try to freeze the fish in reasonable serving size amounts, enough for one meal for the number of people I plan to feed. If some extra folks show up for dinner, I can always take an extra bag of fish out of the freezer.
If crabbing is your favorite way of getting dinner, don’t drop the crustaceans into a bucket of water when you catch them. They will quickly die. Instead, put them in a bucket or basket with a loose fitting lid, and put the bucket in the shade if possible. If kept cool, crabs will live for several hours out of the water. Cool is the key.
I often practice catch and release, but I also enjoy the flavor of very fresh, just-caught fish. To insure the peak of freshness in both taste and quality, it’s very important to take good care of your fish as soon as it comes out of the water. When Nell caught the trout, the fish immediately went into a cooler filled with an adequate quantity of ice.
Keep Your Catch Fresh!