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Looking after your catch....

Adam F

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I remember the bad old days! Stepping off a charter boat with a black bin bag of fillets, or when we pushed the boat out, a builders rubble sack of whole fish. During the day fish went into a fish box on the deck!


When I progressed to my own boat, it was a bucket a first.... upgraded later to a square box so the fish werent folded.... and when I really went the extra mile, I finally obtained a proper commercial fish box - I even had a plywood top I cut to fit as a cutting board - the height of sophistication!


It wasnt until we started doing the Alderney trips on the bigger boats what we started to learn about looking after your catch - after all, even we knew that a cod would be pretty ropey after 4 days away!


I bought some fish during lockdown for the first time in years - and paying £20 for a couple of bream certianly focuses the mind on the value of what we catch!


Finally - my shooting and hunting training has helped me understand more - it's simple, once the animal is dead it becomes food - treat it as such!




This is how we do it, I'd love to hear what you do? However the following serves us well on JV.


A decent coolbox - Igloo / Iceytek etc - certianly are expensive, but my Iceytek is 15 years old and pretty much looks like new, they are bullet proof. Filled with ice they keep fish fresh for a week easily. If you cannot strech to one of these purpose designed units a basic Picnic coolbox will do - they mainly suffer from being the wrong shape (IE not long and thin but tall and narrow) but they will do a job and are ideal for smaller fish like macks and bream.


Next up is the ice. Not many of us have access to flaked or chipped ice. When we can get it, it's amazing - BUT the one downside is when it melts, it turns to water - and being ice flakes it has a bigger surface area - meaning it melts quickly.


We use 1l fruit juice or milk cartons - filled with water and frozen. They stay frozen easy for a couple of days, and when mixed in the ice box with your fish and a bucket of sea water work very well indeed.




Oily fish like mackeral start to degrade very fast indeed. If youve ever left a fresh mack on the cutting board for an hour - you'll know, it turns to mush! White fish like cod and whitting are a little more resiliant - either way, the faster you can chill your catch the better, esp. in the summer.


Dont fillet your catch too quickly - filletting exposes the flesh to the air, which in turn speeds up the degredation of the fish. gut it at the end of the day but leave it whole until you need to use it - you'll find kept cold in a fridge at home, most fish are good for 3-6 days easily. 


It's widely debated on JV with my usual crew but some fish (Bass / Ray / Sole) actually taste better after a few days. The one expection again is Mackeral - eat them same day - next day for the best quality.


Please share any of yout thoughts / tips / tricks - I hope some of the above is useful!





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Thanks Adam

Very wise words from a lot of experience on the boat, in the field and in the kitchen..


Over the years we too have learned, especially from having Will onboard, an executive chef with 40 years experience of food handling.


Which boxes to take pretty much depends on how long we go for, as we have a variety.


I have a large Igloo 6 day one but it takes organising to transport it to the boat and takes an awful lot of ice, so it really only goes on multi day trips in the summer.


We have a slightly different regime,

1. We knock them on the head, cut the gills with scissors and put them into sea water to bleed out, we have found that by using the live bait tank and pumped water it keeps them cool and the water clean.

2. At various times through they day they get gutted and heads cut off, all goes overboard. This is to save doing it at home , makes the fish easier to fit into smaller coolers and what is the point of keeping the heads cold.

3. put them on Ice in a cool box, keeping the lid closed as much as possible through the trip, and draining the box of excess melt water.


After getting home the fish are left in the box if the ice is good or transferred to my garage fridge.


Will's advice is to let them settle before filleting, so we no longer fillet onboard. Its much easier and you get a better job when its done at home.

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Good point to raise Adam, particularly in the height of Summer.


I keep the fish alive as long as possible in the live well, bass, mackerel (if not too many), bream, flatties and cod generally stay alive until docked, pollock hooked in deep water don't.


For short trips they get knocked on the head once the mooring, gutted and taken home (15 mins travel time) in a strong bag then straight into a Yeti (same quality as Icey-tek) with a lot of frozen plastic bottles, normally they are dealt with next day or the day after that or into a fridge, it's depends on the amount. If it's a hot evening I'll take something frozen from the on board fridge freezer box to keep the temperature in the bag down while driving. Ideally they would be kept cool as soon as dead but with a just short trip home it saves a lot of lugging the large Yeti containing frozen bottles to the boat and back, sometimes, like on a hot day I leave the Yeti in the car so the travel time becomes the walk along the pontoon.


For overnight trips the Yeti filled with frozen bottles goes on board. For a wrecking trip where a lot of pollock is expected it goes on board but they go into the live well first if they show signs of life.



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Adding my little bit........


I agree with all of the above - and gained some good pointers from my annual trips to New Zealand where the Asian taste for super fresh fish and sashimi has had a lot of influence.


When I can, I cut the gills (and on certain fish the tail root) and let them bleed for five minutes or so in the bait tank with pump running. I then put the fish into sea water with frozen water bottles to chill the fish quickly. Best to avoid ice cubes as fresh water dilutes the sea water and seems to draw the natural oils out of the flesh. Most garages in NZ sell bags of salt water ice along with bait. Fishing is big over there!


Like others, I gut asap but fillet fish after 24hrs once the flesh has set (except mackerel) and avoid washing the fish. Then I vacuum pack if going in the freezer.



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Re. Bleeding. 

I watched this on several charter boats and used to adopt it as standard. I always used to carry some poultry shears to deal with tough gills on big fish.


But - I no longer do (commercials don’t either?) and I still get pristine white, clear fillets. The concept that the blood taints the flesh doesn’t seem to be the case?


Not saying I’m right, just my findings.



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I think it all depends how you cook and eat your fish.

We tend to cook and eat our fish skins, bones, fins all in ( don't ask but we do). If we don't bleed the fish, the blood will tend to stay around the cavity behind the guts area, and it doesn't taste very nice when cook. 

If all you do if fillet the fish avoiding the bone areas, there wouldn't be much blood in the flesh ( you can still see the blood vessels and all but wouldn't taste much different).

The only exception is for large mackeral and scats which we want to turn into sushi then you want to bleed the fish, you don't want blood in the flesh 

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2 hours ago, Gazza said:


Are you saying to bleed mackerel ?

I never even thought about doing them.....normally just thrown in the cool box.

You learn something new everyday:glasses:


Yes, when I catch a real big one and earmarked that for sushi, then I would.

All others for BBQ or whatever just put in cool box.


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