Keep fish fresh for best eating

By: George deVilbiss/Guest Columnist
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Millions of anglers can't be wrong. There's nothing finer than having a platter full of fish at the dinner table whether it's at home or in the field.

Now that the weather is warming and as temperatures continue to rise for the next several months that means that fine-eating table fare can become a disaster. As you go out fishing, just remember that different fish must also be handled differently in order to have the finest possible table fare.

How you handle that fish at the waterway will play an important role in how well that fish will be received by the palate and family members sitting with you at the table.

How many times have your kids whined at the table, "I don't like fish?" It could be that fish sitting in front of them could have been made even more palatable with a little more care.

Regularly, many anglers will hang a stringer overboard while they troll for trout, success measured by how many trout are being pulled along barely skimming the surface of the water.

While anchored, other anglers will use a fish basket that allow some freedom of movement for that fish to swim.

Depending upon the weather and water conditions, you could easily be spoiling the fish with either method. If it's summertime, the top of the water will be much too warm to adequately keep the fish in prime condition for eating.

Trout, for example, will be adversely affected by bruised flesh and stress from bouncing around on a stringer or in a basket. And warmer surface temperatures will seriously reduce the quality of the end product.

When storing fish, even temporarily, use plastic bags intended for food storage. Don't use plastic bags intended or marketed as "trash" bags. Plasticizers and other chemicals found in trash bags can contaminate fish.

If you're fishing a stream, time can get away from you as you enjoy casting riffle after riffle and into the deep pools. As you place your trout in the confines of a creel, you'll commonly find their flesh very soft, even mushy when it comes time for cleaning.

Any creel or carry bag device can be improved by wrapping fish in a wetted towel. I have even pulled a couple handfuls of wild, native grasses from around the stream, wetting the grass down thoroughly and placing that inside the creel with the fish. The fish will stay much fresher and firmer.

If you want to keep that fish as fresh as possible and deter any degree of deterioration, kill the fish immediately after the catch and put them on ice – directly and not bagged.

If you're making an extended trip, say for a week or so and not in an area where you can freeze the fish, don't keep any fish caught early in the trip, unless you're going to have a fish-fry while there.

The best ice to use is shaved or crushed ice, despite the fact it will melt quicker than block ice or even ice packs. The idea is to have as much ice as possible in contact with the fish.

Fish will keep for about three days and that's when they're packed in crushed ice in a properly drained cooler. They can be kept a couple of days longer if you use an ice-salt mixture of about one part rock salt crystals to 20 parts ice.

To utilize this mixture, place a layer of this mix on the bottom of the ice chest and put your fish cloaked in plastic wrap on top. Add another layer of ice-salt mix and then more fish. Be sure to leave a little space between each fish or fillet.

Make sure the bottom fish are always resting on a layer of ice, not on the bottom of the ice chest where they'll soak in ice-melt.

You can and should regularly check the condition of your fish kept on ice. An offensive odor would be the first indication that you've lost your fish.

Other indicators include: press the flesh, it should be firm and indentations from your finger shouldn't remain. The fish’s eyes should be clear, not milky and the gills should be red, not gray.

If you're making just a quickie one-day trip, it’s common for most anglers to not clean the fish until they get home. That's no problem, but there's a trick or two you can do as an aid to make the job much easier.

All fish, with the exception of something like catfish, have scales. These scales hold a great deal of oil and from that oil comes the strong smell associated with fish, especially during cooking. Those oils can also add a stronger fishy taste, as well.

If you're not filleting the fish, scale them, even trout. You don't need to buy one of the numerous fancy gizmos sold in most stores to scale fish. There are other items that will work even better.

For example, a barbecue brush with stiff brass bristles will quickly scale trout and, believe it or not, will not tear up the fish, regardless of the size of that fish.

For fish like bluegill, crappie and striped bass, use a spoon turned upside down. Begin at the tail and work toward the head; the scales will easily roll off over the bowl of the spoon and not spray scales everywhere as will many commercial "fish scalers."

When cleaning your catch at home, keep a bowl or pot of ice water nearby to soak fillets or whole, small fish as you work on the cleaning process. Plopping the fish into the water as you fillet or clean each fish will help remove slime and blood.

Be sure to wipe the fish dry with paper towels before wrapping any you plan to freeze.

When it comes time for freezing, even triple-wrapping is not too much. Eliminate as much air as possible from the packaging to avoid freezer burn.

Use a plastic, cling wrap as your first layer and ensure all air pockets are squeezed out as much as possible. One or two layers of freezer wrap or foil is then necessary.

Be sure to eat that fish within 90 days. With proper care, that fish you caught days or weeks ago will have the taste and flavor you expect from fresh fish. And, who knows, maybe you'll find your kids will actually like eating fish.


Pacific Ocean: Party boats up and down the coast are filling their tanks with fuel, readying the rental rods and making the boats all pretty for your arrival for the long awaited, long anticipated salmon fishing opener.

The ocean salmon fishery is gearing up to open on Saturday, April 5. The northern marker is Horse Mountain just inland above Eureka. North of Horse Mountain, the waters fall under the Klamath River Zone and that water won't open for a while. All the major ports south of Horse Mountain, however, will be open – Fort Bragg, Bodega Bay, the San Francisco Bay fleet, Half Moon Bay, and Santa Cruz-Monterey.

There's been a slight change in salmon limits. The daily bag limit remains two Chinooks. However, the possession limit has been raised to four, the equivalent of two, daily bag limits.

Look for a large reporting for the salmon fishing in next week's column.

Lake Pardee: Trout plants continue weekly but the shore fishing activity has been under-represented. You can find a nice place on the bank to park and fish without being shoulder to shoulder with another nearby angler.

The Mud Hole, Blue Herron Point, and Porcupine Point areas have been some of the top producing areas for shore slingers. White and chartreuse Power Bait with sparkle, salmon eggs, crawlers and a whole bunch more should buy you a bite, even a limit.

Boaters have outnumbered shore fishers, and trollers are doing well. Most head upriver toward Columbia Gulch.

The fish are near the surface still so keep your rig down no more than 15 feet. Most are rainbows, but haul a small Rapala and good chances you'll nail a brown trout.

Folsom Lake: The 5 mph limit has been lifted, but that doesn't mean you can put down your guard. Keep a wary eye out for debris on or just under the surface as you highball from one point to the next.

Coves are producing bass in good numbers as they're staging for the spawn, and just about anything thrown their way can trigger a bite. They don't like being disturbed around their nests so drag it by 'em and you're going to get bit.

Not much in the way of limits, but rainbows and landlocked king salmon are finding themselves in a net. They're holding in the top 30 feet right now.

S.F. Bay: The halibut bite is definitely early and boats that are already drifting the bay waters are finding big numbers of the flat fish. I haven't heard anything about live bait being available yet, but I've found dragging frozen anchovies works just about as well.

You'll find a whole lot more hookups though, if you use a two-hook rig; one for the lip and another near the tail.

The Berkeley Flats, the big sandy stretch west of Alcatraz, and both sides of Angel Island should put you into the region to hook into a "butt."

Sacramento River: Everybody's getting bit and most anglers are hooking up a sturgeon. First major problem, though, is most of them are oversized and have to be released.

The Tisdale Weir area has been one of the prime producing regions. If you can find 'em, pileworms will be your best bet. Can't find 'em? Try using night crawlers as an alternative.

Some of the most successful sturgeon fishing is done at night. If you go out after the sun goes down, make sure your light doesn't hit the water. These are very shy fish and even light on the water will spook them away.

Any questions, comments or concerns, contact George at GeorgesColumn@AOL.COM