A FISH IN THE COOLER IS WORTH TWO IN THE ‘DRINK’
The Names are endless you may call it a… ice cooler, can cooler, marine cooler, boat cooler, ice box, marine ice chest, igloo, beer cooler, esky (Aussie) or chilly bin (Kiwi). We specialize in THAT. We speak ‘Ice Chest’ in 6 languages. When it comes to fishing and ice chests we want you happy and informed.
About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable.
Fish and sea foods are among the most perishable of all foods. Unlike many foods that we eat, we may harvest fish and sea foods or we may purchase them alive. Fish are not
handled the same way that you would crabs and crawfish. Consequently, the way we handle these highly perishable foods at the time of capture or purchase will determine their quality at the table. The following are some tips that may help you to handle your catch in the field. This short summary of handling practices contains only major consideration. Contact your local Marine Advisory Agent for any specific questions or concerns.
RIGGING YOUR ICE CHEST
Either have a dedicated fish cooler or use food grade, FSMA compliant ice chests, such as those made by Canyon Coolers. Simply put some plastics used for ice chests retain odors, and stains, others are not made from food safe virgin material. Most high end polyethylene roto molded ice chests are fine.
How long are you going out? The longer your out and the more you expect from your ice chest the more important ice retention is. See our tips on ice retention page.
Are you hitting 10’ swells? Could it get a little rough? You can usually throw a cam strap around the handles, and you should. Also consider adding footman’s loops. You can add them wherever you want on the cooler body, but I usually suggest staying off the lid on cheap coolers.
Are you in the cooler every 5 minutes and landing them directly in there. Find a cooler with easy open latches or leave one undone. Are you going out for a while and need all the ice retention you can get: Then a draw latch or a butterfly latch may be the ticket.
Chilling with ample amounts of ice is the best way to retard deterioration. Place fish in an ice chest with approximately 1 to 2 pounds of ice for each pound of fish. As the ice melts, periodically, drain off water and add more ice if necessary.
Melting ice will have a tendency to wash off bacteria if drained, however, if the water is not drained, the fish soaking in the water and the buildup of slime may cause the fish to spoil.
THE COOL-ER SIZE & PLACEMENT:
A nice rule of thumb is you want twice as much ice as what you want to keep cold. So one twelve pack, you should think about two bags of ice for most ice chests.
Is deck space at a premium, are quarters tight? Get the most enjoyment of our time on the water, give that cooler shape and size some thought. That marine ice chest that sticks out and causes a trip hazard, well its not a matter of “IF” it’s a matter of when someone will trip on it.
Consider using a Cube shape cooler. They are easier to handle by yourself. They can be made into nice seats or small tables. They can make great live wells or sometimes fit into the live well cut out so you can semi recess them.
One the other hand a long ice chest will be required to handle long fish. Size the cooler for the type of fish you go after. A nice bass may only require a 50 quart cooler, but if Mackerel is your thing you may want something real long and real skinny. Nothing hurts more then cutting that prized fish in half just to fit it in the ice chest. That’s why we make multiple sizes of product.
COOL-ER HANDLING FISH:
Decide on the fate of the fish immediately. If you do not want them, release them right away instead of waiting to decide at the end of the day, when they may have a reduced chance for survival.
Gutting fish will also help to preserve quality. Do not fillet or cut the head or tail off of fish until you return home. The only way that conservation regulatory agencies can determine the species and legal size of fish is by examining the whole fish.
Carve that baby up on the cooler lid ? Not so quick. Soft resins from cheap blown or injection molded coolers will be part of your filet. Cutting boards are often made from HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). Higher end coolers are made from MDPE (Medium Density Polyethylene). The cooler and the fish should be OK but we can do better. Throw a dedicated HDPE cutting board tall wise into your Marine grade ice chest. It can make a great divider when not in use. Also some newer cutting boards are paper thin and roll up nice and small, great for traveling.
Keep fish out of sunlight and direct heat. During winter fishing trips, keep fish covered to prevent them from freezing and drying out. For optimal eating quality, fish should never be frozen by throwing them out onto the ice. Put fish in an ice chest to prevent freezing and dehydration. Clean them prior to freezing.
KEEP THE DREAM FISH ALIVE?
Not uncommonly fish die soon after capture. At a minimum, live fish should be stored on stingers, in live wells or in live baskets to maintain quality. If you really want to keep the big one alive for awhile in inclement weather again an insulated container will work best, again a roto molded ice chest or something else that can maintain consistent temperatures. This is especially important when fishing in hot climates like Phoenix, Texas and other Southwestern fishing holes.
Keeping the fish alive as long as possible is ideal, an ‘un perished’ fish without disease is by definition the freshest. Avoid throwing fish in the bottom of the boat or in buckets or cans. A warm metal boat or bucket will transfer heat and breed disease that much quicker. There flesh may also become bruised and susceptible to contamination. The flesh will also dry out if just thrown on the bottom of the boat.
Like fish, shrimp die quickly after harvesting and must be iced down quickly in an ice chest. As a general rule, use 1 to 2 pounds of ice for each pound of shrimp to be iced. The ice and shrimp should be thoroughly mixed to insure quick and adequate chilling. As the ice melts, water should be periodically drained off. Shrimp will spoil quickly if allowed to set in un-drained water. Put those mudbugs on a little rack or tray inside the cooler and on top of the ice. Old Tupperware, cut down bread racks or beautiful aftermarket specialty trays are all available.
COOLER FIN FISH:
Scale, gut, and clean fish as soon as they’re caught. Live fish can be kept on stringers or in live wells, as long as they have enough water and enough room to move and breathe.
Wrap fish, both whole and cleaned, in water-tight plastic and store on ice. Keep 3 to 4 inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler. Alternate layers of fish and ice.
Store the cooler out of the sun and cover with a blanket. Once home, eat fresh fish within 1 to 2 days or freeze them. For top quality, use frozen fish within 3 to 6 months.
Crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish must be kept alive until cooked. Store in live wells or out of water in a bushel or laundry basket under wet burlap or seaweed.
Crabs and lobsters are best eaten the day they’re caught.
Live oysters should be cooked within 7 to 10 days.
Live mussels and clams should be cooked within 4 to 5 days.
Eating raw shellfish is extremely dangerous. People with liver disorders or weakened immune systems are especially at risk.
SUN AND ICE CHESTS:
Yep those cheap ones will disintegrate quicker. You get what you pay for. The cheap red ones are often more prone to UV damage. A Canyon Cooler is made with UV inhibitors inside stabilized plastic, these are just as sun resistant as those heavy weight plastic refuse cans your municipality uses. With a Canyon Cooler even a darker plastic will survive the sun, but it never hurts to cover it, or better yet get a nice cover made so you have more seating in the boat. A little shade or a simple cover can negate any ill effects of having a dark cooler body.
Cleanup on the boat is similar to cleanup in the wild. Bring disposable wipes for hand washing, and bag up all your trash to dispose of when you return to shore. Trash compactor bags are super tough and work great. Resist the urge to throw it inside your ice chest.
Not all plastics are the same. sometimes your lower end Igloo Cooler, Coleman Cooler and especially Styrofoam coolers absorb all those lovely fish smells. So use the half broken one in the back of your garage. A long soak with 10% bleach water will sterilize things and may diminish the odor. Once dry throw a little baking soda in there. Don’t seal them up wet and put away, a recipe for stench. In a low humidity environment if it’s mostly dry you may only need to open the drain plug to stay fresh, otherwise dry thoroughly because cleaning an ice chest before a trip is time consuming when you are trying to leave town.
A Canyon Cooler is made from a special food grade Polyethylene which is almost totally chemically inert. Meaning it doesn’t react or absorb things very easily. You can clean these out with dish soap or other mild cleaners and your good to go.
Canyon Coolers manufacturers roto molded marine grade ice chests respected for high quality construction, durability and ability to retain ice for days and weeks. We think Igloo Coolers, and Coleman Coolers have some fine products too.