Storing fish during a fishing trip requires a little forward planning to ensure they get to you table just as fresh as when you reeled them into the boat. Pulling out a fish for the table is a great way to end the day.
Although most of the time it doesn’t quite work that way. If your first catch of the day is your best then it would make sense to have somewhere to keep it fresh. We will look at the options open to you below.
It is possible to store fish and keep them fresh on a kayak while fishing by using a few methods. Although less easy that on a larger vessel, hard coolers, soft coolers, keep nets, hatches, tank wells and even stringers will all help to keep a catch fresh for a day while you are out kayak fishing.
Before we take a look at the options we can share out recommendation. We chose this as if, like us, you have already spent the money on a hobie or another sea fishing kayak, have all the gear and maybe even a trolling motor bracketed onto the back then you have invested a serious amount of money into fishing.
Making sure you bring back the fish as fresh as you can is worth a little extra money. Our two choices the premium version and the budget version are both soft catch coolers.
( we like it as it keeps drinks cold separately!!) there is a cheaper version here as well. we will highlight both. You can see the prices below.
The Premium Version:
Comes with sections for both your drinks and your catch, as well as pockets and ties for filleting knives and other useful catch cleaning items. It is not the cheapest one out there however.
The Budget Version:
This is another soft catch cooler, while it doesn’t have the functionality of the premium model above it does exactly the same job just without the two sections or add ons. However for a lot of us this will be absolutely fine as we have acquired all the other items already.
It is over 100 dollars cheaper than the other model so it is worth thinking about very carefully.
If you have a Sit on top sea fishing kayak the two above will keep the fish fresh. However we will cover the other options for storing fish on a kayak below now.
1. Storing Fish with Stringers on a Kayak
If you have ever taken a trip through Asia you will have seen these on the boats of fisherman both in rivers and on the sea. It is one of the oldest, surviving, ways of keeping fish fresh.
They are still used to this day, clearly because they are effective, and, of benefit to a kayak paddler, they are lightweight and don’t take up much room. They are simply a strong string strung (try saying that three times fast!) through the fish gills and then placed in the water over the side of the kayak. The water temperature is then used to keep them fresh.
This may be fine in a nice glacial river, but where I do most of my fishing now (the Andaman Sea) it would pose a few potential drawbacks. The surface water temperature in tropical seas can be up to 80 degrees.
Similarly, hanging a catch bleeding into the water in any saltwater, and in some freshwaters, may attract the attention of some unwanted visitors. sharks, crocodiles and other predators may take a likely to the well presented buffet you are dangling off the side of your kayak.
This may be a show if you are on a larger boat, but if you are on a kayak it is really something you should try to avoid. I don’t think i have to spell out the reasons why.
As a short term way to store your fish, in cold and fresh water it can be effective, but please be aware of where you are and what else ”fishes” the water where you fish, before you hang chum over the side of the boat. It is one YouTube video you don’t want to be part of.
However this YouTube video is a good instructional on how to use stringers if your conditions allow.
2. Hard Catch Coolers For Kayaks
Hard cooler, (basically fishing beer coolers) are more robust. They are also designed to fit in open storage spaces that fishing kayaks have. (the tankwell)
You can fill them with Ice and their hard insulated sides will keep fish fresh for the day. If you are using a designed for fishing hard cooler, then it will come with straps to secure it into the tank wells.
However it is important to measure these and make sure they will fit. Kayak sides, and hard cooler sides ( clue is in the name!) are not very flexible. So fitting is more important than with soft coolers which we prefer and you can squish a little if you need to. Also watch the height so it doesn’t over balance, or get in the way of your fishing.
Ice blocks , of freezer blocks are preferred to loose ice, for numerous reasons, One they will be lighter, but also they wont melt into water. If you use frozen water bottles it will have the same effect. You can clean the tops and then drink it if you don’t catch any fish!
3. Soft Catch Coolers for Kayak Fishing
We prefer these type of catch coolers, mainly for the lightweight and the adaptability. Not having hard sides means they are able to fit in a different shapes and sizes of kayak. (within reason of course) and in different locations.
Unless you pay a little more they will not be quite as waterproof as hard catch coolers, but the difference if you get a medium to high end model cooler will be minimal.
They are a great middle ground in our minds. They will not offer the waterproofing or the cooling efficiency of a hard catch cooler but we feel that is made up for with their portability, lightness and flexibility. Amazon has a pretty good selection for all price points.
There are even versions that will offer separate sections so you can keep your own food and drink cool, and another section for your catch. This may seem like a small perk for me it is really REALLY nice to be able to have a cool
beer drink after I have just landed my dinner!
4. Storing Fish in Nets
Although when fishing on a river bank you will be using keep nets thrown out into the water, We don’t recommend doing this with kayak fishing.
It is less useful than the stringing fish method we mentioned early. Unlike shore fishing your fish will not still be alive, or shouldn’t be. Even if they are , and if any size of fish this is going to make it difficult to paddle.
The thrashing of live fish or the smell or blood of dead fish is never a wise move in warm waters or ocean waters. Just like a stringer you can attract larger predators that at best take the fish, and at worst – well lets not go there. Both of them suggest a bad day.
If you are in cold water on a river and this is what you have it will be ok to do this, in most other situations I would choose another one of the options we have mentioned here.
5. Can You Store Fish in Kayak Hatches?
If you don’t have a designated cooler option yet, or are waiting for Amazon to deliver it to you!, there are still options open to you. All sea and fishing kayaks have storage hatches. You are not going to get a bluefin there anytime soon, but for smaller fish you could use these in a pinch.
If you do use these it would be a good idea to just assign one, and also not plan on keeping them in their long term. They are not insulated, and often not as waterproof as the other purpose built, you can use the same trick as the catch coolers above and put a couple of bottles of frozen water.
If you are fishing in warm waters it is probably a good idea to keep the fish in hatches for as short a time as possible. If you have been in a tent on a hot day you can get an idea what it will be like inside a plastic kayak with the sun underneath and warm water underneath.
6. Using Waterproof Deck Bags To Store Fish.
If you have a loaded kayak you may not have the room for a full catch cooler either hard of soft it is worth considering a deck bag. Again it is a short term option but will some ice blocks inside it will help keep fish fresher.
We have some tips on how to store the fish before you put them in any of these fish cooler options below but one very useful for dry bags, or waterproof bags. Have some zip lock or plastic bags you can put the fish in with its own iceblock. It keeps the fish smell and slime inside the bag.
8. Insulated Butcher and Grocery Bags
I am sure at some point you have bought an ice cream cake, or some meat and received an insulated bag. If you have them you can use these as a temporary measure.
They will keep fish cool for a time if you use the frozen bottles again. Although it will help it can only be considered half measures. They wont be waterproof so rain or any splashes wont help.
They are also unlikely to last multiple trips, but if you have a few that is unlikely to be a problem. It would be worth putting the fish in a plastic bag with this method.
We definitely recommend either a hard or a soft catch cooler, just for ease and to make sure your hard earner catch comes to your table as fresh as it can be. We also have some tips and hacks below to help even more!
Tips To Keep Your Fish Cool
1. The Wet Towel Trick
This tip is better used when the weather is fairly cold because fish is better preserved at 40 degrees or lower. You keep a towel handy on your kayak. If you catch a fish , wrap it immediately and tightly inside the towel.
This method will help keep your fish a little fresher for a few hours. This method could not be a perfect solution to keep your fish but it can be a helpful option for you to keep it fresh before cooking it. Make sure you have cold water in the towel but not totally soaked.
This is a great fishing hack. Cleaning and fish can be messy. In fact its always messy. how about this. Net time you are at the mall, or shops. take a look as you walk in. So many have those long plastic bags that you can put umbrellas in.
Well, I am sure you can see where I am going, here. Ask or take a few and when you are out on the water you can use these to slide the fish into these bags and tie it off. Then you can put it your cool box ( whichever one you choose)
All the gunk, what’s left of the blood and scales will stay in that bag. However its a short term measure and you will still need to take ice to make sure they don’t heat up in the bag.
3. How To Kill The Fish Quickly
- In order keep your fish fresh, try to kill it immediately, A quick hard tap on the top of the head between the eyes will do it.
- Cut the gills to make your fish bleed and drain the fish’s blood immediately. This helps stop flesh burning.
- After killing it, slice the belly and remove the guts. Then slip it into the umbrella bag and put it in your storage.
It is certainly worth putting some thought into what to do and how to keep those whoppers you are bringing into the Kayak. We used to go fishing on the boat and put them in a beer cooler, without ice, they basically act like a green house for bacteria, and a slow (and terrible) cooker. The difference was pretty remarkable when we got the catch cooler.
We spend so much time on the water it seems such a shame if we are not bringing back the catch as fresh as we can, and in the best condition we can. Checking out some of the options above is going to help you achieve that.
Good Hunting and Tight Lines.
Hi I am Marc, when I am not in a classroom teaching you will find me, or more likely not find me, on a boat, trekking through the woods, sitting by a river or pier hoping for tight lines or a straight shot. I have been teaching Outdoor skills, fishing, archery, shooting, Kayaking, Climbing and more for over 30 years. It’s about time I shared some of that with you all.