Eventually, with any luck, a fisherman will come off the lake or river with more fish than they can eat for dinner. So, then what? Storing fish long term, and keeping them tasting fresh, is a quandary that has faced man since the first line got baited. Here’s a list of the five best methods for keeping your last catch preserved long enough, and well enough, to make it into a delicious dinner, months, or even years, after they hit the hook.
1. Live Wells
The best way to keep any kind of meat fresh is to keep the animal it comes from alive. It’s a lot easier to do this with a fish than it is with a moose, but it’s still not ideal. All that is required to keep a fish alive and kicking for a short period of time is some water and a bucket. Obviously, if you want to keep the fish alive a long time, you’ll have to continually change out the water, or find a much bigger bucket. This method is best suited to preserving a fish for hours instead of days or weeks.
2. The Freezer
This is probably the most popular method for storing fish, but it needs to be done properly to be effective. Take a sealable plastic container and fill it with fish fillets and water, right up to the brim. Then, freeze the whole works. The end product should resemble a block of ice, covered in plastic, with some fish inside. This method prevents freezer burn and maximizes efficiency, especially if you make use of stackable containers.
3. Vacuum Packing
Without air, stuff can’t really spoil. There are dozens of different kits to vacuum seal stuff on the market today, and they all basically do the same thing. The best ones allow you to choose your own bag sizes and feature thicker plastic. This method can save you a lot of space, but you will still need to store the fish in a freezer. Extreme funkiness can result if you don’t.
This is the old-school version of vacuum sealing, and it still works great. Meat or fish isn’t the first thing most folks think of when canning is mentioned, but it’s a great option. This is an especially good choice if you want to keep your fish without burning electricity. Canned goods can be placed in a closet or cellar almost indefinitely, and it doesn’t matter if the power blinks out. Sure, canning requires some equipment, and it can be tricky to get the hang of, but it’s definitely the most cost-effective option in the long term.
Why not do as the Romans did? What worked thousands of years ago will still work today, you just might not prefer it to the other options. Salting meat or fish is pretty simplistic. Take your fillets and cover them in table salt, or even rock salt to save on cost. Layer them into some kind of container and store in a dry place. It doesn’t last forever, but it will keep them from spoiling a darn long time. Naturally, the best way to prepare salted fish for eating is to boil it. Boiling removes the salt and makes the fish considerably more palatable. Without boiling, salted fish is a real challenge for your gag reflex.
With proper care and a bit of planning, fish can be kept stored and reasonably fresh just about forever. The only question is which way you want to store them. Live wells will work for a day or two, probably. Freezing and vacuum sealing are great, if you have the freezer space. Canning is good if you master the equipment and techniques required and have storage space. Salting is a fantastic option if you live in Utah. Best of luck and good fishing.