Learning how to store freshly harvested fish correctly will keep you and your family safe from contracting any foodborne illnesses. Also, when done right, you’ll be able to preserve your harvest for over a year. Thus, saving you money on your grocery bills in the long run. However, there are many steps you must take before getting your catch from the water to your plate. So, follow along as we go over our six-step process to proper game fish handling.

Highway to the Danger Zone

Now, let’s discuss the temperature danger zone. We aren’t talking about the iconic song from Top Gun that plays when Maverick rides his Kawasaki Ninja alongside fighter jets. Instead, we’re referring to the range of temperatures where food is susceptible to rapidly growing bacteria.

The danger zone occurs when food is left out and reaches an internal temperature between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. So, the best rule of thumb is always to keep cold food cold and hot food hot.

How To Store Freshly Harvested Fish: 6 Steps to Proper Game Fish Handling

Step One: Keep Your Harvested Fish Alive Until You’re Ready To Clean Them

    Eagle Claw Chain Fish Stringer

An Eagle Claw Chain Fish Stringer against a white background.
    Eagle Claw makes this heavy-duty chain fish stringer that is perfect for keeping your game fish alive until you're ready to fillet them.

Most importantly, it would be best if you kept your game fish alive until you’re ready to throw them on the fillet table. Specifically, doing so will prevent your meat from spoiling. Here are some ways you can keep your fish alive while you’re out on the water:

  • Attach your fish to a stringer and leave them submerged underwater.
  • Thread your stringer through their lip instead of their gills.
  • Leave your fish in a built-in or portable live well.

Step Two: Thoroughly Clean Your Fish

Next, once you’re ready to get your fish on the fillet table, go ahead and start making your cuts. Whether you dress, fillet, or steak your fish, ensure you rinse it off with cold water before and after cutting it. Also, make sure to remove all of the guts, red meat, and silver skin from your fillets.

If you would like further instruction on cleaning game fish, then please visit our tutorial.

Step Three: Ice Down Your Fish

Then, immediately put your freshly cut on ice while you continue to make your other cuts. Icing down your fish will keep your meat from reaching the danger zone we discussed earlier.

Step Four: Brine the Fish You Plan on Cooking

Follow this step if you plan on cooking your freshly caught or thawed game fish within the next 24 hours. Brining your meat serves three purposes: first, it reduces the likelihood of surface spoilage. Second, it removes that gamey texture from the fish. Third, it enhances the flavor of your meat.

Here are directions for how to cold brine your meat:

  1. Pour cold water, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Note, for every 8 cups of water, mix ¾-cup of salt and ¾-cup of sugar.
  2. Stir the brining solution until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  3. Place your fish in the cold brine, making sure it is fully submerged in the water. Add more of your brining solution if needed.
  4. Cover the top of your container with saran wrap.
  5. Let your meat sit in the cold brine in the refrigerator. The brining process will take an hour per pound.
  6. Once your cold brine is complete, rinse your fish completely off and pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking.

Step Five: Preserve the Fish You Plan on Storing by Vacuum Sealing Them

    LEM MaxVac 100 Vacuum Sealer

The LEM MaxVac 100 Vacuum Sealer against a white background.
    LEM's MaxVac 100 is a compact vacuum sealer that is easy to use, and will help you preserve your game fish properly.

Then, for the meat you plan on storing in your freezer, take out your trusty vacuum sealer. Before freezing, vacuum sealing your fish will protect your food from freezer burn and spoilage. Also, if you’re machine has a moist food setting, make sure to click that beforehand.

Step Six: Freeze Your Vacuum Sealed Fish

Finally, once your fish has been packed and sealed, label your bag with the date it was processed and store it in your freezer.

Eat Your Harvested Fish Within 6 to 12 Months of Storing Them!

In conclusion, proper safe handling of game fish will keep you and your family safe from food poisoning. Alongside following safe food practices, we highly recommend storing your freshly harvested fish by vacuum sealing it. Doing so will keep your meat at its peak freshness and protect it from spoiling. However, make sure to consume your frozen fish within 6 to 12 months for the best taste and results.

Do you have any questions about storing harvested game fish? Let us know in the comments below. Did this article benefit you in any way? Then, please give it a share on social media.