Informational Guide

How To Keep Fish Fresh While Fishing

It is vital to keep your catch fresh when fishing. Cleaning and cooking hours later means you must have your fish stay fresh, cool and healthy.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Keep Fish Fresh While Fishing

It is vital to keep your catch fresh when fishing. Cleaning and cooking hours later means you must have your fish stay fresh, cool and healthy.

by Andrew

by Andrew

Fishing for keepers that you can later eat can be a very rewarding activity. You might be worried, however, that your fish will go bad while you are continuing to work on catching all the fish you need. If you have never been able to fish for keepers, this can be a fair question to ask before you start fishing. 

The best way to keep fish fresh after catching fish can vary depending on the weather and your ability to carry and store fish securely. You will find that fish will spoil when not properly cared for within about 12 hours. When it is very hot out, this time frame could be much shorter. 

If you are going to be storing your fish in the fridge or a cooler, you might be able to keep them fresh for about 2-3 days. However, some kinds of fish are more prone to breaking down quickly, even in the fridge or a fishing cooler

For example, oily fish are often only good for three days when kept cold, while less oily fish like trout and salmon can sometimes be good for about five days when kept cold. 

Any fish that is not kept cold will start to go bad around the twelve-hour mark. If it is hot out, they might go bad after about six hours. The fish variety and the conditions as far as temperature when they were caught can significantly impact the time that your fish will stay fresh. 

person holding a fish

What Affects the Fish to Stay Good While Fishing? 

There are some variables that you might not be able to control that could impact how long your fish stay good after they have been caught. You will need to be aware of these factors so that you do not stay out too long fishing and spoil all of your catch. 

  • Weather conditions 
    When it's hot or humid out, your fish will go bad much faster. This kind of weather is the hardest weather to catch fish in, and it can be tempting to stay out for a long time to try and get more fish. You will be risking losing all of the fish that you have caught due to spoiling, however. 
  • Type of Fish 
    As stated above, the fish variety can greatly impact the fish's lifespan once it has been caught. You should assume that all fish will go bad in hot weather after 6 hours or so and in cool weather after 12 hours. When you have a cooler on hand, oily fish like mackerel and sardines will go bad after three days on ice. Trout, salmon, and tuna will be good in a cooler for about 5 days. 
  • Treatment and Storage 
    Any fish that has not been cleaned within 2-6 hours should not be eaten. The cleaning process can be different for different fish varieties, and you will need to know what this process is for each kind of fish before you try to keep them to eat. Storage in a cooler or cool place like a fridge can improve the lifespan of your stored fish, but many people will not have access to this kind of storage solution when fly fishing, for example. 

Types of Containers Good for Storing Fish 

Storage solutions can make a big difference in the durability of your fish after they have been caught. You will want to consider the weather as well as your fishing setup when you choose the proper storage solution for your needs. 

bucket with fish

Cooler/ Bucket 

This is a really common solution if you have access to a boat or are fishing without moving around a lot and can bring these items with you. Make sure that you keep the fish apart and upright to preserve them for longer. In some cases, they will stay alive for a while in this storage solution which can add time to their viability for eating. 


Baskets can work well for those who are moving while they fish, such as fly fishers. You can usually hook these items onto your belt, or you might be able to carry them in your float with you. The latches are usually self-closing on these baskets, and you will arrange the fish in the same way as you would in a cooler. 


This is an excellent solution if it is hot. You can string the fish together and keep them in the water where they will be cool and stay fresh much longer. 

Live Well 

A live well is a container that can be lowered into the water and the fish will stay locked inside while submerged. This can be the best choice if you need to fish for a long time and don’t want your fish to die right off and start going slowly bad. If you cannot immediately clean your fish, this is the perfect solution. 

Best Ways to Keep the Fish Fresh After Catching 

While Ice Fishing 

When ice fishing, you have easy access to lots of ice to preserve your fish. Many people will buy bags that are made to hold the fish, and you simply make a hole for the bag to go through the ice. You drop the fish into the hole and into the bag and then just pull it out of the water when you are ready to be done fishing. 

While Surf Fishing 

When surf fishing, your best bet is to use a stringer if there is a place to do so safely, or you might want to use the cooler or fishing backpack method. Be aware that the heat and humidity can reduce the life of your fish, so you will not want to surf fish for hours at a time. 

While Camping

When camping, you might not have access to any kind of cooling option for your needs. This is where a stringer or a live well can come in very handy. If you are camping near your fishing location, you can keep your fishing sessions short so that you do not lose fish to spoiling. 

While Traveling

Keeping fish safe to eat when traveling requires access to a cooler with ice in it or a fridge. You will want to be sure to clean and gut the fish and then place them into plastic bags to add security against air getting to the fish. 


Tips for Keeping Your Favorite Fish Fresh 

  • Trout 
    This fish will need to be killed right off and kept cool. Make sure to clean it right off if you can as well. If it is hot, do not stay out long when trout fishing. 
  • Salmon 
    This fish can be kept fresh in a live well or on a stringer, but you will want to be sure to clean and store it properly as soon as you can. You will likely not be fishing for salmon in hot weather, but if you are, you will want to be sure not to let it go bad by staying out too long. 
  • Sardines 
    As one of the oily fish varieties, these need to be killed, cleaned, and kept cold as soon as possible to prevent them from going bad. 

People also Ask (FAQs)

How can you tell if fish has spoiled? 

The smell is usually your first sign that your fish has gone bad, but a slimy coating on the flesh as well as milky flesh will indicate that the fish has gone bad and should not be eaten. 

Why does fish go bad so fast? 

Fish are meant to live in the cold and in the water. As soon as they are not in their native environment, exposure to the elements makes them start to go bad. 

How long can I keep fresh fish in the fridge? 

The oily fish varieties will be good in the fridge for up to 3 days. Less oily fish varieties will be good for about 5 days. 


Now that you have read this guide, you will be able to use the best way to keep fish fresh after catching it. You will no longer have to worry about whether or not you have done the right process to keep your fish from going bad while you are fishing.

Being able to catch your favorite fish yourself is a really special experience, and preserving them correctly does not have to be a struggle or limit your fishing fun.