How To Use A Fish Stringer: Tips & Techniques

by Andrew

How To Use A Fish Stringer: Tips & Techniques

by Andrew

by Andrew

Fish stringers may not be the most exciting purchase in your tackle bag, but they’re every bit as important as your rod, fishing lures, or anything else you take to the water.  

In this guide, learn exactly what a fish stringer is, the different types available, how to use them, and popular alternatives you can use instead if you decide fish stringers aren’t right for you.  

A fish stringer is essentially a length of rope where you string your fish, keeping it in place in the water until you’re ready to take it home, clean it, release it, or use it as bait for larger catches.  

The point of fish stringers is to keep your catch alive while you continue fishing. Some are made of chains, cables, or other materials instead of rope, but work similarly.  

Stringers can be threaded through the gills, or used to pierce a fish’s mouth so breathing isn’t affected. These methods are much better than leaving your fish on a hook, which can kill it before you’re ready to use or release it.  

fish stringer

Different Types Of Fish Stringers On The Market 

There are lots of fish stringers available in varying materials and strengths to suit your preferences (and the fish you’re targeting). Here are the types of stringers you’ll find when stocking up on essential fishing gear:  

  • Rope Or Poly Stringers
    These are the simplest types of fish stringers available. Consisting of rope and a needle (and perhaps a hook or loop at the opposite end), rope/poly stringers are typically threaded through the gills or lips of the fish, then secured to a dock, boat, or other stable object nearby. They’re strong enough to hold most fish and aren't too bulky for securing small catches, either.
  • Chain Stringer
    These stringers look considerably different and offer several advantages rope stringers don’t have—namely, the ability to secure multiple fish separately. Made of a chain with a series of clips along its length, chain stringers attach to small watercraft with an end clip, while the remaining clips are hooked through each fish’s mouth. Chain stringers are especially helpful for high-volume fishing trips, such as targeting crappie. Unfortunately, they can break or open more easily than other stringer types.
  • Lockable Snaps Stringers
    Another great option for multiple catches, lockable snaps stringers let you quickly add each catch to the stringer line, so your fish stay out of the water as little as possible. Simply unsnap an empty spot, add your new catch, re-snap, and set the stringer back in the water. These are preferable to chains when you’re after larger, stronger fish, since they’re made of steel cables or thicker chains.
  • Paracord Fish Stringer
    A combination of the rope and chain versions, paracord fish stringers offer advantages of both. You can get multiple clips, threading needles, securing hooks, or loops at the ends. Paracord stringers also offer higher durability than rope—without the potential damage to your fish from chains, or the occasional lost catch from loose snaps. However, because paracord is porous (unlike steel, for example), it will develop an odor if you don’t wash it after use.

Pros & Cons Of Using Fish Stringers 

What We Like 
  • Keep fish alive longer
  • Ideal for small watercraft 
  • Easy to use 
  • Inexpensive 
Things We Don’t Like 
  • Limit your movement on shores or docks 
  • Slow down trolling in boats 
  • Can kill or injure fish if done wrong 

How To Use A Fish Stringer: Tips & Techniques

1. Select the best stringer type for you

Remember that each kind of stringer is ideal for different fish, as well as certain quantities. While a basic rope stringer will suffice for a single small or mid-sized catch, you’d want several clips for multiple ones. For larger, stronger fish that will put up a fight, consider a stringer with lockable snaps. 

2. Learn how to use that specific stringer

If you’ve never used a stringer before, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with how it works. Practice attaching and detaching it, and operating the hooks and snaps so you’ll be ready when you reel in your first catch of the day. 

3. Attach it to your watercraft or another stable place

Learn how to attach a stringer to your fishing kayak or other small watercraft using the hook or ring at the opposite end of the needle (if there is one). If fishing from a dock, you might decide to hook your stringer to a ladder or post with additional rope or a carabiner. However and wherever you attach your stringer, make sure the water is deep enough, fairly cool, and free from hazards like paddles or motor turbulence. 

4. String each fish

Also known as tagging, this step sounds like a no-brainer: of course you’d string up each fish as you catch it, right? However, it’s easy to get caught up in a hot streak when lots of fish are biting and rationalize setting a catch aside. Don’t do this: you want each fish strung and re-immersed in the water as quickly as possible, so they stay alive until you’re ready to clean them.  

5. Gather your fish up when you’re done

Once you’re finished fishing (or your stringers are full), detach them and lift the stringer from the water. This creates an easy, no-fuss way to get your fish home. 

woman holding fish stringer

Alternatives To Fish Stringers  

Coolers 

When using a cooler to store fish, you can put them on ice to keep the catches fresh. The downside to this, however, is that the fish will still die on ice; they just won’t start decomposing right away. Soft coolers filled with ice are great options for kayak fishing, particularly when space is limited and weight needs careful balancing. 

Some people fill rigid coolers with water as makeshift live wells. The fish will still die when they use up the oxygen in the water, though (a process that happens fairly quickly, if your cooler is small or multiple fish are added).  

There is a big downside of using a cooler as an alternative to stringers: they take up space on your watercraft. Stringers have the advantage of hanging off your kayak or boat, which saves space on board.  

Another point against coolers in place of stringer?  Once you’ve used a cooler for fish, that’ll probably be all you ever use it for. The smell is very difficult to get out. Consider purchasing a cooler exclusively for fish storage if you opt to store catches this way.  

Fish Baskets 

These are mesh containers to hold your fish in the water after you catch them. Like stringers, they’re submerged in the water and attached to your kayak or boat, or even off a dock or the shoreline.  

A con of fish baskets versus stringers is their bulkiness, which creates a lot of drag when you’re trolling. Additionally, baskets might come loose and release all your fish. With a stringer, it’s more likely only one or two clips might come undone, if any.  

Front Hatch 

On a kayak or small boat, you want to make the best use of your limited space. Many kayak anglers like using the front hatch as a makeshift ice well, by lining it with a waterproof bag or other material and putting ice packs (or frozen water bottles) along the bottom. Simply place your fish there after you reel it in, cast your line back out, and repeat.  

Homemade Live Well  

You can store your fish in a live well and keep them kicking for hours after catching them. It involves a little more than just filling a container with lake or pond water, however. A live well needs to be portable and equipped with an aerator to keep the fish alive.  

An advantage of crafting a homemade live well is that you can store multiple fish for hours on end. The downside, of course, is that live wells are large and bulky—and far too heavy for kayaks or one-person fishing crews to carry.  


People also Ask (FAQs)

How long can fish live on stringers?  

Fish can survive for hours on a stringer if it’s threaded properly and the water temp is ideal. This is also assuming your hook didn’t injure the fish in any serious way. Feisty fish who struggle against the stringer will live for fewer hours than weaker or calmer catches, however.  

Is it better to thread a stringer through the gills or through the mouth of the fish?  

Although either is acceptable, threading your clip or needle through a fish’s mouth is always preferable to threading the stringer through its gills. This is because the latter approach hinders its breathing. Fish will survive longer on a stringer if it’s threaded through the lip.  

Can I store my catch out of the water on its stringer?  

Yes, but it isn’t wise to hang your stringer out of the water. The sun and heat will start to decompose your fish, and they’ll quickly attract insects. While a couple minutes while you pack up is fine, avoid keeping your stringer out for very long.  

Will a stringer kill fish? 

Stringers will kill fish quickly if threaded improperly or if you’ve secured it in too-warm water. Also, if a fish is struggling a great deal, it will die quicker.  

It’s important to note that all stringers eventually kill fish. They aren’t meant to stay on them longer than a few hours.  

Are fish secure in fish stringers? 

As long as you’ve secured the clips, snaps, or threading, yes: your fish should be completely secure in their stringer. The exception would be if you didn’t attach it properly to your watercraft or dock, or if the stringer type isn’t strong enough for that fish.  

Can I make a fish stringer? 

You can easily and cheaply create your own fish stringer using paracord or rope. From there, you have two options: get a large needle or nail to thread the rope through the gills (not ideal), or equip the rope with clips from a previous stringer—perhaps one that grew frayed or worn. This is a great survivalist skill to learn, should you ever need to fish for food and store multiple catches. It’s also handy on trips when you’ve forgotten a stringer and don’t want to release your fish.

What should an angler look for in a quality fish stringer? 

Above all else, your stringer should be the appropriate size and strength for your fish—and where you plan to attach it. Chain stringers are generally seen as inferior now that multi-fish nylon and paracord versions exist, although some anglers love them. For large game, look for steel cable stringers and large hooks.  


Conclusion

Fish stringers are invaluable for keeping your catches fresh and feisty for as long as possible when you’re on the water. Whether you’re casting from the shore, a boat, or a kayak, storing your fish on a quality stringer ensures no fish escape—or go belly-up before you’re ready to reel in and call it a day.  

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