The proper way to ice down your fresh catch
The number one best way to keep your fresh catch from spoiling is having a great cooler to start off with. If your cooler sucks then your ice is going to melt and your fish or whatever you have is going to go bad, and quick. I live in Florida (fish the Intra Coastal in Central Florida) and I have tried different types coolers and different brands of coolers. My favorite brand of cooler is Igloo. I have a (70 qt) Marine Igloo Cooler (that I use for my catch, I use a separate one for food and drinks) that has an insulated lid which there is a huge difference between an insulated lid and a non insulated lid. It is going to be different if you live in a cooler place and don’t have to worry about 100° day with 100% humidity. If where you live is relatively cool then maybe a cooler with a non insulated lid will work fine for you. There is a difference in price and there is a reason for that.
A cooler that has an insulated lid has foam in it just like the rest of the cooler and the non insulated lid is just what you think… no foam. It has air in the lid which gets hot and heats up the contents inside the cooler and melts your ice faster than the insulated lid. Cooler companies will say if it has an insulated lid or not.
Another way of making your cooler keep your fresh catch cold all day is prepping your cooler the right way the night before. You don’t want to take a hot cooler from your garage and fill it up with ice. The ice will melt faster than usual. Also, don’t put warm drinks in the cooler if you can help it. Cool your drinks (soda, rum and water) off in the fridge prior to putting them in the cooler. I put a block of ice into my cooler inside my house and close the cooler the night before I go out fishing. That makes your cooler nice and cold for the day. The morning I go fishing I dump the rest of my ice in it and I have ice all day. If anything bring your cooler inside the night before so it gets to room temperature if it is hot out.
I use a block of ice as well as cubed ice. I take a cheap small bucket, freeze it and then dump the whole chunk of ice into my cooler. That helps keep the water that melts inside the cooler cold. I fill my cooler up about half way with ice the morning I leave to go out on the water. I use two coolers. One for the fish I catch and one for drinks and food. You don’t want to use the same cooler you use for food and fish. Fish are slimy and nasty when they are in coolers. Definitely separate the fish from food and drinks.
Now that we have the cooler prepped we can talk about keeping fish fresh inside the cooler. There is a lot of personal preference here but the biggest thing to remember is keep the fish ice-cold. I prefer putting a very small amount of water inside the cooler with the fish so it is totally surrounding the fish in an ice bath. Don’t put too much water in because it will melt your ice fast. I have found this method works really well for me and keeps your fish ice-cold. Some people put the fish in the cooler and ice on top of the fish. It is a personal preference. Either way I would say is fine as long as the fish are in or on ice. That’s the most important thing.
You can’t filet your fish here in Florida unless your done fishing for the day and you are on shore. Fish & Game have to be able to ID and measure the fish so they have to be in whole condition. You can gut them if you want out on the water. I leave them whole till I get home. That’s where I gut them and filet them and throw them in my neighbor’s yard…. I’m kidding. I don’t do that… very often.
My Igloo cooler I use lasts a good day in the dead of summer on the water with plenty of ice left when I get home. That to me is more than good for me. I could probably get two to three days of ice out of it but as long as I get a good day out of it I am good with that. The high-end coolers such as Yeti are very expensive and I’m sure very good coolers but everyone knows you have a Yeti. That’s cool and all but you have to keep it locked up. If you look for a high-end cooler check out the Igloo Yukon or the Yeti. I personally don’t own either one but have heard good things about them. The Igloo is a little cheaper and has different features then the Yeti. But for a 70 qt Igloo Yukon cooler they are about $360. It all depends on how much you wanna pay. The Igloo cooler I have is a $50 cooler (the white one) and works just fine for what I use it for. The black and red Igloo one is about $20 at Walmart. Two great coolers!