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Keeping Your Catch Fresh on a Kayak

Read about how to successfully keep your catch fresh while you're on your kayak out on the water in this article.

To keep, or not to keep? That is the question...
Well, there are many questions… Paddle or peddle, bait or lures, paper or plastic? Today, we'll just focus on how to successfully keep your catch fresh while you're out on the water.

First, we'll start with the rules, and then figure out how we can comply. According to the FDA, here's their rule. Not only is it from the government, but I read it on the Internet … therefore, it must be true:

CHILL: Refrigerate foods promptly

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40ºF or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40ºF or below and the freezer temperature is 0ºF or below.

OK, so once the keeper is under control, a 40ºF storage location should be our goal.


It's Autumn now, but currently on the west coast of Central Florida, the heat index put the ‘feels like’ temperature at 102ºF. Gulf water temperature is 85ºF, and the Tampa Bay water temperature is 88ºF. When the water temps soar, the oxygen content drops. So, trying to keep a caught fish alive, on a stringer, in that kind of heat, with diminished oxygen supply, simply won't work. The fish will soon die, and at that point begins to decay.

Just say 'NO' to stringers.

Side note: Non-Floridians often assume that all salt water is infested with sharks, and that all fresh water is infested with alligators. I wouldn’t say ‘infested’, but we definitely have more than, say, Topeka. All joking aside, you don't want to have a food source for either one of these predatory animals hanging over your boat, held on with a piece of nylon or chain, that might not break when you need it to.

By now, it's understood that you're hoping to catch some fish that you can legally keep. You need to be prepared to do so. You certainly don’t want to harvest a mature (breeding) fish only to dispose of it. And, if your outings are like mine, most of the fish you catch won't be keepers, due to length. Check out my previous article, "Protecting The Resource" which addresses (among other things), proper fish handling technique. This way, those little guys can grow up to be dinner, or make more little guys. If your target species is regulated by size/slot limits make sure you have a dependable means to measure your catch. Once you confirm it's a keeper, we need a way to get this fish to 40ºF.

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Chances are good that if you’re going to be out in this heat, you're going have a cooler and will have something on ice in there. However, melting ice isn't your friend either. So a trick my wife uses is simply freezing plastic water bottles. Not only is the ice rock solid, but when it melts, the cooler still stays dry. And, drinking a little cold water never hurt anyone while on a paddling adventure. The downside with coolers is that they’re normally kept in the tank well. Easy to get to, but they take a beating in the summer sun. A step better is to put the cooler below the deck.

The forgotten front hatch:

I rarely use my front hatch, and when I do, it's to store chairs and an umbrella. But here's my front hatch cooler trick. Get an insulated shopping bag (Sam’s and Costco make nice products), stuff it in your front hatch, then open it up. Then, fill it with plenty of frozen water bottles. Note: These insulated bags are not designed to handle fluids, just cold things. So stay away from using ice, since it will melt, and end up in the hull of your boat. Throw your fish on top of that, and you’re got quite a mess. Once you have your catch subdued, you can make your way up to the hatch and make your deposit. Even, in my Hobie with pedals, I can still reach the front hatch. Yes, it’s a little more trouble, but it works. I've heard that some anglers will go so far as to put their catch in a newspaper bag, or umbrella bag, just to contain the fish slime. Once you’re home, turn the bag inside out, and wipe it down as needed. Again, hosing it off could cause it to leak. 

Leave it to the experts: 

Over the years, manufacturers have done a great job at coming up with paddle angling specific products, and this is no exception. There are a number of over the counter solutions available, and here are a couple of them:

IceMule Pro Catch Coolers                                • Seattle Sports Roll Catch Cooler

Only take home the good stuff:

Another trick I read about is to gut your catch as soon after catching as possible. Florida regulations specify that you must keep your catch intact (head and tail on). But removing the non-essential parts is recommended, since they start to decay first.

How cold is ‘cold enough’?:

– the redneck thermometer: If your catch is laying on frozen bottles of water – that’s ‘cold enough’. I checked another website, and discovered that the mountains on the label off a can/bottle of Coors will be solid blue when the temperature is between 40ºF and 45ºF, and that should be ‘cold enough’. I’m just sayin’ …

See you out on the water ...

"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after" ~ Henry David Thoreau

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