“Frozen” isn’t exactly the opposite of fresh. Especially when you’re charter boat fishing along Alabama’s Gulf Coast and you have a particularly good day with the rod and reel.
Catching your own Gulf fish—like Red Snapper, Grouper, Flounder, Amberjack, and much more—is a thrilling exercise all on its own, but there’s no need to let all that great product go to waste. (Within reason, of course; keeping more than you’ll eat is overfishing, and that can lead to lower populations in the Gulf.)
If you’re new to charter boat fishing, keep these tips in mind so that you can make the most of your catches.
Bring a Cooler Full of Ice
Naturally, once you reel in your catches, you’ll need a place to put them while you continue to fish.
Many vessels will come equipped with aerated live wells where you can keep your fish alive on the boat until your trip is over. If that’s not an option, make sure you bring a large cooler full of ice and immediately place your catches on top of the ice or packed inside it.
Be sure to drain the melted ice from your cooler, too. Letting your fish float in water will affect the texture and flavor of the fish, and they’ll start to spoil.
Fillet and Clean Your Catches
Your best bet for packaging and transporting your catches is to fillet and clean them sooner rather than later.
Many charter boat services will offer to dress your fish for you for a small fee. If that’s not an option, or you’d rather save your money, grab a sharp fillet knife, find a cleaning table or a cutting board, and follow our directions to fillet your catches.
Store Your Catches In Vacuum-Sealed Bags
If you’ve got a vacuum sealer handy, you’ll want to bring it for this trip. Little to no air surrounding the fish is key to keeping it fresh.
Don’t have a vacuum sealer? Get as much air out of the bag before sealing it by sucking the air out.
Pack Your Catches With Rock Salt
Rock salt is key to storing your fish when you’re ready to transport them.
Start with a layer of ice at the bottom of your cooler, then add your bagged catches, then cover them with another layer of ice and finally a layer of rock salt. You may want to check on your catches from time to time if it’s a long drive, but try to keep the cooler closed as much as possible.
Only Freeze Your Fish Once
Temperature change is your enemy when it comes to preserving your fish.
Avoid freezing, defrosting, then refreezing your catches. This will affect the flavor and the freshness of the filets. If you’re driving a long way (think 6-8 hours), don’t freeze your catches right after your fishing trip so you can avoid them thawing on the drive—just wait and freeze them once you’re home. For shorter trips, freeze your catches immediately and keep them as cold as possible during the drive.
Store Accordingly to Avoid Spoiling
If you’re planning on eating some of your fish within the first couple days of returning home, you can store the filets in the refrigerator. Just pat them down with a paper towel first to get rid of any moisture.
For everything else, you’ll need to freeze it. Start by patting them down with a paper towel, then wrap the filets with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, followed by a layer of freezer paper. Then place the wrapped filets in a plastic container, fill the container with water, cover it, and freeze it. These filets will last for several months in the freezer.
Once it’s time to thaw them out for cooking, place the frozen container in the refrigerator overnight to let it defrost. If you’re short on time, unwrap the filets and place them in water.
And remember: Please don’t keep more than you can eat. For tips on how to handle your unwanted catches, we’d recommend reviewing Outdoor Alabama’s Catch and Release Guide.
Ready to embark on your own Alabama fishing journey? Call up one of our many charter boats along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
And if you need any help preparing your catches in the kitchen, we’ve got plenty of recipes to try.