Storing Fresh Caught Fish [How Long Before They Go Bad?]

You finally landed the big one. After a long day of fishing, you reel in a keeper. You can’t wait to take it home and cook it for dinner. But then you realize that you have no idea how to keep the fish fresh until you get there.

If you’re a fisherman or know someone who is, this article will be an important one.

You’ll learn how to keep your fish fresh for as long as possible to enjoy your catch for dinner. There are some simple techniques that anyone can do to ensure their fish doesn’t spoil in hours.

Follow these tips, and you’ll never have to worry about your fish going spoiling quickly again.

Let’s get into it.

Keeping fish on ice to keep it fresh

How To Keep Fish Fresh After Catching

We all know that eating fish has many health benefits. For example, it is packed with nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for our heart health.

But have you ever wondered how long fish can be dead before they go bad? That all depends on a couple of factors, and the main factor is how fast you can get that fish on ice.

The quick answer:

If you bleed the fish immediately after catching it, you can keep it ungutted in a cooler of ice (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1-2 days. Gutted fish, however, can be kept on ice for up to five days.

That is the general guideline for having freshly caught fish on ice in the cooler.

Keeping dead fish cold is the name of the game.

However, if you have the time for a little preparation, there are other ways to have your fish stay fresh longer. (We’ll explain below)

Keeping Fresh Fish Alive As Long As Possible

That trophy fish, if treated inappropriately, will spoil quickly on a hot day.

Because dead fish is a perishable item. Shocker, right?

If you can keep your fish alive for an extended period of time, the better.

For small fish, you can get a nylon fish stringer.

The ones you thread through the mouth and outside one of the gills.

Then anchor the other end into the ground or securely tie it to an object to prevent the fish from swimming away. There are other variations of the stringer designed with multiple stainless steel clips as well.

You can also get a floating fish basket and keep your fish alive this way.

Big fish caught off the boat is a different story. You don’t want to hang your fish out the side of your boat in the ocean and let the sharks get a free meal.

And this is where you should take extra care to keep your fish as fresh as possible.

Putting Freshly Caught Fish On Ice

Every angler should invest in an insulated cooler and fill it with ice. This will help to keep your fish fresh for a longer period of time.

If you can, crushed ice is best because you can form it around the fish.

You want to make sure that your fish is covered in ice and that the ice is not melting too quickly.

Quick Tip: Sprinkle some rock salt in with the ice to help it last longer.

ungutted fish on ice

Ungutted Fish On Ice

Most anglers are looking to maximize their fishing time, so they will throw the whole fish ungutted in their coolers.

Who wants to spend half their time cleaning and gutting fish on a fishing trip?

You can keep ungutted fish on ice for 1-2 days.

Gutted Fish On Ice

If you have the time to gut your fish, it’s always best to do so as soon as possible.

Why? Because once a fish is dead, the internal organs start to break down and release bacteria into the fish’s flesh.

This is why you want to get the guts out as soon as possible. It will help to keep your fish fresher for a longer period of time.

This will help keep your fish fresher for a longer period of time.

You can keep gutted fish on ice for up to five days without any issues.

When we go out on commercial saltwater fishing trips, the deckhand will ask if anyone would like to have their fish filleted for them for a fee.

However, if you’re not planning on eating the fish within two days, we recommend freezing it.

Before placing your catch directly into your fridge, wash it in cold water and dry it with a paper towel. After the fish has been washed, you can wrap it in wax paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil and place it in the fridge. Typically, your fresh fish will last up for two days in the fridge.

Fish filet

How Long Can You Refrigerate Freshly Caught Fish?

Anglers have varying opinions on how long they can refrigerate freshly caught fish. Still, the general consensus is that it depends on the type of fish and how it was caught.

Some anglers say that you can keep fresh fish in the fridge for up to two days, while others say it’s best to eat them as soon as possible.

It’s important to note that you should always clean your fish before refrigerating it and wrap it in wax paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil to keep it fresh.

Freezing Your Fish

One of the best ways to keep your fish fresh is by freezing it.

You can freeze both gutted and ungutted fish with no problems.

We recommend that you vacuum seal the fish before freezing it. This will help to keep it fresh for a longer period of time.

You can also wrap the fish tightly in freezer paper, removing all the air before sealing it.

Once you have your fish sealed tight, place it in the freezer, and it will be good for up to three months. Anything longer might affect the taste and texture.


In order to keep a fish fresh after catching it, you can do a few things. The main factor is keeping the fish cold, which can be done by bleeding it immediately and putting it on ice.

This will keep your dead fish lasting long enough to prepare it for dinner or to have it in the freezer at home.

You can also gut the fish and put it in a cooler if you have more time.

If you’re fishing off the boat, you can keep the fish alive in a basket.

Lastly, cover the fish in ice and keep it cold, so it doesn’t spoil quickly.

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