For the most part our boat will sell as much of the day’s catch as we can in order to offset the fuel bill and other expenses. This allows us to keep some money coming back into the boat while eliminating wastefulness when making the best use of the fish we catch. Would we rather see 600lbs of yellowfin go to a fish buyer where it’s sold within a week? Or do we take the time to individually filet, bag, store, freeze, a giveaway to friends or fridge only to see 60% get destroyed by freezer burn or waste away in the fridge? Both are very viable options however if you choose to keep it all yourself there are some important things to consider. With the crazy rage surrounding the desire for fresh fish, it’s worth the time to take care of it. Which sparked the reason for the thoughts below…
After almost 15 years of being the “filet guy,” there are some great tips to prepping your catch and help prolong the life-span of it all while keeping it tasting the way it should.
To start to be accurate with harpooning or gaffing your fish. Aim for the head or right behind it to ensure not damaging the meat. You’ll be surprised as to how much meat is waster due to a misplaced gaff.
When the fish is boated make sure to hit their vitals with a knife so the fish can bleed properly. Lots of people will let their fish slap around the deck spraying blood all while bruising the meat. Always keep several small tail ropes available so you can let the fish bleed overboard or secure the rope tightly so the fish can’t thrash around.
After bleeding and flushing the fish of their insides store the fish either in a brined cooler (mixture of saltwater and ice), an iced down cooler, or in a lot of cases when the weather and water temps are cooler just let the fish soak in saltwater that’s pumping in your live well.
So you’re back at the dock, everyone is a little tired and the crew begins sharing empty looks as to what’s next. It’s now time to filet, and here is where a lot of people will proceed with the “hack job.” This is the result of rushing, dull knives, room temperature fish, mosquitoes, lack of ice, lack of bags to store them. All of these factors are critical to prolonging the life of your fillets.
This past week our crew was very fortunate to walk home with some swordfish after a multi-day trip to the canyons. After 3 days I noticed this beautiful 5lb loin of sword sitting in the fridge, in a Ziploc with an inch of standing water inside of it!
To start bring up two knives to the filet table along with a stone to sharpen (depending on the fish use serrated or not). In most cases, a few 12-gallon zip locks will work. Close that all in cooler along with your catch and head to the filet station or cutting board.
At this point ideally, you’ve brought an adult beverage of your choice. Be sure to take a few moments to relax rather than rushing the whole process. Try to take some time and pride in the process. After all you could be stuck cleaning the boat.
OK so now you’ve filleted everything and there’s 20lbs of fresh steaks staring at you. First, rinse with salt water washing away all the scales and blood etc.. After rinsed put right back into a bucket of saltwater with ice bringing all the fillets to a nice cold temperature. Cold fillets will prevent bruising in the packaging or trimming process.
This step is the most essential and typically where people will just slap the fish in a bag and call it a day. Let’s avoid that.
Here are a few tips to follow here:
- Don’t over pack the ziplock bags. Leave space and keep it to 2lbs per bag
- Keep moisture out of the bag. You DO NOT want standing water in the bag sealed with your fish.
- Dry off your fish. Yes, this seems weird but wrapping your fish in newspaper or paper towel will greatly increase it’s shelf life. If you do not dry your fish it will expire 3x to 4x quicker. A fish caught on Tuesday could last until next week in the fridge or spoil within a day depending on how it’s been packaged.
Taking the time will pay off in the end when you’re enjoying fresh sushi in the middle of January.
Always remember that fresh fish is a form of currency all on its own. (I’ve successfully bartered trash pickups at my house for 4 months all from a 20 lb loin of bluefin that I gave to the owner). Take care of it in all aspects and the benefits will be visible.