For those that fish we have all been there. Coming off a long day you look over at your cooler and now have to clean your catch and think I wonder how long can you keep ungutted fish on ice? This question gets asked more than you know, especially when you are dog-tired after a long day fishing.
So, how long can you keep ungutted fish on ice? Ungutted fish can be kept on ice in a cooler for up to 2 days if bleed properly without losing the taste of the fish. Gutted fish when backed in ice can stay up to 5 days with the proper ice being added to the cooler.
Properly storing ungutted fish on ice
Ice can keep almost any type of fresh food good for a period of time. But there are ways you should be properly storing your fish. First, if you can is to bleed or gut the fish or fillet the fish as quickly as you can. Then pack it nice back in the ice if you are not home or at a place where you can store the fish in a fridge or freezer.
We constantly fish for up to 12 hours with fish in our icebox then when we get back to the docks we clean, fillet, and bag our fish for the trip home. These fillets stay fine once properly filled up to 4 days before we cook them.
If we properly freeze fish it can stay in your freezer for months even up to a year when properly vacuum sealed. Crappie can be filled and vacuum sealed and enjoyed months later.
When it comes to our fish box we love a salty slush brine. We use a little seawater and ice that creates a salty brine that keeps our fish ice-cold and in great shape.
How to bleed fish before storing on ice
Bleeding a fish is not hard and it will give you cleaner fillets. Bleeding a fish is easy. All that is required is to cut through the fish’s artery that runs from the bottom of the fish between the gills.
You need to do this before the fish is on ice and while it’s alive. You cannot do this after the fish is dead. This can be done with any type of fish. From flounder to perch.
This video from Saltstrong will show you how below:
Should you gut fish quickly?
Yes, as soon as you you come in from fishing or when you are done fishing for the day if possible. However, if you have your fish buried in ice and they are cold and stay properly iced you can certainly cut and fillet them the next day without losing any flavor or running the risk of having the fish spoil.
We have done this for years with excellent results with no issues. Just remember the fish needs to be buried in ice in a cooler and you should be fine if you need to gut them the next day.
How long will fish last in the fridge if it’s gutted?
Gutted fish in the fridge can last up to 3 days and still be fine with no issues. If the fish is ungutted it could last up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Regardless a fridge is not as cold as a cooler full of ice and fish can spoil quickly and is considered to be highly perishable.
Remember, catching fish and having fresh fillets should be important once you keep a fish. Keeping a fish in the fridge for too long will compromise the taste and flavor if left too long.
How do you know if the ungutted fish is turning bad?
So, you might have left your ungutted fish on ice for too long and you are not sure if it’s bad or in the process of turning bad. Look for these signs to know if your fish is turning into something you cant eat.
- The fish is starting to stink. Fish should have a nasty or strong smell when they are fresh. If you smell a fishy order do not eat it.
- Eyes are not clear. If the fish’s eyes are cloudy that is a sign the fish could be turning. Nice and fresh fish should still have clear eyes.
- Gills should still be red: If the fish still has the head on check the gills. They should be red. If they are a light red or a red that looks really washed out that’s a sign the fish is starting to go bad.
- Slimy coat. Once a fish starts to turn bad you might start to see a film start to cover the body.
Remember, if you think your fish is turning bad or you have questions on if you should still eat your catch don’t. You can get really sick from consuming fish that has turned bad. It’s not worth days of being sick.
Ungutted fish can be kept on ice for up to 2 days when properly bled. But for most of us, we can still manage to cut our fish after fishing or the day after without losing any flavor to the fish. If you cannot gut your fish right away always bleed it and make sure it’s packed away under fresh ice.
Keep the cooler under the shade or in the garage if it’s hot outside to keep the ice as pristine as possible until you can gut the fish. Making sure you properly take care of your catch will result in much better-tasting fish.