Tips to ensure your fish doesn’t taste fishy

By: J.D. Richey
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Your fish should never taste like fish. Okay, let me rephrase that a bit. Fish should never, ever have a fishy taste to it. If it does, there’s something wrong. When somebody tells me they don’t like the taste of seafood, I tell them that they’ve never had it truly fresh. How a fish is taken care of from the moment it’s landed until it’s slapped on the grill makes a world of difference in the flavor. So, let’s take a quick look at what you can do to ensure that all the time, energy and money you invested going out to catch something for the table isn’t wasted… First off, take every stringer you own and throw them in the dumpster. Yep, you heard that right. Stringers are one of the largest contributors to the dreaded “fishy taste.” Think about it — say you catch a kokanee salmon out of Lake Berryessa that’s holding in 50-something degree water 90 feet below the surface. What’s going to happen to the meat when you snap that fish onto a stringer and drag him next to the boat all day in the nearly 80-degree surface water? Mush City! He’ll be partially cooked before you ever put the boat back on the trailer and utterly worthless as tablefare. Ice is the key ingredient to keeping fish fresh. So, before you take off fishing, make sure you’ve got a cooler loaded up with plenty of ice ready to go. But there’s one other important step before you ice down your catch. If you’re a little squeamish, you may want to tune out here for a second… Alright, so, when you catch a fish, the very first thing that you need to do is bleed it. Blood in the flesh will cause the fish to taste bad and even spoil very quickly, so you need to get it out. After dispatching the fish with a quick rap with a bonker, take a very sharp knife and sever the gill arches on both sides. Then, place the fish back in the net and swish it around in the water for a few moments while the blood drains away. You’ve just taken one huge step in ensuring that your catch will be thoroughly enjoyed at dinnertime rather than being tossed in the garbage disposal. Next, it needs to go straight into the cooler and covered in ice. Now, there’s actually a little bit of “technique” involved in keeping fish in prime condition in the cooler. While simply tossing them into an ice chest with a block of ice and a couple of drinks is way better than the stringer method, there are a few things you can do to make the fish keep even better. First off, bring another cooler for drinks, bait and food and use crushed ice whenever possible in your fish-only chest. The smaller chunks the better. Start with a layer of the cold stuff and then lay the fish flat and try to keep them from touching each other. Coat them with another layer of ice and add more fish and ice as you go. Avoid opening the lid of the cooler unless absolutely necessary to keep the ambient temperature inside down and always drain off any melt water that accumulates. If you get home late and don’t feel like cleaning fish until the next day, add more ice and store the chest somewhere cool. The fish will be fine the next day and, in fact, will be easier to clean when cold and firm. Fish eaten within a day or two of being caught tastes best, but if you can’t eat it all in one sitting, clean it immediately after taking it out of the ice and then freeze it in vacuum bags. Keeping your catch fresh takes a little extra effort, but the end product is well worth the trouble! Say adios to fishy fish… J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at