Few things are as peaceful and relaxing as a day out on the lake fishing. If you end up with a large catch, so much the better. However, if you don’t know the proper way to freeze fresh-caught fish, your large catch may end up being a large rotting waste. Even worse, you may think your fish are fine until you try to eat them and end up disappointed or sick. It’s important for every fisherman to know the proper way to prepare and freeze his catch.
Fresh fish start to go bad very quickly after death, so whether you plan to eat them within a day or you plan to freeze them, it’s important to keep fish cold. The best system for this is to have a cooler packed with ice and to put your fish on ice as soon as you catch them. Lay them on the ice right-side up, as if they were swimming. You must have a drain in your cooler for melted ice to run off. It’s not good for your fish to sit in melted ice water. If it’s not practical to have a cooler with you, you may string the fish and leave them in the water, hanging off the side of your boat, while you continue fishing. If there’s no other option, you may cover the fish and leave them in a cool, shady spot, but this should only be a short-term solution
Once you’re done fishing, you need to clean your fish. Remove the scales by scraping the fish from tail to head with a fish scaler or the dull side of a knife, then slice the fish open from the gills to the dorsal fin and remove the entrails. Wash the fish thoroughly inside and out in tap or distilled water–don’t use lake water to wash your fish, as it may contain contaminants. Remove the fins, unless you plan to cook it with the fins on. Return the fish to ice as soon as you’ve finished cleaning it, making sure to place it with the cut side down so water won’t pool inside the fish. You may either freeze your fish whole or slice it into filets before freezing.
When you’re freezing fresh fish, the most important consideration is to keep air from getting to the fish. This keeps your fish fresher and more delicious. The best way to do this, particularly if you catch fish often, is to invest in a vacuum sealer, which packs your fish in air-tight plastic, ready to pop in the freezer. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, consider glazing your fish for freezing. Dip the fish in cold water, lay them in a single layer on a pan and put them in the freezer just long enough for the water to freeze. Repeat this step several times until the fish are coated in a layer of ice, then place the fish in freezer bags for long-term freezing. If that sounds like too much trouble, you may wrap each fish tightly in plastic wrap before placing them in a freezer bag for freezing. However, this method is the most likely to lead to freezer burn.
Frozen fish, stored properly, will stay good in the freezer for up to six months. When you’re ready to eat your fish, make sure to defrost it safely. The best way is to move your fish to the refrigerator and let it defrost slowly, over a day or so. If you don’t have time for that, you may defrost your fish by submerging it, wrapped in plastic, in a bowl of cold water. In general, the microwave is not the safest way to defrost frozen fish. If you must use your microwave, only use the defrost setting, and take the fish out while there’s still ice on it. There’s no need for fish to be completely defrosted before cooking.