Eating the fish that you or friends and family catch is very satisfying. The key to enjoying your catch, however, isn't necessarily having a good recipe or using a certain preparation method. Once the fish is in the kitchen, you can increase or decrease its palatability, but to enjoy its fullest taste and nutrition, you must give it proper attention from the moment you catch it until the moment you prepare it for the table.
The advantage that anglers have over people who buy commercially caught fish is that anglers get their food as fresh as it can possibly be found, and they alone control its preparation and treatment. The foundation for enjoying fish and for having good-tasting fish is the treatment that this product receives after it is caught, the storage that it receives in between cleaning and preparing it for consumption, and the care that is given to transporting it from where it is caught to where it will be stored or consumed. The end results will only be as good as you want them to be, and as good as you make them.
Deterioration Starts Quickly
Perhaps no other food loses its freshness as quickly as fish. The flesh does not improve with aging, so it is literally true that the best time to eat a fish is immediately after it has been caught. While that gastronomic utopia can be realized on big boats with galleys, in locations where a shore lunch is possible, when camping on or near the water, or when you head to the house immediately after catching a fish, the fact is that eating a fish soon after catching it is not possible or feasible for many anglers, or only happens on occasion.
Therefore, to keep fish as fresh as possible by minimizing deterioration, and to avoid spoilage, you should begin caring for it as soon as you’ve finished taking photos and admiring your accomplishment. Unfortunately, many anglers, after devoting a lot of energy, time, and perhaps money, to catch sportfish, take fair to poor care of their catch once it has been landed, either through ignorance, expedience, or lack of planning. Their fish may lose freshness even before it gets to the place of cleaning or storage.
Signs of Fading Freshness
You can tell when fish have lost their freshness if they are dried and shriveled; if they smell; if their eyes are glossy; if the skin is bleached; if the flesh is soft; and so on. Fish that exhibit these conditions may be edible, but the manner of handling has contributed to some loss of freshness and therefore tastiness. In other words, they are not as fresh as they could be for maximum benefit.
The main aspects to proper care are what you do after catching, what you do after cleaning, and how the fish is transported, if it is to be transported for more than just a short time. Each of these is important and is linked to each other. It does no good to properly care for a fish until you get it home, then not store it properly for later consumption. On the other hand, if you’ve let a fish become stale in the hours after catching it, it will not improve in flavor no matter how well you later wrap and store it.
There are many anglers who recognize that fish are good to eat, but who strangely enough do not equate taste with how they take care of the fish after they catch it. They, their spouses, or friends may spend more time looking up a recipe for the fish than was devoted to caring for it in the first place.