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Caring for the catch
  |  First Published: May 2013



For many of us, securing a meal or two of fresh seafood is a major motivation behind the sport of fishing. And just how tasty those meals end up, depend a great deal on how we handle the catch.

Over the last couple of issues, I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking in detail at the subject of catch-and-release fishing. It’s an area we’ll definitely return to in this Back To Basics column. But this month, let’s turn to an examination of something dear to a lot of our hearts: bringing home a meal or two of freshly caught fish to put on the family dining table!

Truth is, catching a feed of fish is not only a rather nice bonus to the entire angling process… It can actually be a major motivation for getting out of bed on a chilly autumn or winter morning, launching the boat or swinging on the backpack and heading out to do battle with a few fine, finny foes!

There’s no question that fish you catch yourself can be amongst the tastiest and healthiest forms of food that you or your friends and family will ever enjoy. Self-caught seafood is typically far superior (and potentially much fresher) to anything you’re likely to buy in the best fish shop. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it tough to buy or order seafood, even in a top restaurant, once you’ve tasted the very best there is: the stuff you catch yourself!

However, obtaining the ultimate return from self-caught fish is all about correct handling, processing and storage, and this begins the moment the fish is landed… or even earlier!

There’s good reason to believe that fish played or fought for excessive periods of time on very light tackle can eventually suffer from lactic acid build-ups in the flesh that may detract from their flavour. This can be particularly noticeable if fish is eaten raw, as it is in Japanese-inspired dishes such as sashimi and sushi. So, if you’re really fastidious about the flavour of your seafood, always use practical tackle for the task at hand, and attempt to keep fight times as short as possible.

Once the fish has been landed, it’s almost always best to kill the catch promptly and humanely. There are several ways of doing this, ranging from a sharp blow to the head through severing the ‘throat latch’ area under the gills and bending the fish’s head back sharply, to ‘iki’ spiking its brain with a special pointed tool. All these methods work.

With so-called ‘blood fish’ (those exhibiting darker, blood-rich meat) like tuna, tailor, trevally, Australian salmon and so on, it’s best to thoroughly bleed the fish out by cutting arteries in the gill and throat area. Making a couple of slices back near the tail can help this process, too. With sharks, most knowledgeable anglers take this bleeding routine a step further by removing the internal organs and severing the head, tail and fins so that the trunk may drain completely of all bodily fluids. This is very important when it comes to minimising the faint ammonia taint sometimes encountered in shark flesh or ‘flake’.

The next important step is to pull down the temperature of the fish or shark carcass as quickly as possible. If you’ve just landed a rainbow trout from icy waters on a chilly autumn morning in the mountains, this is less of an issue than it might be for someone dealing with a Top End barra or a Cape York Spanish mackerel. In such warm environments, high carcass temperatures and the bacterial growth they promote are your worst enemies…but those are important topics we’ll address next month! Until then, stay safe and Tight Lines.

1

Top quality table fish like this lovely coral trout deserve to be handled with respect.

2

A kidney-slapper King George whiting. How it’s treated in the minutes and hours immediately after capture will spell the difference between an unforgettable meal and a mediocre (or worse!) one.

3

Few of us truly love cleaning fish, but it’s a necessary and essential part of the entire fishing process if we wish to enjoy the fruits of our sport.

4

How’s that for top rung fish handling? A charter vessel with its own on-board cryovac set-up. Nice one!

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