Keeping your cool
  |  First Published: February 2014

Whether you’re on your annual pilgrimage or just heading out for the day, keeping things like drinks, food and your catch cold are important considerations. I have traditionally grabbed a bag of party ice and dumped it over my drinks in the cool box, then used the same box to keep the catch, but is this good enough?

There is a right way and a right type of ice for different situations, plus there is the modern version of plugging in a portable fridge/freezer to consider. To find out what the best options and the best methods are for different situations we took the time to chat to Tony Mee from Ithaca Iceworks, a company that produces a variety of ice products for different purposes. Let’s take a look at some common fishing, camping and boating situations and solve the icy issues.

Keeping the catch

The first step to keeping your catch fresh is actually in the treatment of the fish on capture. To achieve the very best results for the table you have to ensure that the fish is killed quickly and humanely and then placed in an appropriate storage device that keeps the fish fresh and slows or halts the breakdown of the flesh and the flourishing of bacteria.

So what is the best way to despatch a fish?

There are two ways that are currently considered the ‘best’ ways to despatch fish. The first is with a sharp knock to the brain with a priest or fish bat. This kills the fish’s brain instantly. The other way is with an Iki Jime spike, essentially a brain spike that again kills the fish instantly.

By killing the fish instantly you stop stress from building up in the fish and a general toughening of the flesh.

After the despatching of the fish, the flesh needs to be cooled, and quickly. The best option is an ice slurry as the water and ice mix completely wraps around the fish and cools it very quickly. However this is not always available so packing them in party ice comes a close second.

It’s also important, if you can’t chill the fish quickly, to remove internal organs as they quickly deteriorate and spoil the flesh. In fact any time you are legally allowed to remove the internals, do so at your earliest convenience as most of the problems start in this area.

A quick summary: despatch humanely immediately, remove internal organs and chill as quickly as possible. Then all you need do is enjoy some of the best fish in the world that you have caught.

Day tripping

Most day trips involve keeping drinks and food cool, while also requiring your catch to be cooled down to preserve its eating qualities. Most go without ice, however adding it to your day’s list of things to remember will make everything just that little better. I rarely go out fishing these days without some ice in a cool box and/or fish bag.

The simplest way to deal with a day trip is to prepare two cool boxes, or a cool box and a fish bag. Tony suggested that anglers should avoid cooling down food and drinks in a container used for keeping fish as the possibility of cross contamination is real. So let’s assume we are taking a cool box and a fish bag.

The best ice in this situation is party ice as it has a list of advantages that make it ideal. Firstly it will cool your drinks quickly as you can literally wrap your drinks in party ice. Basically more ice surface is touching the drinks and therefore it cools quicker. Party ice is also great in the fish bag or bin as it creates the perfect ice slurry (a mix of saltwater and ice) or can be placed inside the gut cavity of kept fish and wrapped all around the fish to cool it quickly.

In summary, day-trippers should look to be using 2 storage devices (an esky or a smaller powered fridge for food) and party ice (keeping fish in the best condition) for ideal results.

Weekend camping

The traditional Aussie weekend camping trip is a great institution and a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. Being that these trips generally take in 2 nights and 2 full days, the need to keep things cold becomes even more important than on a day trip. Depending on the size of the crew, food requirements are magnified and keeping steak, chicken, pork, ham and other meats cold is essential. The same applies for products like milk, butter/margarine, yogurt and other perishables. All of these products do not take long to spoil and no one wants to get seriously ill from eating dodgy food.

Then you add to the above the need to keep caught fish cool until you can get them home and the ice requirements take on a very important part of any trip planning. Again this leads to 2 storage devices.

There are two effective ways to keep things cool over a weekend. The first is to use block ice and layer the bottom of the cool bin with it, then place party ice on top of that. The party ice allows things to be cooled quickly, while the block ice keeps things cool for longer. Both storage devices would do well with this style of set up.

For a more effective method it is suggested that you use dry ice on the bottom of the esky, then party ice still in its bag and layer your cool box as per the diagram hereabout. This method will allow you to keep everything, including the party ice, pretty well solid until it’s time to go home. The beauty of this system is that a 5kg dry ice block will last for around 48 hours, and the excess party ice can be transferred over to your fish bag if you’re lucky enough to catch a fish or two to take home – brilliant system!

Week long fishing tour

In Australia, especially in our northern or inland regions, a week-long trip presents all sorts of perishable food problems. While a weekend trip will need careful planning, a week-long trip is 3-4 times longer and requires at least double the thought and planning to pull it off successfully. Sure we can all eat out of cans and use powdered milk, but seriously, who really wants to unless you have to?

Luckily there are strategies to maintain a cool food supply and even store fish properly. At the heart of the system is the use of dry ice. Dry ice in 10kg blocks will last around 4 days in a modern cool box. If your main cool box is packed with dry ice on the bottom, then frozen foods (in their own airtight containers), then party ice, then drinks and perishables, you will find your cool box maintains itself for a long time.

As the dry ice evaporates off, the party ice (which was kept frozen by the -78ºC dry ice) takes over the cooling job. Another option is to take several cool boxes for food and a further cool box for fish to take home. The preparation of the two food cool boxes will allow for a camp of 5 days to operate without fear of food spoiling and still allow you to take home a fish or two for a feed as the party ice can be used in the fish box when needed.


These days many anglers make use of portable fridges that have an ability to also act as a freezer. Clearly this is one of the best ways to deal with keeping food, drinks and your catch cold, but they do have limitations.

I am a big fan of a portable fridge for keeping food cool when and if I have the space. By this I mean most of these units are reasonably large (especially if you are talking a week-long sojourn) and you will need some way to power them. I have tried several different forms of power supply and all work; it’s simply a matter of how much hardware you want to take away.

Car-based camping is ideal for a portable fridge. You can plug it into the car and it can all be as simple as that (assuming your car’s battery set up is capable of course). Other options include gas powered fridges, offsite power from batteries and generators and the growing trend to keep everything running with the aid of solar power, either by direct feed (a little unreliable!) or by keeping the power feed batteries charged.

The advantages of a fridge/freezer are obvious. No water, no mess and everything kept at the perfect temperature. The disadvantages include space, hardware and convenience.

From day trips, through to weekenders and to the yearly week away with mates or the family, a portable fridge is a fantastic option and one that may just be the best option for you. It is my preferred option when I can mange the logistics of it as it’s just like being at home.

Get cool

Hopefully the above information will help you to choose the right cooling options for your needs and ensure your food and fish are kept in the best possible condition, regardless of your trip details. Good luck keeping your cool over Easter.

• This article was written with the help of Tony Mee from Ithaca Iceworks. Thanks again to the team at Ithaca Iceworks for their help with some information. Contact them on 07 3348 7855 or visit their store at 121 Gosport St, Hemmant for all your ice needs.

Fact Box

Layer the cool box

One of the real ice breakers of any cool box is air. When packing for your trip with the intention of keeping your cool box cold for the longest possible time the best thing to do is layer the box and keep air space to an absolute minimum. The basic premise behind this is that air is harder for the ice to cool down and harder for the ice to keep cool in comparison to more solid items like fluids and food. Packing out your cool box with paper is a good idea, however, as the wet ice melts the paper can get very soggy and turn into a giant mess. This little trick will add around a day to your ice life.

Water in the tub is also a problem as nothing makes ice melt quicker than water immersion. The easiest solution is to drain the water away as you go, at least once a day. Water, simply by the state it is in, has to be warmer than the ice, so get rid of it when you can. One trick is to keep this ice-cold water in a separate tub and stick some drinks into it to cool them down. It should stay cool for a few hours and get your drinks nice and cold. A better option than just letting it drain into the soil or sand.

Organisation of your cool box is also one of the keys for good performance. The better organised the box is, the fewer times you open the lid and the less time you waste ferreting around the cool box for what you want. The tip is to place the products that need the least cooling (deli meats/dairy products) up top and the frozen products (steaks/pre-made pastas) right down the bottom.

And lastly, keep your cool box in a cool place, even if you have to make some shade for it. Direct sun impacts dramatically on the life of any ice in any cool box.

With these simple tips you can make any ice last just that bit longer, but it does take a little bit of care and attention.

Fact box

What is…

Dry Ice?

Dry ice is basically frozen carbon dioxide that has a lower temperature than ice made from water. Dry ice is provided to customers at around -78°C. The advantages are that dry ice does not melt as such, rather it turns into gaseous carbon dioxide, and it will keep food and drinks colder for longer. Dry ice will also keep party ice and block ice frozen, simply because of the temperature differentiation. The disadvantages include the problem with dry ice contacting food directly, causing the food to cold ‘burn’ and the fact that you should never touch it directly, otherwise you risk frostbite. These two problems are solved by the dry ice usually being supplied wrapped in protective butcher’s paper – usually 2 sheets.

The other problem to be aware of is the need to pack all your food in airtight containers when using dry ice. As dry ice melts, CO2 is released and this gas can permeate into fruits and food. This does not affect the safety of the food, but rather gives the food a tangy flavour – much like carbonated water.

Party Ice?

Party ice is the most common of ices used by anglers and travellers. Sometimes (mostly incorrectly) referred to as crushed ice, party ice these days is commonly formed into hollow tubes. The advantages of party ice include that the ice can be worked into all the nooks and crannies to minimise air space, the ice can wrap around food, drinks and fish and provide a more even cooling surface, and that party ice is great for making an ice slurry with saltwater. The disadvantages are that party ice is the quickest product to melt and has a very short use life and when it does melt, your cool box fills with water that gets into everything.

Block Ice?

Block ice sums up what it is perfectly – it’s a big block of ice. Block ice can come in a variety of sizes, however commercial block ice generally comes in 2-10kg blocks. The advantages of block ice are that it lasts a lot longer than party ice and the melted water is much easier to manage, the shape generally allows for easier packing in a cool box and it is great for extended trips.

Disadvantages are that the block is big and cumbersome requiring a minimum size cool box, block ice is not fantastic for cooling down fish quickly as it does not wrap around or enclose the fish, and when it melts you still have the problem of melted water getting into everything (although this is easily managed).

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