Australians consider having the opportunity to catch our own fresh seafood a right, but many of us forget to treat the fish well when we catch it. The basic technique of putting fish on ice to maintain their freshness is the simplest way to ensure your seafood, once caught, remains fresh.
But ice in eskies or livewells doesn’t always last long and if there is lots of air in the esky, the ice will melt very quickly as it tries to cool down the air. This leaves you with a couple of solutions: fill the esky completely with ice, which can be expensive, or get a Cooly Bag.
The Cooly Bag is from New Zealand and is a really simple and effective tool for keeping fish on ice all day. Independent testing has shown that it took 44 hours to defrost a bag of party ice in an esky, whereas in a Cooly Bag the same size bag took 74 hours to defrost. My first test of the Cooly Bag found that a bag of party ice lasted in the Queensland sun for the entire day with leftover ice in the bag the following morning. That means for an average fishing trip of four hours, the ice barely melts.
All Cooly Bags have a zip on three sides and open flat for easy cleaning and stacking. The Cooly Bag I have is the Snapper size and it’s big enough to fit all fish under about 10kg. For most of us that means you’ll fit a good feed of flatties or bream, a great feed of whiting or half a dozen or so tailor or salmon. For the estuary and inshore reef angler the Snapper size is perfect. But if you’re chasing larger fish, the manufacturers, Penguin Sea and Surf Ltd, make a range of Cooly Bags to cater almost all fishing applications.
I am generally a small boat angler and small boats are notorious for not having enough space. If you have to lug in and store an esky to keep a feed of fish, more of this precious space is lost. The Cooly Bag solves this problem because it can be easily stowed in just about any hatch. Because it doesn’t have rigid sides, the Cooly Bag can be manoeuvred into pretty tight spaces without affecting its insulating properties.
I also liked the ease of opening and closing the Cooly Bag. The oversized zipper and the three-sided approach means you can open up the entire Cooly Bag or you can just open up enough of the zipper to pour in some ice or pop in a fish or two. There are also two zipper toggles that allow you to open up an access hole in the zipper wherever it’s convenient for you.
The carry handles are strong and comfortable and allow you to grab and go very easily. Even when full of ice and a few fish, the Cooly Bag is easy to take from the boat to the cleaning table.
The first time we used the Cooly Bag we headed out for a flathead and grabbed some drinks and sandwiches with the ice at the servo. Being the bright sparks that we are, we decided to put the ice in the Bag and store our drinks and sandwiches in there too until we caught a fish or two. We were lucky enough to catch a good feed of flatties that day. The fish replaced the food and drinks and it was a real pleasure to eat fresh sandwiches and have cool drinks all the while knowing we were keeping our catch on ice and in great condition.
You may be able to do this with as esky too, but it was very easy to load up the Cooly Bag with ice, pop in the food and drinks and then go fishing. Since then it has been to a few BBQs as a drinks container and is easy to move around with – not nearly as impressive as an esky at an Aussie BBQ, but very easy and effective.
The Cooly Bag is also easy to clean. Simply unzip the entire zipper, lay it out flat and wash it with whatever you want. Soapy water does wonders and after a day hanging on the line, the Cooly Bag doesn’t hold any lingering fishy smells. I do, however, recommend cleaning immediately after use, just like you do your boat or your rods and reels.
One final thing that I found preferable was that only one bag of ice was needed for the Cooly Bag to work effectively. It’s fantastic and saves you money.
I really like the Cooly Bag, but when the ice does melt it will leak through the zipper. That’s not such a problem in the boat, but it can be an issue when you take the Cooly Bag from the boat to the car to get home. The design does incorporate a couple of tongues on each corner to trap water and minimise this problem, but it does exist so be proactive. I have a protective mat in the back of my car so I face no real problem.
I’d also be careful of leaving the bag out in direct sunlight. In the heat of summer you can’t expect the Cooly Bag to be a peak performer, so cover it over with a towel or stick it below decks for the best performance. It’s the same with an esky in the sun – the drinks never stay as cold!
The Cooly Bag can be ordered from the internet by logging onto www.penguindirect.com.au. They will process your order and dispatch a bag to your door. The Snapper model sells for NZ$96, which roughly equates to $80 Australian plus postage. That’s not too bad in my books. While your surfing around their website you’ll see the range of cooling and protective bags they have developed and I am sure there are more products that will interest anglers (I’ve just ordered their Rod Carrier!).
I know it’s not an Australian product, but it’s a fantastic idea that really works for me and my fishing. Check them out and make up your own mind because I am sold on how good the Snapper Cooly Bag is for my fishing.Reads: 2003