For those looking for the optimum taste and freshness of your catch, give these tips a try the next time you hit the ice — your tummy will most certainly thank you!
Fresh is Best
Harvesting some of your catch, especially those small in stature and most plentiful, is a conservationally minded practice. In fact, there's something about bringing a few fish home after a day of ice fishing that just seems...well, right.
But how you care for your catch from hook removal to home, can have an affect on the taste and condition that your dinner table fare will provide.
Although it is a common sight out on the ice, letting your catch freeze solid while lying at your feet can have a detrimental effect on its condition. Fish that freeze this way will often have burst muscle cells, due to expansion brought on from the extreme cold. Once they are thawed enough to fillet, the flesh will often lose some of its firmness or rigidity, which often leads to a less than perfect taste. And waiting for those fish to thaw can be a long process in itself!
Here are some great alternatives to freezing your fish on the ice.
Bucket or Cooler
Bringing a container onto the ice with you is a great way for keeping your catch fresh and lively. A large bucket (make sure it has sturdy handles) can provide an excellent on-ice livewell. Keep in mind that this type of container is best suited for panfish, due to their smaller size and shape.
Bring along a small margarine or yogurt container, as this will come in handy for getting the water from hole to bucket.
For those that are after walleye or pike, a portable cooler is a better option. Although bulky to carry for hut-less anglers, those that pull portables can easily tow one of these along. Plenty of room for larger fish and an increase in surface area for greater oxygen make these an ideal choice. And at the end of the day, drain the water from either container and cover your fish with a blanket of snow — they will be fresher than fresh when you get home.
The Stringer System
For this system to be at its utmost effectiveness, you will want an ice hole of at least 8 inches in diameter. Better yet, drill two holes together to form one large hole. (If going this route, please mark your spot when leaving so unwary anglers don't step into these potential traps.)
We've all used a stringer sometime in our fishing career, and although utilizing one on ice may seem slightly strange, the fundamentals are one and the same.
A long, thin rope is brought through the fish's gill and mouth, after which both loose ends are brought together. Fish can now be lowered down beneath the ice, where they will stay alive and fresh while you continue to fish.
It is imperative you tie off both loose ends on the surface of the ice, anchoring them down with a spike or other heavy object. We've all heard stories of the "one that got away," and an unsecured stringer is another way to add to this favorite fable.
For many that do secluded backwoods fishing, constructing a livewell on ice has become a tradition each outing. It is quite popular with trout anglers, but will work with any and all species.
The premise is simple — drill a large number of holes side by side, paying careful attention not to bore through the bottom of the ice. These livewells can take on the shape of a square, rectangle or circle. Once you have constructed your well, a small hole is chipped through the ice, allowing water to rush in from the bottom and fill the remaining space.
Fish keep well in these artificial enclosures, and will stay fresh and alive until days end. Fish you plan to release should not be kept in these wells, as the water temperature will become colder than normal, which may shock the fish and lead to death if let go.
Again, please ensure that you mark these obstacles clearly when packing up for the day.