By Steve Moore
While it is a best practice to catch and release any fish, there are exceptions. For example, anglers should keep stocked trout since the wildlife services typically insert them into water that is angler accessible and cool in the spring fishing season but will warm up in the summer to the point of trout mortality. In the ocean, there is no need to release as long as the fish is of legal size since recreational anglers fish in the same waters as commercial operations targeting the same seafood.
Once you decide to harvest a fish, there are best practices anglers need to follow. Do not place the fish on a stringer. The stress of being alive and on a stringer causes the fish to produce hormones that impact the taste of the meat. In addition, the fish’s blood contributes to “fishy” tasting meat.
Here is my approach. If I intend to keep a fish, the first thing I do is assess the size. Even though a fish is legal, it may not be large enough. For example, the legal minimum for flounder in North Carolina is 15 inches. But, flounders are small at that size and, more importantly, do not breed until they reach 17 inches. I prefer to only keep flounders over 18 inches – give them a chance to reproduce and put on enough weight to make a meal. The legal limit for redfish (red drum) is based on a slot. The fish has to be between 18 and 27 inches to keep. Just like flounder, anything less than 22 inches is not worth harvesting. Each angler needs to assess the “keepability” of a fish.
Once I decide to harvest, I immediately bleed out the fish by snipping the gills with a pair of scissors. Not only does this remove the fishy taste blood contributes to the meat, but the fish dies without pain. The next step is to preserve the meat. As you can see in the video, I remove the organs, give the inside a quick wash, and insert an ice pack. The meat immediately cools down by placing the ice pack in the body cavity.
Enjoy your meal!
Republished with permission from Catch Guide Outdoors.