Looking after your fish post catch will not only help you make the most of the fish's eating quality. But will improve your fish photos, by avoiding the unnecessary cutthroats or discoloured fish.
So I try to not let too many things bother me in regards to what other fisho’s do. Unless I see someone doing something dangerous or actually breaking fisheries rules. I tend to just let them be. Even if they are doing something that really bothers me. I am all about trying to educate people, on good and sustainable fishing practices. After all, that is the main motivation to start writing these articles. Don’t worry I’ve seen some pretty average things down the filleting tables when it comes to fish care. From monster Eight Bar Cods that have never seen an esky, and spent their day rotting in the sun. Tuna that end up in the bin because their fillet looks like it came from a cow. Even a few people trying to fillet fish that are somehow still alive. But most of the time I don't bother saying anything. A lot of people have a real issue with a bit of constructive criticism. Fishing is meant to be fun, but, so many people take it way too seriously. All you need to do is watch a busy boat ramp, that’s a high-pressure environment if there ever was one. A lot of people also just assume because I’m a charter operator, I've got something against them from the onset, and have their backs up before I even say anything. But if you know me, you know It's definitely not the case. But you can understand it. Some people invest a huge amount of money to go fishing. Boats, gear, time. So this in turn puts the pressure on for them to get a good return from their investment. But this brings me to the main point of this story. Once you have spent all the money, put in the time and effort and got the reward of quality fish. A tiny bit more effort, know-how and in some cases, just ice. And your reward can be so much better.
People can be quite opinionated on the eating quality of different species of fish. With some only after particular species and quick to call most others “shit fish”. Where the reality is, unless you are looking after your catch properly, you may as well be keeping those so-called “shit fish”. On that too, the term “shit fish” has got to be my most hated bit of fishing slang out there. It annoys me how many people and young kids are keen to describe a fish they have never even tried in this way. I don’t want to sound too delicate here. But it just shows to me, a lack of what should be I guess, respect. For not only the fish but the opportunity to catch it. This may sound a bit odd, but it’s just the way I feel. But anyway back on the subject. In a lot of cases, post catch care of your fish will make a bigger difference to its eating quality than what type of fish it is. And sometimes it’s not that people don’t care. It’s just that they just don know, or think they know. One of the number one comments I get from my videos is “why don’t you bleed your fish”. Usually written in a much more passive-aggressive way. And giving them a simple reply to explain, is not so easy. Now at least I can just link this story.
So how should you look after your fish? Well like I have said before, I’m no expert. And the reason I say this? Well, all you need to do is google the full Ikijime process to see. If you want to call yourself an expert, you will require a degree in fish surgery. But follow this guide and at least you will be 90% of the way there. So the process is slightly different for different species. Despite the first step being, kill the fish (yes gonna use the word kill. But if you get questioned by anyone looking undernourished or with dreadlocks, it was humanly dispatched). But anyway this should be done as soon as possible with a brain spike. But there is an exception to this rule too. Most fish if killed correctly will maintain good colours. But there are a few fish that are at their photographic best while alive. These include a few Cod such as Rankins and Eight Bar who will lose their distinctive marking after death. And Dolphinfish always look their best straight out of the water. So for any of these if you want a snap, get one quickly and then start getting the fish sorted out as soon as possible.
So the brain spike or Ikijime is always the first thing done to kill the fish. But Ikijime is not actually just a brain spike. It is a full process. From Japan using a Tagaki (not a spike). It involves several cuts wires/rods, flushing and like I said a degree in fish surgery. Unless you are processing uber expensive and bloody fish like Tuna for sale. I don’t see the need for this. Like I said, what we do gets us 90% of the way there. So other than quickly and humanly killing the fish, a brain spike does several things. It stops the stressed mussels using up adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and they relax preventing the buildup of lattice acid and ammonia in the flesh. It also helps the blood in the flesh retract to the gut cavity and spinal column. Now for most Demersal fish, I don't think any other processing is required if this is done properly. We have done side by side tests with fish that have been just spiked, spiked and bled, or just bled. And there is no noticeable difference between the just spiked, and spiked bled fish. While there was actually noticeable more colour or blood in the fish that was just bled and left to die. I also believe spiking does help the blood move to the gut and spine. Because if we nick or pierce the spine on fish while we fillet, they bleed a lot. So if you want to learn how to correctly spike a fish just jump on the tube. I show it in most of my videos but have not done one really describing the process as yet. For most demersal's, you can find a soft spot just behind and up from the eye. The spike should be driven in on an angle to the centre of the head between or just behind the eyes. You want to destroy the brain or sever the spine. So a bit of twisting around can help. If done correctly the fish will kick, usually, its mouth will open and you will see a twitch or roll in the eyes before it relaxes. The fish should then be limp and the colours should settle. On some pelagic fish, it can be easier to go in from the top of the head but aim for the same spot.
So like I said. For most Demersal fish this is enough in my opinion, and bleeding will not achieve too much. But if you still want to, or it’s a Trevally, Cobia or another pelagic fish. You will need to bleed it. This is still done after spiking the fish. The benefits of correctly killing the fish first, far outweigh any bleeding benefit of letting the thing bleed out alive. So first to correctly bleed a fish, there is absolutely no need to go completely cutting the fishes throat. Not only does it make the fish look terrible for photos, but It also doesn't actually do that much. The main arteries of a fish do not run along the front bottom edge of the fishes throat where most people cut it. And if you do cut the bottom of the gills this way, the surrounding flesh will help it to clot and not bleed well. To bleed most fish all you need is a small nick in the right spot. Open the gills up, and on the inside top or bottom (or both) edge give it a small cut where the gill meets the fish. You will know when done correctly because in most cases blood will almost squirt out. I tend to get better results from cutting at the top. But if you study the circulatory system of a fish, it does show blood flows from the heart into the bottom of the gills, then out the top into the brain, organs and flesh. So you would think cutting at the bottom would allow the heart to pump the blood out. But as we have brain spiked the fish first, I will assume the heart is not beating or at least pumping blood well. So by cutting at the top it is closer to the organs of the fish where the pressure would have built up after spiking the fish and the blood retracting into them. But as long as you see good blood flow that is enough. Ideally, you would then flush this area with running water to help clear the blood and stop it from clotting. We normally just put it upright in a bucket of water. You would think fish blood would still clot well underwater but it seems to still work. For tuna, we also make a cut about an inch or two behind the dorsal fins in the side of the fish. So about at the widest part of the fish. They have a main artery that runs along the outside edge of the fish just below the surface. This is done in conjunction with spiking and gill bleeding and we have seen a marked reduction in tuna bloodline since we have started doing this.
Now we are at what has to be my biggest beef with some other peoples fish care. You have spent all the money on the boat and gear. Please just spend a tiny bit more and make sure you have enough ice. I get really tired of esky's full of quality fish rocking up at the filleting tables that look half cooked. Big emperors that are more white than red. And fish that already smell. You know why they smell, because they are rotting! Fish should not smell and they don’t if they are kept cold. Especially with deep dropping becoming so popular now. If you plan to catch big fish, make sure you can store and look after big fish. A couple of frozen bottles in the esky with any half-decent sized fish will not do a thing. Either make sure your fish are completely packed in ice or ideally use an ice slurry. Get your fish cooled down as quickly as possible. If it needs bleeding give it just a minute or so then strait in the esky. You want to make a slurry of 2:1 ice and saltwater. It needs to be enough to submerge the entire fish. If you do want to use frozen bottles or bricks from ice cream containers, make them with saltwater, and make lots of them. They will work in a slurry but won’t do much (even lots of them) just in the esky with the fish. To get the fish temp down they need to be in direct full contact with the ice or water, so the slurry works best. Also, if you can keep your hand in your ice slurry for more than a few moments it’s not cold enough. The fish bags they have now work well too, especially for larger or long fish that won’t fit in most esky's. But they also need a lot of ice. If you don't want to, or are unable to use a slurry, and just pack your fish with ice. Make sure the fish are not hard against each other and have ice between them. Those nice white patches on your red's or discolouring of other fish are from where the fish are sitting on each other, or sitting on the warm side of the esky. Even in a slurry, if it's calm give the fish a bit of a stir around every now and then to make sure none are hard up against each other.
So it’s not that hard, and it makes a big difference, So make the most of our amazing recourse and look after your fish. Experience the full potential of any quality fish you are lucky enough to bag. Not only that, but it will benefit your fish photos, and hopefully, stop me from having to bite my tongue at the filleting tables.