How Long Can You Keep Fish After Catching?

Fish is delicious seafood full of health benefits, and it is very delicate when it comes to keeping a fish after catching it. Because one cannot purchase fresh fish every day, there are some “good practices” you should know about.

 The duration of keeping fish after catching varies considerably based on temperature and methods. Fish can spoil, if treated inappropriately, within 12 hours. On average, one can store a fish in the refrigerator for 2-4 days.

Since fish is a perishable item, there are several ways to keep a fish fresh for a more extended period. Different types of fish have varying “storage lives.” For instance, less oily fish like trout, salmon, tuna, and bass can stay fresh for up to five days, whereas more oily fish such as mackerel and sardines, etc., should be used within three days. Thus, you should be cautious and knowledgeable when it comes to keeping fish fresh after catching. 

This article will discuss various aspects of keeping fish, with the right methods, to prolong its freshness.

Type of FishHow long can you keep it after catching?
Less Oily (trout, salmon, tuna, bass)Up to five days.
More Oily (mackerel, sardines, bluefish)Up to three days.

How Long Do Fish Stay Good After Catching?

People keep fish after catching for two main reasons, domestic use or commercial use. As per FDA recommendations, fresh fish can only be stored for two days. Airtight packing in a tight wrap can prolong its life by freezing it. Whenever you want to eat fish in your upcoming evening dinner, you can thaw the frozen fish and cook an enjoyable meal for your family.

Fish can perish in as little time as 6 hours if not treated properly. To determine how long fish stays good after catching, we must consider the following points:

  • Weather conditions (Temperature, Moisture, etc.).
  • Type of Fish (More oily or less oily).
  • Treatment (Wrapping, Refrigeration).

If the situations/conditions above-mentioned are handled correctly, fish can stay good for 3-4 days, on average, after catching it.

How Long Can You Wait to Clean Fish?


Ideally, clean your fish as soon as possible. Imagine coming home after a long day of fishing; you want to sit down and relax, but first, you have to clean your caught fish. The idea itself can be tiresome; thus, people tend to delay the cleaning process. Nonetheless, fish will stay fresh for even a more extended period if you clean it quickly and correctly. The longest you can wait to clean a fish is 24 hours, depending on your storage.

The rule of thumb for an average delay to clean fish is 2-6 hours. This is because fish are spoiled quickly, and who would want an excellent catch to go bad? It would be best if you got it over with soon, or have someone to help to clean it for you. Fish will not stay good for too long.

If you follow the right protocols of keeping fish after catching, the cleaning standard operating procedure (SOP) shall vary. It will depend a lot on your storage, whether you have taken good care of keeping your catches or not. To conclude, it’s recommended not to wait for more than two days to clean the fish.

How Can You Tell if Fish is Spoiled?

If you wait too long to clean your catch or do not keep fish properly after catching, fish will spoil. Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend the signs of spoiled fish. One can tell if fish is contaminated mainly by the smell. Fish develop bad smell quickly – more quickly than many other types of seafood.

Ever heard the proverb “Smells Fishy?” Well, it is because of the distinct odors fish carry. This tasty seafood is smelly by nature and slimy too. One can quickly determine when the smell is too much to bear, declaring that fish is spoiled.

Common features of a spoiled fish:

  • Fishy smell
  • Thick and Slippery coating
  • Milky color
  • Slimy flesh
  • Smell of ammonia

Best Ways to Keep Fish Fresh After Catching

The easiest way, and a rule of thumb, is to put your catch on ice. It is the best way to keep fish fresh after catching. Fish meat must be cooled right after cleaning it, which will keep it delicious and firm. You can use an insulated cooler and leave the tiny drain unbuttoned, which will drain the melted water from the ice.

Once you have brought your catch home, you should follow the following five steps.

(Note: combining a mixture of these tips is the best way to keep your fish fresh right.)

  1. Wash the fish cold, dry hot (you should wash the catch with cold water, and then dry it with a hot towel).
  2. Wrap the fish in plastic, aluminum foil, or waxed paper and put it inside the refrigerator.
  3. If you want to keep fish in the best condition for the most prolonged period, freeze it. The freshness will stay from 3 to 12 months if frozen accurately.
  4. You can use an airtight container to block the smell of fish on other items in your freezer or the other way around.
  5. You can also DIY with a solid block of ice (put water into the fish storing container, it will freeze and make a concrete block of ice around your catch).

How Long Can Fresh Caught Fish Stay Out?

Undoubtedly, freshly caught fish is always better than purchasing fish from a shop. Still, you should keep the fish on ice or as cold as possible, preferably at a surface of zero degrees, even if you want to cook it within hours. Fish caught fresh cannot stay out for long because fish is delicate and perishable seafood that develops a strong smell and gets spoiled quickly.

The answer to how long a fresh-caught fish can stay out depends mainly on the weather conditions on that particular fishing day. A calculated estimate says a temperature of 25 degrees will allow up to five hours for a fresh fish to stay out and stay fresh.

How Long Can Cooked Fish Stay Out?

The evening after a long fishing day is well spent cooking the catch of your day. Everyone wants to eat the result of his or her tiresome but adventurous day. However, if you cannot finish your dinner, and some cooked fish is left, bear in mind, a fish cannot stay out for long after cooking. 

If your room temperature is above 40°F, bacteria will start growing on your cooked fish quickly, and they will not be edible or safe to eat. You should not leave cooked fish out for more than two hours after cooking.

How Long Does Fish Last in the Fridge?

It depends heavily upon the “treatment for freshness” of your fish in the fridge. Many people believe that it should not stay in the refrigerator for more than one day. This is a fluid question, and every research has a different answer. However, it is safe to assume that most fish can last two days in the fridge.

For more in-depth information about this check out this article: How Long Does Fresh Fish Last in the Fridge?

How Long Can You Keep Fish After Cooking?

Keeping cooked fish at room temperature will be harmful to your seafood’s health; hence it is commonly known as the Danger Zone. To avoid this danger zone, you should keep fish in the refrigerator after cooking. Keep it at a temperature below zero (freezing temperature) to prevent decay and any “off-smells.” After cooking, your fish will remain edible and fresh for two to three days.

How Long Can You Keep Ungutted Fish On Ice?

There is a tendency of ungutted fish going bad faster than gutted fish. It would help if you had the fish packed with ice in its belly. It principally stays “unspoiled” for 24-48 hours.

Pro tip: Gut your fish as quickly as you can.

If you want to keep your catch ungutted for a more extended period, you should follow the following essential steps:

  1. Bleed the ungutted fish.
  2. Store the fish on ice.
  3. Keep the fish cool (or move it inside the refrigerator).
  4. Do not delay gutting the fish for more than 48 hours.

Final Thoughts – How Long Can You Keep Fish After Catching?

Fishing is many people’s favorite hobby on the weekend—what better end to a week than catching your trophy fish. After catching your fish, you want to keep it fresh, so if you follow the explanations provided in this article, you’ll be able to keep your fish fresh and edible after catching. Happy fishing!

Aaron Warner

Aaron Warner is an avid angler with over 15 years of experience. He has participated and won fishing tournaments all over the country and enjoys fishing for bass, trout, walleye and other species.

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