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Storing Fish On Kayak

Mark Armstrong
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Ah, the thrill of the catch!

But what happens next?

You don’t want your fresh fish to go to waste, especially after a long and successful kayak fishing trip!

Don’t worry, we’ve got the secret to keeping your catch fresh and ready to be enjoyed later.

To answer some of your questions, we’ve put together a short guide on the best kayak fish storage options available to you. So you can decide which way might suit you best.

Storing Fish On Kayak - Pinterest ImagePin

Which Fish Should I Keep Or (Release)?

Depending on where you fish, the fish you keep or release may not be up to you. This is because some bodies of water are subject to restrictions on the type or size of fish that you can keep.

In some places, you may only be allowed to keep a particular species of fish at certain times of the year. Pacific salmon, for example, is often subject to restrictions, based on location and the time of year.

It is illegal to catch some species of fish. You’re not allowed to fish for Atlantic salmon in US waters at all, not even for catch and release. Whiting, on the other hand, can be caught in unlimited numbers all year round by recreational anglers, with no minimum size requirements to keep.

Freshwater fishing rules are often determined at a local or state level and will often vary depending on the particular body of water or section of a river, for example.

Restrictions for catching fish to keep may be because of pollution in the water, as it can sometimes be dangerous to eat freshwater fish. Usually, if a body of water is known to contain chemical pollutants, there will be warning signs posted around it.

You may also find that there are limits on the size of fish you can catch. This rule can often apply to both freshwater and saltwater species. There might also be restrictions on the number of fish you can keep possession of.

When you purchase your fishing license for either saltwater or freshwater fishing, or both, you should be able to get information on the numbers, types, and sizes of fish you can catch in your area.

The reason for restrictions on keeping fish is for conservation. If everybody who fished kept every fish they caught, eventually the fish populations would start to dwindle. And this could mean some fish would become extinct, so there would be no fish for future anglers to catch.

Do I Need To Keep The Fish Alive Or Keep Them Cool?

Generally, the amount of space you have on your kayak and the size of fish you want to catch will probably determine whether you keep them alive or kill them first.

Keep Your Catch Alive

If you catch small fish and have a large enough livewell, you could keep the fish alive on your deck. But you will probably need to make sure there’s enough oxygen in the water to support the number and size of fish you have.

You could also keep fish alive by keeping them in the water attached to your kayak, either with a stringer or a fishing net basket.

This can let you keep the fish alive for longer while you continue to fish. You don’t need to oxygenate the water for a stringer or a fishing basket, as the water they’re in is already their natural habitat.

Keep Your Catch Cool

If you don’t want to keep the fish alive, you can kill them first before you store them.

The most humane way to kill a fish is to kill it quickly by stunning. This means the fish is killed immediately by a hard blow to the head just above the eyes. This should render the fish unconscious.

Alternatively, you could kill the fish by spiking it with a sharp tool, such as an ice pick, through the brain. This should also kill the fish immediately.

In most locations, you’re often not allowed to clean the fish while you’re on the water. You will usually have to wait until you’re home or back at your camp. So you should store the fish whole.

> How to store fresh fish (before and after you get home)

If you choose to kill the fish before you store it on your kayak, it can be best to keep it on ice, either in a cooler bag or box. There should be enough ice in your cooler to surround the fish you catch.

It can be a good idea to use a cooler with a drain so that you can open the drain plug to allow water to run out. This can help to keep your catch fresher and can help to preserve the flavor, as water can affect the flavor of the meat.

You can usually keep fish on ice in your cooler for one or two days. 24 hours is probably the safest bet.

Ways To Store Caught Fish On A Kayak

In A Livewell

Livewells can be useful if you have a large kayak and a battery on board. You may find that most livewells that are designed for use on a kayak are too small to hold a lot of fish. This is generally because most of the kayak live wells are made for storing live bait, such as minnows.

If the fish you catch are small, a livewell could be a good option to keep the fish alive until you reach home or your basecamp. However, if you plan to catch large fish or are looking for that prize catch to take home, a kayak-sized livewell probably won’t be sufficient.

Most livewells are designed with either external or internal oxygenators, which will usually require a separate battery (which you’ll also need storage space for). This helps keep a supply of oxygen running through the water in the insulated cooler, which keeps the fish alive. The temperature can be kept cool from the insulated walls of the live well.

It’s best not to open the lid of a livewell too often, especially if you’re fishing in warm temperatures, as this can increase the temperature of the water in the live well. Opening the lid can also mean there’s a higher chance of you losing some of your catch if they decide to jump back into the lake.


  • May be too big for some kayaks
  • Requires a battery/electricity
  • Keeps fish alive


  • Only for small fish

On Ice In A Cooler

Kayak coolers can be great for storing your fresh catch on a kayak, as they tend to have a pretty useful capacity. Most sit-on-top fishing kayaks will usually have room for a cooler in the rear tank well. However, you may have to forget about taking your fishing crate to make room for it, unless you have a large kayak.

To store fish in a cooler, you will need to fill the cooler with ice prior to heading off on your fishing trip. You can keep a whole fish on ice for up to a day before cleaning it.

Crushed ice can be best for keeping your fish fresh, as it can get between the fish more easily. You’ll usually need around two pounds of crushed ice per fish you catch.

There are also good kayak cooler seat options.


  • Keeps whole fish fresh for up to a day
  • Easy to store on sit-on-top kayaks
  • Good capacity


  • Not for sit-inside kayaks

In A Fish Bag

There are a few products out there that are designed specifically for storing caught fish on a kayak. These fish bags are often made to suit the shape and available storage space on a kayak, so they can be ideal solutions for storing your catch on a kayak angling trip.

Fish bags for kayaks are usually designed to fit around the shape of your kayak. For example, on top of your deck or in a storage well. However, because they’re not rigid, you might want to be careful not to store anything on top of the bag or else you could crush the contents.

Some fish packs that are crafted to sit on top of your deck often have tie-down points so you can secure the bag to points on your deck or with bungees. These types of bags can be useful for both sit-inside fishing yaks and sit-on-top fishing kayaks. They don’t require a tank well and can be strapped down on the bow of a sit-inside kayak.

Fish bags are designed like kayak cooler bags, so they’re usually insulated. But you should still keep your catch stored on ice inside the bag.

> The best fishing backpacks and bags


  • Ideal for sit-inside kayaks and sit-on-tops
  • Versatile
  • Attaches to the deck


  • Soft-sided shell

In A Fishing Basket

Fish basket and fishPin

If you want to keep your fish alive until you get back to the dock, a fishing basket or net can be a useful tool. This can let you store your fish in the water beside your kayak. The net or basket can be attached to your kayak, so you can paddle and continue to fish without the need to hold the net.

This can be a good way of storing fish, as you don’t have to sacrifice storage space on your kayak to keep your fish. It also lets you keep the fish alive till you reach the shore, so the fish will be fresher for longer.

A downside of this, however, is that you may attract other fish or animals that might want what you’re towing. This might be more of an issue in areas where there are larger predators in the water, such as sharks, alligators, or bears.

Fish might also try to jump out, depending on the shape and depth of your fishing net or basket.


  • Keeps fish alive
  • Doesn’t take up space on your kayak
  • No oxygenator required


  • Might lose fish
  • Could attract predators

On A Stringer

Stringer Of Huge Slab CrappiesPin

Storing your catch on a stringer is similar to storing them in a fish basket or net that’s towed behind your kayak. This lets you keep your catch alive until you head back to shore, so you can spend more time fishing.

A stringer is basically a line, such as a rope or a chain, with several hooks attached. One end of the line is attached to your kayak and the end with the hooks is in the water.

This can let you catch and store multiple fish of various sizes, as you’re not limited for space. Your only limitations will be the size of your stringer and the possession limits where you’re fishing. This can make a stringer a good choice for both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks, as it doesn’t take up any space on your deck.

When you catch a fish, you can attach it to one of the hooks and place it back in the water, knowing your rope is securely attached to your kayak. This means your hands are free to continue fishing or paddling to your next honey hole. 

When attaching your fish to the hook on the stringer, pass the sharp end of the hook through the fish’s mouth and out through the bottom lip. Avoid putting the hook through the gills, as this can cause the fish to have difficulty breathing, which could mean you kill your fish.

There are some downsides to using a stringer, just like there are with the fishing net or basket. For example, you could lose your fish to a predator, such as a larger fish or alligator. Sharks or dolphins may find your catch appealing if you’re fishing in saltwater environments.

Depending on the location, it may be dangerous to use a stringer if you’re fishing in alligator or shark habitats.


  • Can hold multiple fish
  • Keeps fish fresh and alive
  • Ideal for all types of fishing kayaks


  • Could attract predators


Hopefully you’ve discovered some of the best ways to store fish on your kayak, whether you want to keep them alive till you land or not.

Think about the amount of space you have on your kayak and the type of fish you want to catch and keep. It can be a good idea to check the regulations in your area so that you know the possession limits for your target species before you launch.

Let us know what you think. And if you have a better way to store fish on a kayak, we’d love to know about it. 

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