Fishing in Hot Weather? How Much Ice is Too Much Ice?

From the April 15-17, 2011 Florida Sportsman Big Bend Fishing4Cast, by Tommy Thompson

With the temperatures getting close to the low ‘90s over the past weekend, it’s time for anglers to start thinking about ice. Not ice as a result of weather, but ice to protect and preserve the fish you catch. Did you ever wonder why tropical seafood dishes from faraway places like Jamaica and India (particularly Goa) are so spicy? It’s usually to cover up the “special flavor” of fish that’s aged beyond the point of no return. In the U.S., we’re lucky and have the USDA to keep track of how much time has elapsed between when seafood leaves the dock and is sold as fresh. Some folks don’t have that luxury, so I guess that means we’re more civilized. Well, maybe.

By now, you’ve probably realized that my Big Bend Fishing4Casts cover subjects that are broader than just fishing our short stretch of Florida Gulf Coast. I do my best to keep in touch with guides who send fishing reports. Some do a better job with reports than others, and all are rewarded with a “plug” in the column. And for the most part the fishing from Chassahowitzka to Keaton Beach is usually pretty much the same each week, so I do tend to digress with what I consider to be useful-to-angler information. If you’re only interested in the fishing forecast, scroll down to the bottom of the page, but if you want to learn more than just the basics, read the lesson part of the column. This week is a good example. Ice and its proper use can mean the difference between life and death—or at least a nasty case of diarrhea and vomiting.

My friends Lee Deaderick and Scott Richardson own Northwest Seafood in Gainesville. Some of the seafood they sell comes from their own boats; some from wholesalers and some from importers. Most important is that these guys consider themselves “fanatics of freshness,” with many local anglers considering the GPS coordinates of 4110 NW 16th Avenue to be the best fishing numbers available. Why is their seafood so fresh? The answer, according to Lee, is “lots and lots of ice—from boat to fish house to truck to store to your home.”

Lee is known to be extreme in his views and tactics and once told me that he takes no less than 200 pounds of ice on the boat when he and his dad, Dave, go trout fishing for fun over at Yankeetown. Of course, Lee has an ice machine at work, and that gives him an advantage over most of us. I had a big Scotsman ice machine at one time, but didn’t use it enough to defray the maintenance costs. That was about the same time that those newfangled ice houses started opening all along the Big Bend, so the obvious choice was to start buying ice there rather than making my own. After all, there seem to be lots of those places now, in small and large towns (except Gainesville!), and two bucks for a big (20 pound) bag of ice is way cheaper than buying it at the Quickie-Mart, the grocery store or, heaven-forbid, any marina! You probably don’t need to take 200 pounds, but at least take a couple of coolers-full for a long day, especially if you plan to ice drinks and completely cover your catch with ice.

I have a drink cooler and a fish cooler on my boat. On hot days, I’ll start by filling both boxes to the top with ice, assuming that some will melt in the fish cooler before I need to ice my catch. I keep the drains on the drink cooler open, letting water drain into the bilge. I keep the drain plugged in the fish box, and often add some salt water to make slurry, especially if I’m keeping delicate fish like black sea bass or seatrout. (By adding salt water to the ice mix, the freezing point inside the cooler is now lower, making the mixture colder.)

If I need more ice for the fish, I move some from the drink box. The fish get priority, as warm water or Cokes won’t kill you. All too many times I’ve seen folks come to the fish cleaning table at the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee with a bunch of warm, grayish grouper with no ice over them, but a cooler full of ice-cold beer! I guess it’s all a matter of priorities.

Finally, consider your cooler(s). Cheap coolers used to be cheap because they didn’t have lots of insulation and wouldn’t hold cold in (or hot out) for very long. Good coolers, like those made by Yeti and Engel, were more expensive, but worked well. However, it seems that folks at Coleman and Igloo have recently learned that folks want to be able to keep food longer and not spend a king’s ransom for a cooler. They’re now using premium insulation materials in lots of their more-affordable iceboxes. However, in my opinion, neither has solved the age-old problem of bad latches and weak hinges!

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