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Your fish cleaning table is patiently waiting for you. You’ve been on the water for all day or maybe a few days putting in a ton of work during your trip. Like a responsible client and fisherman, you’ve tipped your crew and loaded your vehicle driving off back to the real world. Your wife tells you that “over her dead body” are you going to clean those fish on her countertops.
The worst feeling in the world is envisioning any of that bounty going to waste. As noted in my article, 5 Best Offshore Fishing Sunglasses for 2022, there are many important tools that you need when fishing offshore. There are also tools that you need when you return home. We’ll be covering a few of those tools that are a necessity, and some that may just be considered a little “extra”
While there are tools that may be offshore specific, we will focus on the basics that you need and some ideas that make life a little easier for offshore fishing excursions and inshore or freshwater as well. These tools can vary depending on what species you’re cleaning. Are you processing a pile of crappie or an amberjack fish? Some tools are interchangeable, but others aren’t as efficient.
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There are a lot of brands that offer fishing tools on the market these days. Like usual, there are those that are a “smoking gun” or “the next best thing”. We’re not here to discuss bait, lures, actual gear, etc…. Those get you to the dance. That’s only half the battle. As a sign of respect for the life of the fish as well as the sport of fishing, ensuring it isn’t wasted is vital.
We’ll be covering items such as the following:
- Fish cleaning table
- Tools for moving the heavy coolers
- Filet knives
- Vacuum sealer
- Rod/gear storage
- Cleaning supplies
How does a fish cleaning table ensure your successful fishing trip remains a success at home?
A fishing cleaning table
Yes, a fish cleaning table is a great piece of equipment There are many different versions out there and you can build one yourself. However, you can’t beat the convenience of a table that you can clean off and pack away. I don’t believe that the sink and faucet are a requirement but they can be handy for keeping all of the scales and goop contained.
I personally have a fish cleaning table with the sink and a faucet. I don’t have a dedicated line hooked up to it so the faucet doesn’t get used much. I keep my hose handy for cleaning. The type of water you use can be somewhat important sometimes but I tend to avoid spraying my saltwater fish too much with fresh water. This can be problematic for some species.
Bass Pro and Amazon are 2 great places to pick a fish cleaning table up if you don’t have one. They are simple to maintain and store. Cleaning is a snap and they help you avoid fish sliming your kitchen. Fish slime in your boat comes with a sense of pride. Fish slime in your kitchen comes with a trip down the butt chewin’ highway from the misses.
Those who fish hard understand the importance of the coolers in their lives. These are your best friends when it comes to maintaining your catch or harvest. If you have a cooler full of good hooksets, you better make sure that it’s a quality cooler.
All captains maintain the ideal equipment for their specialty. But one thing is for sure, you won’t get on a boat that doesn’t have a high quality cooler packed with ice to get your catch back to shore. These can range from coffin boxes to the built-in coolers of the boat. One thing is for sure, these are critical and there are a ton to choose from.
Ok Duckett, what if I’m not on a charter but I’m wade fishing? You need a Yeti backpack cooler. Yes, you will be hauling around 5-10 pounds of ice all day so why would you want to use a cooler that you can’t strap to your back? The Yeti M20 and M30 coolers are perfect for this. They can hold a (Florida) limit of speckled trout or that near overslot redfish you’re taking selfies with.
For offshore trips you will need to be sure you’re equipped to handle anything. My personal constraint is whether the cooler fits under the hardcover on the bed of my truck. The Yeti 65 is perfect for this. I generally travel with a minimum of (2) coolers this size. This way, I can handle whole amberjack fish or bagged filets of the fish you caught. I prefer to process the fish I catch myself. It’s the only way to ensure nothing goes to waste. We will cover the fileting process and quirks of specific species another time.
If you don’t have the same constraint that I do, go bigger. I would recommend the Yeti Tundra 110 to the 250 for the bed of your truck. The Yeti 350 coffin box could be a little too big.
Another exciting product coming out is the Roadie 48 Wheeled Cooler from Yeti. This and the Roadie 60 will be available on 8/2/22 for purchase. Tell your wife that these are tall enough to hold a bottle of wine.
Tools for moving your heavy cooler
Understand, the bigger the cooler you have, the heavier it will be. Regardless of the brand, once you pack it full of ice and fish, it could be backbreaking. Getting it in and out of your vehicle could be a chore alone. I ALWAYS take furniture carts to move my coolers around. You can’t fish well with a hernia.
While I understand that Yeti makes wheeled coolers now, I would recommend these for dock fishing. The capacity isn’t going to be big enough for longer offshore trips. However, these are PERFECT for weekend football or baseball games.
One could write an entire article on filet knives (click here to read that article on the Mossy Oak website). It goes without saying that your filet knife is going to be one of the most important processing tools you have. If you still have your grandfather’s filet knife that has been passed down, I salute you. Great job.
Not only is having a filet knife critical, but it also needs to be sharp and sized for the job. Filet knives can range in price from under $10 to well over $100. Danco offers a small pocket sized filet knife sharpener for less than $5 that can be conveniently packed in your bag for processing in the field or at your fish cleaning table.
If you’re fileting a stack of crappie, a sharp 6” to 8” filet knife will do the trick. For triggerfish and many reef fish, the 8” to 9” flexible blade knives work great. If you’re processing bigger pelagic species such as tuna or amberjack fish, you’re going to want to opt for a sturdy 10” to 12” knife that you can put some muscle behind if needed.
In addition to the basic filet knife for processing, I would recommend a smaller flexible blade for cheek meat on grouper. Also, you will want a pair of quality shears to make sure you get the throats. This is primarily the reason I like to process the fish myself. The head meat often gets overlooked.
A few brands that I recommend:
- Dexter – This is a time honored quality brand. A trusted value by many professional fisherman and Viktor Hluben of Landshark Outdoors.
- Danco – This is a local Florida brand that offers a wide variety of tools from filet knives to shears, at an amazing value.
- Silver stag – I highly recommend these knives for hunting and fishing. They offer what you want and are definitely the knifes you will be proud to pass down later in life. Expect to pay for the quality.
- Offshore Angler – This is the Bass Pro brand. I personally have a stiff 12” blade I use quite a bit for the amberjack fish and grouper I catch.
- Case – Do I need to explain these? Case offers every knife for every use you have. These knives also become family heirlooms.
- Dalstrong – Literally one of the best knives you can buy to match any need on the planet. Ask Guga Foods
I would also recommend a scaler. However, I wouldn’t recommend buying one. Like Hardy says, you can spoon scale your perch. Anything else that needs scaling can be done with the back of a stiff knife
A quality vacuum sealer is critical to maintaining your catch in your freezer. There is much debate about how to freeze your fish. In addition, there are many species that don’t freeze well. I recommend looking into how well your particular freezes. You may want to make this your first meal back.
When freezing your fish, consider the meal size. This is a mistake that I made on my initial trip. I packed the bags full of meat to maximize the use of the bags I had purchased. This was a bad idea. If you have 4-5 people typically, pack your bags with 4-5 pieces. You can always set out more than one bag to thaw.
You don’t have to go big and expensive with your vacuum sealer. For your first one, order an expensive one from Amazon and call it good. If you’re processing your catches more regularly, I recommend investing in one of a little higher quality. Unless you’re a commercial processor, I don’t see the need for spending a few hundred dollars on an expensive chamber vac.
More important than the vacuum itself are the bags. Always use heavy duty bags. These will last much longer and be less susceptible to punctures. These will cause freezer burn and run your catch over time. Food Saver Gamesaver rolls work great.
Pay close attention to how you load your freezer as well. I don’t recommend a chest freezer. Unfortunately this is what I have. Everything that gets added to the chest freezer sits on top of your catch increasing the chance of the bag being punctured. An upright freezer allows you to better organize your meat and makes it easier to select what you want later without digging through the chest freezer.
I personally use the 12” Pro-Series Vacuum Sealer from Bass Pro. This is a great option for the typical fisherman. Weston Brands makes top notch sealers and bags as well. This is the next level equipment that I would recommend.
Rod and Gear Storage
Everyone needs a space to organize their fishing gear. You can buy them or make them yourself. Below is a picture of my personal rod storage area. If you don’t want to make one, there are some great solutions you can buy and install yourself.
My personal storage solution:
Keeping your rods and reels stored in a safe place is critical to maintaining your investment. We spend thousands of dollars on our gear. When we buy a $600-$1000 reel, we sign up for the responsibility of keeping it working.
For the balance of your gear, there are many tackle solutions offered at Bass Pro and Amazon. I have 2 different methods of keeping my gear stored and away from the kids and pets. For terminal tackle such as hooks, weights, swivels, lightweight leader, and smaller SPJ jigs, I use a standard backpack.
For the balance of my gear, I use a Yeti bucket. The standard lid is all I use with mine. However, Yeti does offer different organizing solutions as well as the Loadout Gobox that can also be used. My bucket kept an extra shirt dry when I flipped my kayak.
I also keep my trolling gear, premade wire leader, larger trolling lures, spools of heavier leader, reel chains for anchoring to the rod holders, and items I wear on my waist for long-range trips. This would be my venting tool, Danco pliers, and the nasty towel I use to clean my hands from the inevitable fish slime
I wanted to touch on this quickly because all of the processing information discussed above creates quite a mess. Unless you want your home to smell like a highly productive fishing dock, you will want to de-fish everything you use.
While anything you put in your dishwasher is sterilized, your cooler and fish cleaning table are going to be quite funky after a while. Ultimately, bleach does the trick if you don’t mind the residual bleach smell for a little while. However, I would recommend a Clorox spray with bleach for your fish cleaning table.
If you have a soft-sided Yeti backpack cooler, you can clean them in a similar fashion as the rest of your coolers.
There are other solutions available on Amazon such as Fish-D-Funk wipes and sprays specifically made to remove the fish smell from your gear.
Also, in terms of maintaining your gear, all equipment needs to be rinsed down after a trip. Whether you’re fishing in freshwater or saltwater, you need to rinse your rods and reels with tap water when you get home. Salt-Away Salt Remover or Ardent Reel Guard sprays are a couple of solutions for ensuring your reels stay clean and free from salt corrosion.
Do you need a fish cleaning table? No, but they are a handy piece of equipment to make your hunting and fishing journeys easier. As discussed above, there are a lot of products these days that can take some of the headaches out of our ventures.
Yes, we can tough it out and live without them. But, if they save time or help preserve our harvest, it’s well worth it. We spend a lot of money on fishing and hunting. Granted much of this money is spent in an effort to get away from work and spend time with folks we love to be around whether it’s on a boat or in the woods.
Being a responsible role model for the industry we enjoy is also part of the mystique. Taking care of your harvest and honoring them by not allowing their sacrifice to be wasted is paramount. So yes, a fish cleaning table will contribute to your success.