Now that you have caught a mess of crappie, you need to decide how to keep them fresh and ready to eat. So let’s examine how long they will stay fresh in several conditions and how long crappie good on ice.
Crappie if kept in cool water will remain safe to eat for about 12 to 16 hours if kept out of the sun. Crappie stored on ice can last up to 48 hours depending on the cooler, while cleaned crappie placed in the fridge lasts 3 to 4 days. Frozen crappie lasts around 4 or 5 months depending on fat content and method.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s dive into the details.
How Long Can You Store Caught Fish Before It Goes Bad?
Most often when wondering how long your fish will remain good, you are more interested in the time period before it is frozen. So let’s examine that.
The number one factor that will cause your fish to go bad is heat followed by air. By keeping the fish in a bucket of cool water, you can expect them to remain safe to eat for most of the day, and possibly into the early morning the following day. I would not exceed about 12 to 16 hours max at this stage, less if it was a hot day.
Once cleaned and moved to a refrigerator you can wrap the fish in plastic, cover them in a bowl, or submerge them in water and keep them in the fridge uncooked for around four days. The method you choose is up to you and may have minor effects on the consistency of the flesh, but the safety will be fine.
By the end of that fourth day you need to have either frozen the remaining fish or cooked them up.
How to Keep Fish Fresh for a Longer Period of Time
Some people feel that the consistency of the fish rapidly begins to change as they are exposed to heat for a prolonged time. I tend to agree with them in this area and have found that for the absolutely best tasting fish they should be stored on ice as soon as possible.
For this purpose, I always carry a cooler of ice with me so that when I catch a keeper, it can be placed directly into the ice. I have found this prolongs both the firmness of the meat and overall taste of crappie, and well any other fish as well.
“But you don’t know you are going to catch any, why take ice?”
Well that of course is the power of positive thinking. I don’t think I am going to catch crappie, I know I am…..
But obviously the best way of keeping fish fresh is to eat them right away. If that isn’t possible then ice them, clean them and freeze as soon as possible.
What is the best way to freeze fish?
Deciding to store your recent catch of fish in your freezer is a relatively easy decision. However, what way is best to package them takes a bit more thought.
There are several common methods to store foods and fish in particular in the freezer. These include the following methods ranked in best to worst options. Any of them if done correctly will preserve your fish for 3 to 6 months depending on the fat content.
Vacuum sealing is of course the preferred option. Place the fish in your sealer and evacuate all air. The advantage to a vacuum sealer is you can be relatively sure there is no air remaining in contact with the fish.
The second best option is plastic wrap or saran wrap as some call it. Place the fish on the wrap and wrap as tightly as possible. This works better than a ziploc bag since it is a thinner material and can more easily conform to the shape of the fish. If possible two layers of wrap are preferred.
When using a ziploc bag you can store several pieces in the same bag, normally I portion these out to what my family would eat at one sitting. Then try to remove as much air as possible from the bag. If you see there are still a few air pockets you can add a bit of water to fill these pockets in, however that is not ideal if it can be avoided.
Freezer paper is a mixed argument for me. The concept of preventing air from reaching the fish seems impossible when using paper, however, many people swear by it and it has been proven as safe so I included it here if this is your preferred method. It does have the advantage of protecting the fish from moisture, which in itself could cause the fish to become mushy when thawed out.
5.Encased in water
Growing up before we had access to a vacuum sealer this was the method we always used to store our caught fish in the freezer. Take either a plastic zipper bag or a large bowl, fill it with fish and then fill up above the fish with water. Once frozen this block of ice now totally encases the fish and prevents air from reaching them.
This method was always reliable and is a sure way to protect your fish, especially when lacking other packaging materials. However, some complain that the exposure to the water leaches out some of the flavor, and can lead to slightly mushy fish when thawed out. I never noticed mushy fish though when frying them.
This method will not lead to freezer burn since the fish are entirely encased and it is the air which causes freezer burn.
How Long Can I Store Frozen Fish
When frozen in any of these manners, fatty fish will last around three months and leaner fish up to six months time frame. Fatty fish include trout, salmon and even tuna. Leaner freshwater fish include bass and catfish among others.
Crappie falls somewhat in the middle of these two in regards to fat content and can be expected to last 4 or 5 months in the freezer if properly stored.
Thawing Frozen Fish Safely
It is time to eat your frozen fish, what is the best way to thaw them out. Rarely ever (never) is it recommended that you leave any meat, let alone fish out on the counter to thaw out. So how do you thaw out frozen fish then?
Even allowing fish to thaw overnight in the freezer can allow bacterial growth and should be avoided.
The best method for thawing fish is to allow cool water to run over the package until all of the ice has melted.
Many baked recipes allow you to cook the fish while still frozen as long as the ice has been removed.
Fried recipes on the other hand will need the fish to be thawed out.
Conclusion: Crappie Can Be Kept Fresh by Putting Them On Ice ASAP.
Crappie normally lasts around 2 days if promptly stored on ice, this can be extended by using advanced ice such as dry ice, or a better cooler with greater thermal properties. A cooler with better insulation such as a yeti, can safely hold the fish for 3 days assuming ample ice is provided.
After that, clean the crappie, and get them stored in the freezer in one of the five methods we discussed. You can expect crappie to last four or five months once frozen.