Fill and Chill

With the time and ef­fort it of­ten takes to go fish­ing, it’s a shame to not ad­e­quately ice down and store your hard­earned catch.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - CAPT. DAVE LEAR

Fail­ure to do so can lead to un­palat­able mush on the din­ner plate, or pos­si­bly thou­sands of dol­lars in prize money lost dur­ing tour­na­ments. Sev­eral so­lu­tions to make sure both tro­phies and ta­ble fare stay fresh start with the boat.

Most builders pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to fish boxes. Re­gard­less of their lo­ca­tion — deck, tran­som or bow com­part­ments — the good ones are well-in­su­lated with thick foam to keep ice as long as pos­si­ble. Older boat mod­els can be mod­i­fied by spray­ing in ex­pand­ing foam or glu­ing pan­els of closed-cell foam around the boxes, if ac­cess is avail­able. Ide­ally, all fish boxes should drain over­board to evac­u­ate blood, slime and scales. If not, mac­er­a­tor pumps grind the de­tri­tus be­fore it is pumped out. Their re­spec­tive hatches should fit snugly and have a wa­ter­tight seal, and all in­te­rior sur­faces should be smooth for easy clean­ing.


When space al­lows, large, abovedecks fiber­glass fish boxes on the bow, com­monly called cof­fin boxes, are ex­tremely use­ful and af­ford ad­di­tional ver­sa­til­ity.

Mi­ami-based Seavee Boats builds its own 48-inch, 220-quart cof­fin box. It mounts on the for­ward deck hatch with a split lid so the lower com­part­ment can be ac­cessed sep­a­rately. Elec­tric ac­tu­a­tors pro­vide the lift. Ac­cord­ing to John Ca­ballero of Seavee, about 15 per­cent of Seavee’s cus­tomers choose this op­tion, which drains over­board and has 1-inch-thick in­su­la­tion on the sides and 2 inches on the bot­tom. con­tin­ued


The roto-molded cooler mar­ket has also rad­i­cally changed stor­age so­lu­tions. Yeti, En­gel, Orca, Pel­i­can, K2, RTIC, Orion and most re­cently Ot­ter­box are among the top brands. Ac­tual com­par­i­son is tough, since sizes among the dif­fer­ent makes don’t al­ways match. All boast ice re­ten­tion for days, far longer than needed for overnight or week­end trips. When shop­ping, com­pare us­able in­te­rior mea­sure­ments, weight and con­struc­tion fea­tures, like tie-down points, latches and han­dles. The roto-mold­ing process is ex­tremely durable yet heavy, a con­sid­er­a­tion when lug­ging a full one down the dock. Don’t over­look marine-grade plas­tic cool­ers like the Igloo Marine Ul­tra ei­ther. They hold ice well, are eas­ier to tote and rea­son­ably priced. With any cooler, pre-chill­ing and open­ing the lids only when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary will keep ice the long­est.


Foam-in­su­lated, zip­pered fish-chiller bags, sized to match the in­tended tar­gets, are yet an­other stor­age op­tion. Boone, Canyon, C&H Lures and Re­li­able Fish­ing Prod­ucts make bags for nearshore and off­shore ap­pli­ca­tions. One of the big­gest ad­van­tages to bags is they can be rolled or folded when not in use. Still, a com­bi­na­tion of boxes, cool­ers and bags gives the most flex­i­bil­ity for pre­serv­ing your catch.


“I’ve been us­ing cof­fin boxes since 1978, first cus­tom-built and now as a fac­tory op­tion on my Yel­lowfin 36,” says Capt. Robert “RT” Tros­set of Key West. “It’s re­ally well-in­su­lated, so I keep over 400 pounds of ice and bait in there. My catch goes in the deck boxes, which can hold a 90-pound wa­hoo. I then trans­fer more ice from the cof­fin box and add a lit­tle sea­wa­ter to make a slurry. It re­ally helps keep fish cold and fresh. But you don’t want too much wa­ter or the fish slosh around, and that re­moves the scales.”

The mac­er­a­tor plumbed to the box al­lows Tros­set to re­move ex­cess wa­ter, if nec­es­sary.

Sword­fish, he says, stash eas­ily in larger bags with the bill stick­ing out. Dur­ing tour­na­ments, dol­phin and king mack­erel slide right into iced chiller bags too, for easy trans­fer to the scales with­out weight loss.


Neal Foster of Mo­bile, Alabama, of­ten runs 1,100 miles or more round trip in his 39 Con­tender cen­ter-con­sole when com­pet­ing in king mack­erel and big-game tour­na­ments. His team has con­sis­tently won top prize money for smoker kings and wa­hoo.

“I stop at a shrimp house and pay a flat fee to to­tally ice down the boat,” Foster ex­plains. “They pump ground ice into two main bags and all my fish boxes. We prob­a­bly carry 1,200 pounds of ice when we’re fish­ing com­pet­i­tively.

“The two bags will hold about 125 pounds each,” he adds. “It’s im­por­tant to pre-chill them first, but that crushed ice freezes into a solid mass. So we al­ways carry a rub­ber mal­let and plas­tic shovel to trans­fer ice be­tween the boxes and bags. My tro­phy fish go into the bag as soon as they’re aboard. With thou­sands of dol­lars on the line, you don’t take any chances.”

Chilled Out to the Max CLAS­SIC CON­FIG­U­RA­TION: A cof­fin box pro­vides abun­dant cold stor­age as a built-in, over­size cooler/ seat, top. A box raises on a ram to ac­cess gear stowage un­der­neath. Op­tions abound to meet ice and fish stor­age needs on board. 1 In­su­lated com­part­ments ( serve dou­ble duty up front. 2 A cof­fin box pro­vides cold stor­age abovedecks and gear stowage be­low. 3 A con­sole built-in cooler or mod­i­fied stor­age holds bait or bev­er­ages. 4 Stow­able fish chiller bags come out when needed. 5 A helm-seat cooler keeps drinks and lunch handy. 6Cock­pit com­part­ments of­fer gaff-to-ice con­ve­nience. 7A tran­som well holds bait or ad­di­tional ice.

By Capt. Dave Lear Some fore­thought and prepa­ra­tion en­sure your catch will stay fresh.

BUILT-IN FEA­TURE: A for­ward con­sole ex­ten­sion of­fers cold stor­age, bot­tom left.

TEM­PO­RARY DIGS: In­su­lated chiller bags stow away, then de­ploy to keep big fish cold.

OPTIONAL ADD-ON: A re­mov­able cooler on a rear plat­form holds ice in re­serve, bot­tom right.

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