Killing your salmon and looking after your catch
Now that you have finally caught that elusive salmon what next. Killing your salmon quickly is essential. The easiest way is with a sharp blow on the head. Then get it on ice as soon as possible.
Almost every salmon angler in New Zealand would quickly kill their fish with a blow to the head. Whatever you do don’t just leave it lying on the stones to suffer. Indeed, other experienced salmon anglers will get very angry with you if you don’t hit it on the head – usually with a heavy stone found on the riverbed. At the Waimakariri River mouth, where it is sandy, and there are no stones, many anglers carry a small club, or “priest,” made from wood or metal for the purpose.
The best thing to do next depends to some extent on where you are fishing. If you expect to be home within an hour or two of landing and dispatching your fish, then it is save to simply take it home and gut it there. Then cut the fish up and freeze it for later use.
However if you are further from home or expect to be away all day or longer then you need to carry a chilli bin and ice to cool the fish down quickly or it will spoil in the heat. Salmon have nothing in their stomachs so don’t spoil as quickly as other sea caught fish.
I would kill the fish with a blow to the head, gut and gill it (remove the gills which will also bleed it) then place it in your chilli bin with ice on top of it. It will last OK like that for a couple of days.
The way I go about it is to carry a long insulated plastic cooler, or chilli bin, with plastic bottles of frozen water in the back of my vehicle. A clean, quick, and easy way of doing this is to freeze two or three plastic two, or three litre, milk bottles of water. When you head out fishing throw a couple of these bottles in your cooler. At the end of the day, if you haven’t caught a salmon, or kahawai, you can simply place the frozen bottles back in the freezer when you return home. If you do get a salmon the large volume of ice in these bottles will keep the inside of the cooler at about 4 degrees C. About the same as your refrigerator. Big blocks of ice like this take much longer to melt than ice blocks.
The more ice to volume of air in the cooler the more efficient it will be at keeping the fish cold. It also pays to keep the lid closed. The ice will remain frozen like this in the plastic milk bottles for at least three days even when the air temperature outside is in the high 20s.
A better way of chilling down your fish is to drop it into a cooler that is almost full with ice slurry. This is a mixture of small smooth ice particles and brine. It is used on commercial fishing boats. This stuff cools the fish very rapidly but is too much hassle for the average recreational fisher to bother with. It requires a specialist machine to make the ice so isn’t practical.
Bacteria, particularly from the gills, will cause the salmon to go off. A process which speeds up considerably if you make the mistake of putting the fish in a plastic bag and placing it in the sun! Another method is to place your salmon in a sack, place the sack in the shade, and keep it wet by pouring water over it every half hour or so. This works to some extent but placing it in a chilli bin with ice is the best idea.
I use two three litre bottles of frozen water which will cool the fish down quickly and keep it cool. This works well as the plastic bottles can be placed back in the freezer to be frozen ready for your next trip.
I like bottled salmon (canned) which lasts for years and is an excellent way of preserving your catch. Decades ago anglers camping at the salmon rivers would spend a lot of time boiling water at their camp to preserve salmon by bottling. The process takes about three hours or longer. Nowadays there is a lot less camping done by salmon anglers who are more into day trips. Also the camping grounds have freezers available for anglers to store their catch until they head home.