The ASK THE PROs board has seen many interesting and unique threads posted, but this one, is one that many on this board should take note of. Taking care of soft fleshed fish like cod, white and red hake, is one of the most important things to do on a trip! Its something that is relatively taken for granted, yet should be paid great attention to.
Over the years of 'moving' fish, you get a idea of what needs to be done is far as keeping your fish in 'pristine' condition. First i have to agree with Gamakatsu with making a slurry if you want your cod to look in A1 shape...this technique is used in the commercial fishing industry, and is probably the best way to initially keep your catch. But, like Gamakatsu stated, the water must be drained off constantly as the ice melts. Fresh water will just turn the skin of the cod into mush. Capt. Marcs method is also one that i use, where i keep a kill box for tossing in the freshly caught fish, and then later on, moving the catch over to a 'permanent' bigger iced up cooler. One thing thats important is that you should not open up your permanent cooler up all the time, especially in the warmer weather. Just like your refrigerator at home, as you open the door/lid, you let the chilled air out and warm air in, thus melting more ice, and creating more fresh water, which eventually has to be drained off.
If you are not sure on how to keep your catch, just put a layer of ice on the bottom, and lay your fish on top, and another layer of ice. From the time to time, open the drain plug, and let the fresh water drain out of the cooler. Add ice in layers with your fish throughout the day.
As far as what you should bring along on these trips, i say the best all around sized coolers are from the old 86 QT, to 94 QT size. First they are long enough for most fish that you catch without having to bend them to fit the cooler, and as important, they can be handled easily by one strong person, or two people. I do not like coolers smaller then the sizes i mentioned, since they cannot hold enough fish or ice, and you end up bending and squeezing most of the fish to fit inside these things. If you are fishing for porgies/seabass and even blackfish that small cooler will do. But for bigger fish, pick up a 94 Qt cooler.
When you make these trips, do as some of the board members here posted. Bring one cooler that will hold your ice, and one that will be used to store your fish. Fishermen who reguarly make the offshore wreck trips, sometimes bring barrels, and totes, which are great if you have the room to fit them in your car or van. They are good in that you do not waste much time when you unhook the fish. Just toss them into the barrel/tote and get back into the water. Later on, you then move the fish from these 'primary' containers or kill boxes, to the bigger cooler.
As far as big coolers, they have their place when doing the offshore cod and seabass trips. Coolers such as the 124 Qt and 151/162 Qt, allow room for both a load of fish and ice. But remember these points.... They are extremely heavy when loaded, and require 2 strong 'backed' people to move them around. They are prone to being dragged, dropped and having handles broken due to the heavy weights or twisting when you walk with them. The ends get cracked and opened up from the dragging around when loaded with fish, and then they leak all over the place (like the inside of your car or van). If you have to choose a big cooler, i feel the 124 Qt cooler with the half doors or split lid is probably the best of the bunch.
Try to pickup a cooler that states Marine on it. I know everyone talks about the COSTCO 172 Qt coolers for 49.99 that are a great value. They do keep fish cool, and hold up well for the money. But they have less insulation and are not constructed as well as a TRUE marine cooler. The plastic handles do break when these coolers are loaded with fish. I cannot tell you how many of these coolers just end up being storage boxes since they eventually end up with the broken handles and leak after being dropped a number of times with a full load of fish. Their must be a very good reason why the MARINE IGLOO 162 Qt costs $260 dollars.
Another point which should be mentioned, is about chopping up ice in your coolers. I have done it myself, and chopped up blocks of ice inside a cooler, only to puncture the inner shell. If you can, use the tote, to chop up your blocks of ice first, then put the pieces inside the cooler. Try to chop up the ice in small fist size pieces, instead of using a handful of large pieces. I would love to have cubed ice for my fish, but many times, it is not pratical. Flaked ice is fantastic since it does not bruise the flesh of these fish, but it melts very fast especially in warmer weather. Block ice is the best for the money. If you have the space, you can make your own ice in 5 gallon pails or other containers. Carry a pic around, or use a screwdriver if nothing else is available.
Finally if you are fileting/steaking your fish, since we have nobody on this board selling their catch (just making sure you are paying attention), first chill these soft fleshed fish down. I know many people right away will catch a few fish, then go off and try to filet their catch. Yes it always great to clean your fish as fast as possible, but it is much easier to filet a cod or hake when it is chilled. Your filets will be much cleaner, usually with less loss of meat left on the fishes rack. You will also lessen the chance of puncturing the belly and get blood on your filets. You can noticeably taste the difference of filets that are blood soaked and ones that are cleanly removed from the fish.
EC NEWELL MAN*