It is very bad practice to string fish together through the gills and keep them in water till you start for home. It makes them lose blood and torments them till they die of suffocation. Why sicken your fish before you eat them? If you must use a stringer, push its point through the fish's lower jaw. Then it can breathe freely. A single fish on a good length of line, strung in this way, can fight off turtles till you notice the commotion.
If you are not fishing from a boat, with live box or net, then by all means kill your fish as fast as you catch them. Some do this by giving the thing's head a quick jerk backward, breaking its neck; others hit it a smart rap on the back of the head with the handle of a sheath-knife (many English fishermen carry a " priest," which is a miniature bludgeon, for this very purpose). It is better to break the fish's throat-latch (the cord that joins head to body on the under side), because that not only kills the fish but bleeds it, and one's finger does the trick in a second.
The reason for killing fish at once is two-fold; first, it is humane; second, it keeps the meat firm, as it should be for the pan, and it will not spoil so soon as if the fish smothered to death.
Fish spoil from exposure to sun and moisture, especially the latter. They keep much better if wiped dry before carrying away. Never use fish that have been lying in the sun or that have begun to soften. Ptomaines work in a mysterious but effectual way.
To keep fish in camp: scale, behead, and clean them; then string them by a cord through their tails and hang them, head down, in a shady, breezy place. They drain well when hung in this way, and that is important.
If you stay long in one place, it will pay to sink a covered box in the sloping bank of a stream, to keep your fish in. Such a bank is always cool, Hang the fish up separately in the box with rod) or cords. If you lack a box, make a rock-lined cache, covered with flat stones to keep out mink and other robbers.
Trout may be kept bright, with their spots showing lively, for many hours, if each is wiped and wrapped separately in some absorbent paper, such as toilet paper, as soon as caught.
To keep fish that must be carried some distance, in hot weather: clean them as soon as you can after they are caught, and wipe them dry. Then rub a little salt along their backbones, but nowhere else, for salt drawrs the juices. Do not pile them touching each other, but between layers of paper, cheesecloth, basswood leaves, or ferns.
If you are to pack fish in ice, the best way is to have with you some parchment paper (any mailorder house) to keep them from direct contact with the ice. This paper is strong and waterproof. Everybody ought to know that when fish get wet from ice the best of their flavor is stolen. For the same reason it is bad practice to carry fish in damp moss or grass. Keep them dry, whether you have ice or not.
There is a very good thing called a refrigerator grip, to be bought of dealers in sporting goods. Outside it looks like a common handbag. Within are two metal compartments. The upper section is filled with cracked ice and the cover is screwed on. The lower one contains food and drink for an outing, and holds your fish on the trip home. It is surrounded by a metal shell into which the water drips as the ice melts. No ice or water comes in contact with what you carry.
If you have no ice, and yet wish to transport your catch a considerable distance, try the following method recommended a good many years ago by Colonel Park (he says it is also a good way to pack venison). Some of my correspondents have enthusiastically given me credit for inventing it, but I got it out of a little Sportsmen s Handbook by the above-named gentleman, printed, as I remember, in Cincinnati, of which I have seen but one copy. For brevity's sake, I paraphrase the description.
Kill the fish as soon as caught; wipe them clean and dry; remove the entrails; scrape the blood off from around the backbone; remove the gills and eyes; wipe dry again; split the fish through the backbone to the skin, from the inside; fill this split with salt; spread the fish overnight on a board or log to cool. In the morning, before sunrise, fold the fish in dry towels, so that there is a fold of towel between each fish and its neighbor; carefully wrap the whole package in a piece of muslin, and sew it up into a tight bag, and then in woolen blanketing, sewing up the ends and sides. Now put the roll in a stout paper bag, such as a flour sack. " Fish prepared in this way can be sent from Maine to New Orleans in August, and will remain fresh and nice".
Sugar, as it has antiseptic qualities, is a good preservative. Doctor O. M. Clay gives the following process for keeping trout a week or two:
"Clean well; remove heads; wash thoroughly; dry with cloth. Cook a syrup of sugar and water until it begins to candy. In this dip the fish, one at a time, and lay them on a board to glaze. Pack in a box. Before using, soak overnight in cold water".
To dry fish for future use: split them along the back, remove the backbones and entrails, and soak them in a weak brine overnight. Make a conical teepee of cloth or bark, suspend the fish in it, and dry and smoke them over a small fire for a couple of days. This is tedious, as the fire requires close attention; but it pays when many fish are to be dried.
To salt fish: dress them as above, wash clean, and roll in salt. " Place them in a wooden vessel in a cool place for several days; then turn them out and let the brine drain off. Clean the vessel and put the fish back. Cover them with brine made strong enough to carry an egg or potato. Trout preserved in this way are excellent." (E. Kreps, Camp and Trail Methods).
The following method of preserving fish is quoted from Outdoor Life:
" Put two handfuls of salt in two or three quarts of water. Let it come to a boil. Then put fish on a piece of cheesecloth or other white cloth so as to be able to handle them, and dip them in this water, allowing them to remain in it five to seven minutes, according to size of fish. Water should not boil after the fish are put in. Then put them in vinegar, allspice, cloves and bay leaves — using enough vinegar to submerge the fish. Leave them in this solution until used. We believe you will find fish preserved in this way the sweetest-tasting that you ever ate".