How to Travel with Freshly Caught Fish

The dream is to travel to the Louisiana coast, go on a charter fishing trip, and spend a day or three catching amazing sporting fish. You’ve figured out how to get there, and planned everything out. However, there’s still the matter of how you’re going to get your catch home—especially if you’re flying or driving a distance.

This is the part that can overwhelm people—traveling with a fresh catch. How do you transition from reeling in a live fish on the end of your line to a tasty fillet sizzling on your grill at home? We’re breaking it into steps so that you’ll know exactly what you need to do to travel with your freshly caught fish.

  1. Icing and Cleaning the Catch: Catching the fish, reeling it in and measuring it are all exciting moments. However, as soon as the fish becomes a keeper, the objective becomes doing everything possible to keep it fresh and prevent any spoilage.

    • If you can’t clean the fish immediately, it needs to be placed on ice in an airtight cooler until you can. The moment the fish is no longer alive, bacteria in the circulatory system and digestive tract can multiply, and enzymatic actions in the muscle can change the meat's flavor. Keeping the fish cold in ice preserves your catch and its natural flavor and texture.

    • Mostcaptains offer cleaning the catch as either a complimentary service or a convenience available for an additional fee. Some may teach you how to do it yourself. Your captain may want to wait to clean, fillet and bag the catch until you return to the dock or may choose to do it onboard.

    • Ultimately, at the end of the process, you should have cleaned fillets neatly wrapped in plastic and sealed in plastic bags. The fish must still be kept cold, and—depending on your mode of transportation—you have your choice of regular ice, ice packs or dry ice.

    • Note that if you’re flying home, airport security rules may require that fillets retain their skin or even the head for species identification purposes.

Items you may need include a clean cooler that’s airtight, ice, a sharp fillet knife, plastic wrap to wrap fillets, sealable plastic bags to hold wrapped fillets, clean water for rinsing, paper towels for blotting fillets and a clean workspace.

  1. Packaging the Catch for Car Travel: The general rule is that fresh fish should be cooked and eaten within two days. If such a deadline might be challenging to meet, freezing the fillets and keeping them on dry ice will give you the time you need for transport and allow you to cook them at a later date.

    • Dry ice will allow you to flash freeze your catch with fewer worries about freezer burn and frost. Since it’s actually just frozen carbon dioxide, it sublimates as it melts into vapor. It slowly goes from a minus 110-degree solid to a gas. You don’t have to worry about watery melt that can ruin fish’s flavor and texture, but you do need to allow a vent for gas to escape both from the cooler and from your car.

    • As a general rule, a standard 10-pound block is a 10-inch square tile 2 inches thick. While a single block in a cooler will usually last 24 hours, using multiple blocks in a cooler may give you up to three days. Dry ice is usually available in smaller bricks also—5 pounds or even just 1 pound.

    • To set up your cooler, simply place the dry ice in the bottom. Dry ice is heavy—heavier than regular ice. Then, arrange a layer of newspaper or foil over the dry ice to prevent fish from coming into direct contact with it. The fish go on top and will freeze rapidly to become “granite hard.” Some experts recommend wrapping trophy fish, for example, in a towel for added protection. Filling extra space on top with something light like crumpled newspaper, for example, will help to further insulate your cooler and make the dry ice last.

    • Dry ice typically comes bagged or wrapped in plastic. However, you’ll need insulated gloves to be able to handle it. Touching dry ice without gloves can result in burns and frostbite, and you should never try to eat or swallow dry ice.

Items you may need include a large cooler, gel ice packs, dry ice blocks or bricks, insulated gloves, and newspaper or foil.

  1. Packaging the Catch for Air Travel: Traveling with a fresh catch by air is a little more complicated than traveling by car. You’re still doing many of the same things and have the same concerns, but your fish must pass TSA—Transportation Security Administration—approval to travel. In short, if the fish isn’t packaged properly, TSA will confiscate it. The TSA website includes guidelines for both “fresh meat and seafood” and “frozen food.”

    • Seafood is permitted in both carry-on and checked bags.

    • If the fish is packed in ice in a container or cooler, the ice or ice packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening.

    • If ice packs are partially melted or if containers have any meltwater in the bottom, TSA will not allow the fish to be taken on board.

    • You can pack frozen perishables in dry ice in both carry-on and checked bags.

    • The FAA allows up to 5 pounds of dry ice as long as it is properly packaged, vented and marked.

    • Specific airlines may have additional requirements and restrictions regarding cooler sizes, allowed weights or composition—hard sides versus soft sides versus polystyrene, for example—depending on whether the fish will be in a carry-on or checked.

    • You’ll want to ensure that fillets are packaged and packed neatly so that they’ll be easy to count, identify and inspect. Do not tape carry-ons closed prior to TSA inspection.

Items you may need include a cooler that complies with your airline’s rules, dry ice, frozen gel packs, newspaper, labels and duct tape.

  1. Third-Party Processing and Shipping: If you prefer that your catch be processed, packaged and shipped to you, your captain may be able to help you make arrangements for that as well. Keep in mind, however, that third-party processing and shipping services—while convenient—usually have their own guidelines, involve additional expenses and fees, and usually require coordination in advance. Plus, since the package’s contents are perishable, someone must be available at the destination address to receive the delivery.

A fishing trip should be not only fun but also respectful of the natural resources taken. Cleaning, packaging and bringing your catch home so that you can prepare and eat it later are all parts of the sporting experience. If you’d like more fishing insights—or you’re ready to find a charter captain who knows how to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip off of the Louisiana coast—reach out to LCBA at, and let us help you start planning your trip.

References: lactic acid process in dead fish keeping/cleaning

Dry Ice TSA Rules for fresh frozen fish chat regarding what people have done processing and shipping example


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