Earlier this month, I wrote about the giant Mackinaw trout I caught in Lake Michigan. It was a great example of how it pays to try new fishing experiences when you visit different parts of the world.
It also left me with a riddle to solve: What do you do when you wind up with a cooler full of delicious trout fillets more than 1,600 miles from home?
I had planned to release our catch, but the fish were running so deep that day (more than 130 feet down) that most were not in releasable condition by the time we landed them. Our captain cleaned our catch, and suddenly I had 15 pounds of fillets on my hands.
Some charters — many halibut and salmon boats in Alaska, for example — are well versed in sending customers home with their catch. These outfits are equipped to fillet, vacuum seal and pack the fish in dry ice, either for mailing home or checking as airline luggage.
Charters on Lake Michigan — and, likely, most corners of the globe — aren’t quite as sophisticated. But I figured there had to be a way to get our catch home, so I gave one bag of fish to the captain as a thank you and hauled the rest back to the car.
Step one was to get the fish on ice. We stopped at several gas stations before finding a Styrofoam cooler, ensuring the fish would keep overnight. Next time, I’ll save a little hassle by grabbing a cooler beforehand.
With the meat safely on ice, I started researching TSA rules. From what I read, bringing ice through the carry-on line wasn’t going to fly. But there weren’t any rules against frozen fish fillets, so my game plan was set.
The following morning, I drove to a grocery store and purchased Ziploc bags (the good ones with the hard plastic locks), scissors and a lunch pail cooler. Total cost: $10.
Back at the hotel, I cut the fish into restaurant-sized portions, putting two or three fillets into each quart-sized bag. Next, I crammed all 10 bags into the hotel room freezer and cranked it to its coldest setting. In less than an hour, the fish was in the freezer and we were off to see the sights of Chicago.
Twenty-four hours later, it was time to fly home. The fish had frozen solid, so I removed the bags from the freezer and packed them into the lunch pail cooler—my new personal carry-on item.
When we reached airport security, it was the moment of truth. Would these fish make it back to Boise, or was all my work for naught?
Not surprisingly, my little cooler was flagged for additional screening. But after a swab test and a few simple questions, we were good to go.
On board, I stowed the sealed cooler in the chilly overhead compartment. When we landed in Boise several hours later, the fillets were still frozen. A few bags stayed out for dinner the next night — it was outstanding! — and the rest are still in the freezer, awaiting their turn.
Flying my fish home took a little extra effort, but it was totally worth it. Now I have a blueprint for next time — and if the fishing gods smile on your next vacation, so do you.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come fishing with me!
I’m teaching a fishing class this fall through The College of Idaho’s Community Learning program in Caldwell. Join me Oct. 3-7 for “Stop Fishing, Start Catching,” a fun and informative class for anglers of all ages and ability levels. The course costs $59, which includes four hours of classroom instruction and activities (6-8 p.m. Oct. 3 and 5 in the C of I’s Marty Holly Athletics Center) and a four-hour Saturday morning fishing trip (8 a.m.-noon Oct. 7). Every participant receives a tackle goodie bag, plus chances to win awesome prizes. This class sold out in the spring, so reserve your spot early. Register online at www.cofifun.com. For more info, call (208) 459-5188 or email email@example.com.