Where to Keep Fish on a Kayak? (How to Store Your Catch)

If you’re not practicing catch and release, it’s important to have somewhere suitable to store any critters you land when you’re out on the water.

After all, you will want to keep your dinner as fresh as it can be!

In this article, we explore where to keep fish on a kayak.

What’s the best option? Which is the easiest and most convenient? Which should you avoid?

Read on to find out the answers, served up on a plate, just like your catch.

Where to Store Fish on a Kayak – At-a-Glance

Before we explain each option in more detail, here’s a brief guide to where you can keep your catch on a fishing kayak:

  • Fishing coolers.
  • Tankwells.
  • Storage hatches.
  • Nets.
  • Fish stringers.
  • Insulated grocery bags.
  • Deck bags.

Keep reading to find out which method is the best.

We also have some important tips for the best way to dispatch a fish to keep it as fresh as possible.

But first, the type of craft you’re using might well affect how you store a fish on it, so let’s take a brief look at different kayaks and how they compare when it comes to storage.

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Types of Kayak

Before we examine the best fish storage options, it’s first important to understand the limitations of the particular kayak you’re piloting.

Or the one you’re interested in purchasing.

Different types of kayak will have different storage solutions, and some are more suitable for carrying cargo than others.

You can organize kayaks into a number of different categories, but I like to keep it simple:

  • Sit-on-top fishing kayaks will offer the most storage space, which is one of the reasons they are the most popular type for angling purposes. This article on the best sit-on-top fishing kayaks has a great selection.
  • Generally speaking, sit-inside fishing kayaks have a more limited storage capacity. They might offer one or two deck storage hatches, but you’ll rarely find a tankwell suitable for a cooler here. Still, they’re not without their merits, and you can check out this review of the best sit-inside fishing kayaks on the market.

Both pedal drive and motorized kayaks overwhelmingly fall into the sit-on-top category, but with the inclusion of the pedal or power system, you might find that storage/standing space has been reduced.

Go here for the best pedal fishing kayaks, and check out this article for the best motorized fishing kayaks.

Inflatable kayaks can come in both sit-inside and sit-on-top versions. Again, the latter is better for storage, but inflatable kayaks generally don’t have the same capabilities in this department as their hardshell counterparts.

This article on the best inflatable fishing kayaks will give you an idea why they’re excellent for portability, but not necessarily the best for cargo.

Finally, thanks to their larger size, tandem fishing kayaks can offer the most on-board space and highest weight capacities.

As they can be paddled solo, they’re a good option if you want to bring more gear, and store more fish – providing you’re going out alone.

But in a hardshell tandem kayak, you’ll most likely find a tankwell has been removed to make way for the second seating position, or that it’s been significantly reduced in size.

Take a look at this article on the best tandem fishing kayaks to see what I mean.

fisherwoman on inflatable kayak at lake with fishing tackle and net holding pike

Where to Keep Fish on a Kayak – Storage Options


Coolers are available in all shapes and sizes, from enormous ice chests, to backpacks, to tiny bags that can hold no more than two cans of beer.

And they can either be hardshells, or softshells.

Hardshell Coolers

Easily the most popular choice for kayak anglers, hardshell coolers are the ultimate option for keeping your catch protected, fresh, and preserved for as long as possible.

The YETI Roadie 24 is a great example of a compact version, while the Pelican Elite is at the other end of the size scale, and is great for storing higher quantities or larger fish – if you have the room.

Of all the fish storing options available, hardshell coolers are by far the most expensive, as well as adding significant weight and bulk to your yak.

But that’s the trade-off when it comes to keeping your fish in optimum conditions from the water to the table.

Top-tip – Resist the urge to fill a cooler with loose ice, as once it starts to melt, the freshness of your fish is going to be compromised as it sits in water that’s getting warmer. A fish sitting in water for a long time will impair the flavor, so use ice packs or frozen water bottles instead.

Softshell Coolers

The main advantage of softshell coolers is that, compared to the rigidity of hardshells, you’re more likely to be able to accommodate them on your kayak.

That’s why some of the best fishing coolers for kayaks are of the softshell design, and a couple of our favorites include the Pelican Sport ExoChill, and the Yakhacker seat back cooler.

They’re more malleable by their very design, lighter, and far more portable, all while still providing a decent level of temperature control for keeping fish fresh.

And while nowhere near the insulated chilling capabilities of a hardshell cooler, they’re head and shoulders above using nothing at all.

For more of the best fishing coolers on the market, follow that link.

angler catch pike on inflatable fishing kayak with fishing tackle at lake


While most kayak anglers will put a fishing cooler or other storage crate in their tankwells, you can put your catch directly in this space if you prefer.

The Vanhunks Elite Pro Angler has one of the largest rear tankwells I’ve ever seen in a fishing kayak, and the Hobie Mirage Pro also has generous storage space at the stern.

However, if you store a fish in this manner it’s going to be fully exposed to the elements, and on particularly warm days, this might not make for a very pleasant experience for the paddler.

Or anyone who comes close to your kayak, for that matter.

As such, tankwells alone are not recommended for directly storing fish on a kayak, and should only be used in a pinch, if you’ve run out of space everywhere else, and/or if you don’t intend to stay on the water for long.

If you are going to choose this method, at least try to wrap the fish in a chilled, damp towel.

Storage Hatches

Some fishing kayaks come with sealed storage hatches, like the one at the bow of the Vibe Sea Ghost, for example.

The Old Town Sportsman PDL and the Wilderness Systems Radar are two other fishing kayaks that make good use of sealable storage hatches.

While they’re more commonly found in touring kayaks, they can be useful for keeping valuables protected while you’re fishing.

And they can also be used to store fish.

The main advantage is that the fish is going to be out of the sun, and protected from the elements. Throw in a couple of frozen bottles of water or some ice packs like you would with a cooler.

Remember, though, a storage hatch will have almost zero insulation properties, many are not watertight, and on hot days, that fish is going to warm up pretty fast.

In fact, you can pretty much guarantee that a fish stored in a plastic hull without adequate temperature control might actually be halfway cooked by the time you make it ashore!

fisherman on inflatable fishing kayak with fishing tackle

Fish Stringers

A fish stringer is a length of rope or wire, along which an angler or spearfisher can thread a fish, usually through the gills and out through its mouth.

This one from BassPro is a great example.

Typically, the stringer is then secured onto the side of the kayak, and the fish is placed back in the water.

The fish should, of course, already be dead (more on this below), as keeping fish alive in this manner while trolling is inhumane.

But as old as this method is, how good is it for storing fish on a kayak?

Stringers don’t take up nearly as much space as a fishing cooler, they’re lightweight, portable, and inexpensive.

But they have some significant disadvantages.

With fish hooked on, stringers will add weight and drag to your kayak – and the more fish you thread, the harder it’s going to be to paddle and control your craft.

And holding a fish in the water it’s come from isn’t going to keep it as fresh as you might think – particularly on hot days.

Finally, this method should be totally avoided if you’re fishing in saltwater, as it’s a sure-fire way of attracting larger predators looking to sneak a bite – and maybe even a bite out of your kayak.

For more information about dealing with potential animal threats when you’re out there, check out this article on the dangers of kayak fishing.

two men fishing from kayak in river


Once you’ve landed a fish, if you’ve nowhere else to store it, you might as well keep it in the net.

But please make sure the fish has been dispatched before you do so! Keep reading for top tips on how to humanely kill a fish.

Once the fish is dead and placed back in your net, you can submerge it in the water to try and keep it as fresh as possible.

However, like stringers, this isn’t the best option for the exact same reasons, with the additional downside that the fish may spill out of the net and sink into the murky depths.

As such, you should probably avoid this method completely if it can be helped.

But while a net might not be the best solution for storing a fish, it’s certainly an essential tool for landing one.

And having the right net is going to make all the difference, as landing a fish on a kayak can take some practice.

Check out this article on the best kayak fishing nets for more information.

Insulated Grocery Bags

Another budget-friendly option, if you happen to have inexpensive insulated grocery bags lying around, they can be useful for storing fish on a kayak.

Not too dissimilar to softshell coolers, they’re affordable, compact, and you probably already have one in the cupboard.

Just fill with ice packs or frozen bottles of water, and you have a decent place to store your catch temporarily.

They’re not without their downsides, however, as they’re not waterproof, nor are they particularly heavy-duty.

Add too much weight and/or volume, for example, and you’re risking seams breaking, handles snapping, zipper’s busting, and contents spilling out all over your deck.

Deck Bags

Deck bags are useful for carrying all sorts of gear, clothing, and equipment – but they can also be used for transporting a fish.

This Advanced Elements deck bag is a great example, as they’re highly practical products that have a low profile, and are compatible with just about any kayak out there.

If you’re fishing in colder climes, they can be a suitable method of stashing your fish while you paddle home, but they’re not going to offer the insulation that a cooler will be able to offer.

Again, adding some ice packs and frozen water bottles will help buy you some time, but it’s not going to be much.

And don’t get your deck bags mixed up – make sure you have one that’s dedicated to fish only – as you’re unlikely to ever get the stink out.

fisherman in sit-on-top kayak with multiple fishing rods

How to Kill a Fish on a Kayak

The chances are you’re not going to bring a struggling fish on board your kayak and simply dump it in a storage compartment or cooler.

It needs to be “taken care of,” first.

Growing up, I remember my dad bashing fish on their heads with a rusty pair of wire cutters he kept in his tackle box.

While that’s still a valid choice, there are quicker, more ethical options available.

Originating in Japan, the “ikijime” method has been rising in popularity in the west, and is by far the most humane way to dispatch a fish.

And a fish that hasn’t suffered or placed under unnecessary stress is going to taste so much better as a result.

Not only that, but this is a great option for kayak fishing when you don’t have a lot of space. Quick, clean, and effective, this is how all anglers should be killing fish.

Check out the video below for a full guide.

I would also heartily recommend wearing a pair of good quality fishing gloves for extra grip and protection when you’re handling slippery critters.

And I’m not talking about your boss.


Keeping your catch as fresh as possible is important when you’re out on the water all day, as most anglers aren’t content with simply landing one and then turning for home.

I hope this article has given you some ideas on where to keep fish on a kayak, and you know how best to store your catch in relation to your setup and needs.

Let me know in the comments if you have any awesome fish-storing ideas for kayak angling.

Stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy kayak fishing!

Stuart Jameson

Stuart is passionate about travel, kayaking, camping and the great outdoors in general. He's not quite as enthusiastic about angling as his father was, but out of the two of them, he's yet to hook his ear lobe while fly-fishing, which he sees as an absolute win.

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