How to Store Fish on a Kayak: Good Options vs. Bad Choices

Space on a kayak is always at a premium, and fish storage options reflect that.

This doesn’t mean that keeping your catch is impossible - or even difficult - but it does necessitate that you think your options through pretty carefully.

As an avid kayak angler, I’ve tried all kinds of fish storage solutions, and if you’re wondering what the best options are, I’m here to help.

Keep reading if you want to know more about how to store fish on a kayak, as well as useful tips to get the most out of your choice.


Coolers are King For Storing Fish On A Kayak

Even on a kayak, the best option is a cooler.

Insulation, plus ice and water, means that your catch will stay fresh until you’re able to clean it, and the good news is that there are a variety of options designed around the needs of ‘yak fishermen.

We’ve reviewed some of the best kayak coolers before, so if you want the full rundown, check out this article: Best Coolers for Kayak Fishing in 2024

Keep in mind, however, that these coolers are designed to fit in the stern well, limiting their dimensions substantially. That’s not generally a problem if you’re chasing species like panfish, speckled trout, bluefish, croaker, or perch.

But a big walleye, and anything bigger than that, is simply not going to fit.

For storing small fish, a hard-sided cooler in the stern well is hard to beat. They’re easy to use, simple to remove when it’s time to clean fish, and easy to wash up with soap and water. The best of the bunch also offer plenty of insulation, so with the right ice and water mix, you can count on fresh fish - no matter how hot the sun is.

Engel UC19 19qt Leak-Proof, Air Tight, Fishing Drybox Cooler with Built-in Fishing Rod Holders, Also Makes The Perfect Small Hard Shell Lunchbox for Men and Women in Tan


Hard-sided coolers stay cold and clean up easily.

The best option we’ve found for kayakers is Engel’s 19-quart model. With dimensions measuring 21” x 11” x 13”, you want to break out the tape measure before you pull the trigger, but most fishing kayaks should be able to accommodate this cooler in their stern well.

It keeps fish ice cold when filled with the right mix, and it’s easy to clean when the day’s fishing is done.

It also includes a small tray that rests above the ice, perfect for keeping a sandwich or a couple of beverages cool without getting them full of fish slime.

It’s also big enough that you can probably squeeze a few keeper walleye or two, and most specks should fit if you’re only keeping a couple. For panfish, it’s fantastic, and you can load up on crappie, bluegill, or perch.

angler kayaking with fishing cooler

Most fishing kayaks can fit the Engel 19, but measure carefully!

For smaller kayaks, Engel’s 13 is an awesome alternative. At just 15” x 10” x 11”, it’s going to fit in the stern well of pretty much any fishing kayak out there, and it still offers plenty of space for small fish while keeping a sandwich or drink high and dry.

ENGEL 13qt Leak-Proof, Air Tight, Drybox Cooler and Small Hard Shell Lunchbox for Men and Women


A hard-sided cooler is the best option for storing fish.

Another option to consider is an insulated bow bag like Reliable Fishing Products’ Insulated Kayak Bag. I’d skip this for smaller fish, but if you want to keep a couple of big walleye or a reasonable size red or two, it’s a great option to consider.

Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kayak Bag 20' x 36' -takes up less space and keeps your fish fresh and protected, no matter the elements. Produced in USA,White


It’s 36 inches long, and when loaded with ice and water, it will keep a big fish cold all day. It comes with D-rings around the sides, making it very easy to bungee down to your ‘yak, and it can hold plenty of ice to keep your catch cool all day.

Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kayak Bag

Just be aware that it leaks when turned upright, so don’t just load it into your car or truck at the end of the day!

It’s a bit harder to clean than the Engel cooler, but that’s to be expected, given its soft construction and shape.

What We Don’t Recommend When Storing Fish On A Kayak

You’ll see folks recommend soft bags like the Canyon Insulated Fish Cooler Bag. Now, these are awesome bags for larger boats, and they save deck space, keep your deck clean, and work wonderfully for inshore and offshore fishing where deck space is at a premium or when you’re chasing really, really big fish like tarpon, sailfish, and tuna.

large fishing bag for storing fish

Fishing bags like these are designed for large boats, not kayaks.

But they’re not designed for kayaks, don’t offer convenient tie-downs, and zip from the side, making them almost impossible to use on the bow.

angler storing fish on kayak

Fish storage bags for kayaks need the zipper facing the stern.

That’s not knocking the bag, though - it’s just not the right product for this application.

Soft bags like the excellent Pelican Sport ExoChill are great for keeping food and drinks cool all day but less than ideal for fish as they’re hard to clean properly. They’re just not designed for that purpose.

Instead, we strongly recommend you go with a hard-sided cooler or specially-made fish cooler bag. You’ll be happy that you did when it comes time to clean up.

Tips to Get the Most From a Hard-Sided Cooler or Bow Bag

Keeping fish cold all day in the summer demands more than just pouring ice in your cooler, and knowing what to do to keep the temperature as low as possible will save your catch!

  • Start with a pre-chilled cooler - Always pre-chill your cooler with a bag of ice or some frozen water bottles. When you’re ready to hit the water, remove the pre-chill options and add new ice.
  • Mix bagged ice and frozen plastic bottles - Cubes cool better, but they also don’t last as long. Add a frozen water bottle or two to create a long-lasting source of cold.
  • Minimize empty space - Keep your cooler as full as you can to minimize air.
    As you begin the day’s fishing, add rolled towels to take up any extra space. As you add fish, you can remove them to create more room.
  • Don’t drain the water - Ice is more efficient when mixed with water.
  • Keep the lid closed - Only open your cooler when absolutely necessary.

Final Thoughts

A good hard-sided cooler or bow bag is the ideal way to store your catch and keep it fresh until you get home, and with the right know-how, you never need to worry about spoiling your fish.

But be careful: there are bad recommendations out there for storing fish on a kayak, and you want to be sure to skip those styles of products.

We hope you learned something today from this article, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.

Please leave a comment below, and we’ll be in touch!

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.