The Best Place to Keep Fish when Using a Kayak

Kayaking has become your new favorite hobby, and you’re thinking of soon combining it with your other favorite hobby, fishing. Unlike on a fishing boat though, you’re not exactly sure where you’d store the fish you catch on a kayak. Where should you put them?

You have plenty of options for keeping fish when using a kayak, including:

  • Insulated grocery bags
  • Deck bags
  • Tank wells
  • Kayak hatches
  • Nets
  • Coolers (soft or hard)
  • Stringers

In today’s article, we’ll discuss all 7 of your kayak fish storage options in detail, providing a pros and cons list for each one. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know what the most suitable location is to keep fish on your kayak!

7 Places to Keep Fish on a Kayak

1. Insulated Grocery Bags

For sit-in kayaks especially, storage space is at a minimum. This is when insulated grocery bags come in handy. 

Insulated grocery bags are usually made of nylon. They come in a variety of sizes, although most are medium to large to hold a good number of groceries. Many insulated grocery bags have carrying handles for easily transporting whatever’s inside (in your case, that’d be fish). 

For the purposes of storing caught fish, we’d recommend an insulated grocery bag that zips completely closed rather than one with no means of securing it. Even when out of the water, fish can give a strong last-ditch effort to escape and jump right out of a grocery bag!

The insulation maintains the cool temperature of the grocery bag without the need for ice packs, which you probably don’t want a fish rubbing up against anyway. 


  • Insulated grocery bags come in a variety of sizes and styles to suit any angler.
  • Whether you want to keep conditions in the grocery bag cool or hot, the built-in insulation takes care of it for you. 
  • Many insulated grocery bags are made of heavy-duty materials like nylon with a high denier thread count and PEVA liners. 


  • Even the biggest insulated grocery bags can’t handle super-large catches such as tuna or striped bass.
  • Once you use an insulated grocery bag for storing fish, there’s no going back to carrying groceries in there. That just wouldn’t be sanitary. 

2. Deck Bags

Your next option is a deck bag, which is sometimes referred to as a dry bag. This kayak-specific bag attaches to your kayak so you don’t have to worry about taking up valuable (and sparse) floor space with another bag.

Most deck bags feature a shock cord at the top for pulling the bag closed. The bag is also usually reflective so you can always find it even in dimmer kayaking conditions like early-morning fog or late afternoon. 

If the deck bag isn’t a dry bag itself, then it may have a dry bag fastener for attaching a separate bag to the deck bag. Like reusable grocery bags, deck bags are made of heavy-duty materials such as ripstop nylon.


  • Deck bags are designed for kayak storage, unlike some of the solutions on this list.
  • You can fasten the deck bag to your kayak to free up more floor room. 
  • High-quality deck bags feature tough materials sure to last for many kayaking seasons to come. 


  • Deck bags can be expensive, costing upwards of $100 and sometimes more. Not all are waterproof either. 
  • Securing the deck bag to your kayak can be a bit of a pain.
  • If your deck bag isn’t made for storing fish, then we don’t recommend using it for that purpose. You’ll never get the fishy smell out.  

3. Tank Wells

The third solution for keeping fish on a kayak is the tank well. 

This is the part of your boat that offers storage on the deck. Some tank wells include a cargo net or bungee to keep what you store secure, but not all.

The size of the tank well is commensurate with the size of your kayak, in that a smaller or slimmer kayak will have an equally narrow tank well. A wider and bigger kayak will feature a larger tank well for storing more fish.


  • Tank wells are built into your kayak so you don’t have to spend extra money on this storage solution unless you’re buying bungees or nets.


  • Tank wells on their own are not a storage solution, only a place to keep a storage solution such as an insulated grocery bag or a cooler like we’ll talk about a little later. 
  • A tank well can be small if your kayak is on the smaller side as well. 

4. Kayak Hatches

In the same vein as the tank well is the kayak hatch, which is another included storage option in most boats. 

Unlike tank wells though, the hatch is completely enclosed. It sort of looks like a hole built into your boat, but a hole that’s supposed to be there.

The kayak hatch is designed to store sensitive cargo and gear that you want to keep protected. By closing the seal on the hatch, you can ensure that your stored items stay dry. 

Once again, the size of your kayak is commensurate with the size of the hatch. Smaller hatches are still better than nothing, but they’re shallower for less storage room. 

Most kayak hatches are designed to be close to where you sit so you can easily access the hatch without having to get up. 


  • Kayak hatches can be deeper in bigger boats so you can store a variety of fish, even larger species.
  • The proximity of the kayak hatch to your seat makes this feature one you should use on your boat all the time. 
  • The seal that the hatch creates when closed prevents fish from escaping. 


  • Kayak hatches are uninsulated. If you’re fishing on a hot summer day, then your fish can begin decaying. By opening the hatch, you’ll be greeted by quite an unpleasant odor!
  • The deeper the hatch, the harder it might be to reach in and grab a fish. 
  • The fish smell in the hatch will be practically impossible to remove, so you’re dedicated to using the hatch for only fish storage going forward. 

5. Nets

In a pinch, some kayakers will hang a net full of fish off the side of their boats. 

You can attach the net to any secure point on the kayak and then focus your attention on paddling to shore. And shore is where you should go, as kayaking with fish hanging from your boat could attract birds and even bigger predators such as sharks. 

The fish must be dead if you’re going to keep them in a net. Otherwise, they could wriggle their way free. 


  • Nets are inexpensive and quite convenient, especially if you’re close to shore.


  • Even if all the fish are dead and can’t try to swim free, kayak nets have been known to come off the boat. You’d lose all the fish you worked so hard to catch! 
  • You must watch where you’re paddling. If you’re traveling through very shallow waters, the fish can get scraped, bruised, and damaged. You won’t want to eat them. 
  • Your kayak’s performance will take a hit when carrying a full net off the side of the boat. You’ll have more drag, which will make you move slower. You’ll feel like you’re paddling your heart out but not going anywhere, which can leave you exhausted. 
  • Most importantly, sharks could be attracted to your fish if you’re kayaking in the ocean!

6. Coolers

A cooler is a classic means of storing fish, so of course, you can rely on it when kayaking. 

Coolers come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, which gives you plenty of versatility in how you store them on your boat. 

For example, if you have a smaller kayak and most of your floor space is already taken up, then a soft cooler is more flexible. You can cram it into any available space and it will be okay. 

Hard coolers are usually larger and boast a greater storage capacity, but they’re heavier to boot. You must ensure that where you keep the hard cooler on your kayak doesn’t push the weight distribution too far to one side. If it does, you could capsize!

You can also buy coolers intended for fishing storage on a kayak such as the Seattle Sports Roll Catch Cooler or something like it. These coolers attach to your kayak much the same way that a deck bag does. 

You would have to choose between the kayak cooler or the deck bag, but that’s an easy decision, we think.


  • You can buy big coolers or small ones to accommodate any kayaking setup you have.
  • If you already own a cooler, you can use that for storing fish or you can purchase a kayak fishing cooler for more efficient storage.
  • Coolers are available at all price points so you can stick within a budget.  
  • Many coolers come insulated to maintain coolness or warmth. 


  • As mentioned, if you’re interested in a kayak fish cooler, you can’t have both that and a deck bag strapped to your kayak at the same time. 
  • Small coolers restrict the species of fish you can catch as well as the quantity. 

7. Stringers

The last kayak fishing storage method is the stringer. 

A fish stringer is a chain or rope where you attach fish. You can connect several fish to the stringer, all alive, and then continue fishing and kayaking for a while. 

They require even less space on your boat than a net despite serving a similar purpose. Plus, unlike using a net, a stringer allows you to keep the fish alive, at least for a little while. 


  • Stringers are exceptionally easy to use, and they have a decent storage capacity for keeping several fish at a time. 
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a stringer, which is another perk. 


  • Stringers, when they’re full of fish, do reduce your kayak performance much as a full net does. 
  • The stability of a stringer is debatable. Although they hold onto your kayak better than a net, at any point, the stringer can detach from the boat and all your fish will vanish for good.
  • The fish attached to a stringer, while they start out alive, will die by the time you reach the shore.
  • In saltwater, sharks and other hungry creatures will see your stringer line of fish and possibly attack your boat. 

Which Is the Best Place to Store Fish on Your Kayak?

We just went over 7 options for storing fish on your kayak. Of them all, which is the best?

While you should let your own tastes dictate your decision, we can’t recommend a cooler enough, especially a kayak fishing cooler. Designed for storing fish, kayak fishing coolers are sizable yet won’t take up room on the floor of your boat.

Sure, figuring out how all the straps work can be complicated at first, but once you learn how to mount your cooler to your kayak, you can easily get ready to set out for a day of adventure!

The worst kayak fish storage methods are nets and stringers by far. These options are very unstable, but more so than that, they could put your life in danger. 

We must reiterate that hungry creatures like sharks will see a trail of dead fish and follow in pursuit of what appears to be an easy meal.

If your boat gets taken down or you get injured or killed, you’re just collateral damage, really. It’s simply not worth it! At least if your fish are stored in a hatch, cooler, or bag, the sharks can’t smell them as easily.

Even if you don’t fish in saltwater, other creatures could strike as well, everything from gulls to potentially alligators or crocodiles.  

Final Thoughts

Kayaks might not look like they have a lot of places to store fish, but you’d be surprised. Now that you know the multitude of options you can use to keep fish on your boat, you can enjoy fishing on your kayak and bring home bigger catches than ever before!

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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