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Bagging Fish

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So you have some fish at home that you would like to bring to a CCA meeting and auction off, but you have no idea how to bag fish. Have no fear, we have a 12 step program (not really 12 steps) to put you on the path to enlightenment.

You are obviously going to need some bags (Ziploc type bags are not appropriate fish bags) and there are several places that you can get them. If you have a good relationship with your local fish store (LFS), they will more than likely give you a couple of bags. You can also purchase your own bags from a number of online retailers. Two of the more popular sites are JEHMCO and KEN'S FISH. Both sites offer bags in a variety of sizes and thicknesses.

Bags are not 'One Size Fits All'. You will need to use the correct size bag for the particular fish you are moving. The bag should be large enough for the fish to turn around in and still remain completely submerged in water, even if the bag is laying on it's side. You can use a bag that is larger than what the fish requires, but do not use a bag that is to small, as you will be inviting trouble. In general, thinner bags are easier to seal tightly. For most fish a 2 mil bag is adequate. If you have larger, more aggressive fish, you may want to use a thicker bag. The thicker 3 mil bag is slightly more resistant to puncture, but a little tougher to seal properly.


When bagging fish, try to use water from the tank the fish was in. The fish is already adjusted to this water and this should lessen the stress and shock the fish will endure. When adding water to the bag, a good rule of thumb is, 1/3 water and 2/3 air. This rule applies to the enclosed portion of the bag when it is sealed, not the total length of the bag. It is often helpful to place the bag into another container, such as an empty food bucket, for support when adding water. Remember you can add or remove water right up until you seal the bag, so you do not have to get it ‘just right’ the first time.


You are now ready to add your fish. In a perfect world you would have 1 fish per bag, but there are times when this rule can be bent. If you are bagging fry, juveniles or small non-aggressive fish, you can put multiple fish in a single, appropriately sized bag. Keep in mind that if one fish were to die in the bag, the water will quickly become fouled and you could possibly lose ALL the fish. If you have larger or more aggressive fish, it is best to follow the 1 fish per bag rule. Be gentle when adding the fish to the bag, don’t just dump it in. It is also best to stop feeding your fish a day or two before you plan on bagging them. This allows them time to purge their systems of waste. This lessens the chance of the fish fouling the water in the bag. If you are going to use a product such as Jungle Bag Buddies, now would be the time to add it. Bag Buddies and similar products are a type of water conditioner. Most slowly release oxygen in to the water and some have a very mild sedative that is released to keep the fish calm. Have you have ever seen a bag with dark blue water? It is more than likely a bag treated with Bag Buddies.


DO NOT breathe air into the bag. What you are actually doing is putting a potentially deadly concentration of Carbon Dioxide into the bag.

There are several ways to add/capture air in the bag. As you are probably new to the wonderful world of fish bagging, we will concentrate on the easy cheap method of ‘capturing’ air. A little bit of speed and coordination will be required. You may want to practice this a few times BEFORE you add the fish to the bag. It is possible to spill all the water from the bag, so pick a suitable location to practice.

With the bottom of the bag lightly resting on a flat surface (this gives the bag shape), visualize the point of the bag you want to grab that will ‘capture’ the 2/3 ratio of air in the bag. Now quickly grab the bag at that point, being sure to hold it tightly closed. Give the bag a few quick twists to help seal it. Now check and see if you captured enough air. If not, try again. If you got it right, continue to twist the top of the bag. You want good, tight twists, as this is what keeps the air and water in the bag. The twisted portion of the bag (tag end) should be at least 3” long. You can tie the tag end of the bag into a tight knot to seal it. You can also use rubber bands to seal the bag. Slip the rubber band over the tag end of the bag and give it a half twist. Pass the tag end of the bag through the opening in the rubber band. Give the rubber band another half twist and pass the tag end of the bag through the opening. Repeat this step 4 or 5 times, being sure to keep the twists tight. I like to take the tag end of the bag and fold it in half. I then use the same rubber band technique to ‘double seal’ the bag.

I recommend that most fish be double bagged using the ‘inverted’ technique. All that means is you take the first sealed bag and put it into another bag (usually the same sized bag) tag end first. Then seal the second bag using the same techniques as outlined above. Now if your first seal leaks, it is leaking into the second bag. Since the sealed end of the second bag is at the other end, the water has a harder time getting out onto the table or floor. Another advantage of the inverted double bag is that it helps to eliminate corners on the inside of the bag that could trap small fish.


If the fish is indeed destined for the auction table, it should be properly labeled. You should include as much of the following information as possible.

Scientific Name
Common Name
Where is this fish found in the world? (Rift Lake, West Africa, Central or South America, etc…)
pH and temperature ranges the fish can live in
A photo of the adult fish can also help sell your fish

(I intend to add photos of this process when I get a chance)
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