Fishing Coolers: Keep your Catch Nice & Frosty!

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A key component to any good fishing trip is a good fishing cooler. When you’ve invested hard earned money in expensive rods, reels, fishing electronics, and other pricey gear, the last thing you want is your trophy catch to spoil.

Fishing coolers are designed for this exact situation. They’ll keep your catch fresh and cool for prolonged periods of time – so you can focus on catching more fish! When stored on ice immediately, fish will stay fresh longer, be easier to clean, and even taste better.

Coolers for fishing come in a variety of different sizes, designs, and with varying features. I’ll break down some of the best fishing coolers on the market, and help you pick the right one for your needs.

Quick Answer: 7 Best Fishing Coolers

Types of Fishing Coolers

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Before we get to the best coolers, let’s take a look at several different cooler designs used for fishing.

Wheeled Coolers

Wheeled coolers are ideal for shore, pier, and dock fishing. They’re easy to transport from one fishing spot to another, many feature large no-flat wheels that can tackle rougher terrain, and they can be used as makeshift carts by lashing gear and rod holders to them. Some also feature tough lids that can be used as cutting boards or even seats.

If you need a larger cooler that’s easy to transport on your own – a wheeled cooler makes a lot of sense. Instead of having to deadlift a 100+ pound fully-loaded cooler, you can simply wheel the cooler around effortlessly.

Fish Bags

Fish bags (also called catch bags or kill bags), are compact, soft sided cooler bags that work the same way as hard-bodied coolers. Simply unfold the bag, fill up with ice, and then store your catch inside when the time comes. These cooler bags are highly portable, ultra-light, UV-resistant, and come in a variety of different sizes – so you can find one ideal sized for your needs.

Boat Coolers

Boat coolers are basically large hard-sided coolers for use on fishing boats. They work as you might expect, and can store a large volume of fish and ice. They also double as coolers for storing food, drinks, and more.

These coolers come in a wide variety of makes, models, and price points. Traditional cooler manufacturers like Igloo and Coleman make basic models that we’re all familiar with. Newer entrants like YETI and Pelican have taken coolers to a whole new level, with ultra-thick insulated walls, week long ice retention times, freezer grade seals, and military grade ruggedness.

Best Overall: Engel Cooler/Dry Box with 4 Rod Holders

Engel cooler/dry box with 4 rod holders - 30 qt - white

Engel makes some of the best fishing coolers on the market, and this one is certainly no exception. It features a number of add-ons making it ideally suited for shore, kayak, and small boat fishing. Integrated rod holders attached to both sides allow you to mount up to 4 fishing rods directly to the cooler.

Available in both 19- and 30-quart sizes, you can easily find a cooler suited for your craft. The lightweight construction is rugged and durable, making it tough enough to withstand nearly anything your likely to throw at it. Injection molded foam insulation and airtight EVA Gasket seal provides a good level of ice-retention, and will keep ice cold for 36 hours or more.

An included hanging accessory tray allows you to separate small items from the rest of your cooler, while comfortable carry handles and a shoulder strap allow you to transport the whole thing with ease. Stainless steel hinges and fittings secure the cooler and ensure nothing can get in or out. The entire unit doubles as a dry box for storing valuables, electronics, and other sensitive gear.

Keep in mind that the lightweight cooler is meant for short to medium term use, and doesn’t have the same insulation level as higher-end rotomolded models.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 19 quart, 30 quart
  • Weight: 5 ½ pounds, 7 pounds
  • Four integrated fishing rod holders
  • Lightweight construction is ideal for kayaks, canoes, SUP’s and other small craft
  • Doubles as a dry box for storing electronics, cameras, and other valuables

Best Catch Bag: Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kill Bag

Reliable fishing products 28 inch tall by 48 inch long insulated cooler kill bag for fresh catches with drain plug, white

If you’re looking for a catch bag to keep your fish fresh and cool, you’ll have a tough time matching the quality and workmanship of the Reliable Fishing Products kill bags. These bags can store ice for days at a time, and function in much the same way as heavier hard-sided coolers – without all the added bulk.

Their designed to keep ice from melting for several days, provided you don’t keep them in direct sunlight. Both the external and internal materials are rock-solid, with heavy-duty vinyl coated nylon, durable stitching, and comfortable carry handles. The soft sides allow you to store the bag in a variety of configurations, allowing you to mold it to whatever space you have available.  

Keep in mind these bags are purposely designed not to be completely leakproof. They’ll let out a small amount of melted ice out through the bottom seams. This prevents melted ice buildup in the bag – and keeps your catch fresher for longer.

If you want to minimize the amount of ice melt from the bag, simply freeze several large water bottles and use them instead of regular cubed ice.

Key Features

  • Wide variety of different sizes available
  • Designed to keep fish cold for 24 hours or more
  • Heavy duty vinyl-coated nylon exterior
  • Insulated interior is UV and mildew resistant
  • Made in the USA

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Best Wheeled Cooler: Igloo Trailmate Journey

Igloo 70 qt premium trailmate wheeled rolling cooler, brown

The Igloo trailmate journey is in a league of its own when it comes to fishing coolers on wheels. It features oversized no-flat 10-inch tires, giving it impressive performance in sand, mud, and other challenging terrain. It’s also packed with features that any angler would find useful like a built-in serving tray, two integrated fishing rod holders, self-draining cup-holders, and a lockable dry storage box to stash keys, electronics, and other valuables.

The ultratherm insulation can provide up to 4 days of ice retention, and with a generous 70-quart capacity you’ll be able to up to 112 standard sized cans! A telescoping glide handle makes pulling your load much easier, and tie down loops allow you to haul chairs, umbrellas, and fishing gear lashed directly to the cooler’s lid.

A threaded garden hose compatible drain plug allows you to empty out melted ice without having to open the cooler lid, which can be very handy when you’re using the cooler for multiple days. The elevated design works to lift the cooler off of hot surfaces – increasing cooling while making it easier to traverse rougher terrain.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 70 quarts
  • Dimensions: 35” x 24” x 20”
  • Weight: 35 pounds
  • Packed with useful features like rod holders, cup holders, bottle openers, dry storage, and more
  • Ultratherm insulation can provide up to 4 days of ice retention
  • Oversized 10-inch no-flat tires can handle sand, muck, and rocky trails

Best Large Fishing Cooler: Coleman Xtreme 5 Marine Cooler, 150 Quart

Coleman coastal xtreme series marine portable cooler , white, 70 quart

When it comes to large fishing coolers, you’ll have a tough time beating the sheer size and value of this behemoth. It features a massive 150-quart capacity, which is enough to fit 252 standard sized cans – or more fish that you’re likely to catch!

The insulation can keep fish cold for up to 5 days, at temperatures up to 90° Fahrenheit. As with any cooler in this price range, you’ll want to take this number with a grain of salt, as in real-life conditions you’ll likely get closer to 3-4 days maximum.

An antimicrobial lining prevents mold, fungus, and mildew from developing inside, while stainless-steel hardware and UVGuard material prevent damage from the sun and ocean.

An included dry storage tray allows you to store items you don’t want in direct contact with ice, like meats, fruits, bread, and other foods. A cutting board also comes included, making food prep a breeze. Coleman’s have-a-seat lead with molded cup holders can support up to 250 pounds, so you can use it as a makeshift bench or table if necessary.

A built-in threaded drain plug allows you to quickly empty out any melted ice, without the need to open the cooler lid.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 150 quarts
  • Dimensions: 43” x 19” x 19”
  • Weight: 29 pounds
  • High capacity cooler can store up to 252 standard cans!
  • Included dry storage tray for separating food from ice
  • 250-pound lid capacity can be used as makeshift seat

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Best Small Cooler for Fishing: Yeti Tundra 35 Cooler

Yeti tundra 35 cooler, desert tan

Yeti have made quite the name for themselves in the cooler world – and for good reason. Their rotomolded construction and thick-walled design make them rock-solid, and provide impressive ice-retention times in the 7+ day range. This compact cooler is no exception – and offers the same impressive performance as its larger counterparts.

With a 35-quart capacity, the cooler can hold up to 21 standard cans using a 2:1 ice to can ratio, or 26 pounds of ice only. This makes it a great size for personal use, or for a day on the water fishing.

Rotomolded construction makes the cooler tough-as-nails, and more than capable of handling difficult conditions. It weighs 20 pounds when empty, putting it on the heavier side, but that comes with the territory when you’re dealing with heavy-duty coolers.

A threaded drain plug allows for hassle-free drainage, while non-slip feet keep the cooler firmly planted in place no matter how wet and slippery the conditions.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 35 quarts
  • Dimensions: 16” x 15.75” x 21.5”
  • Weight: 20 pounds
  • Typical yeti quality – superb overengineered construction
  • Long ice-retention is ideal for long term use
  • Rotomolded construction and fatwall design is tough-as-nails

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Best Kayak Fishing Cooler: Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kayak Bag

Reliable fishing products insulated kayak bag 20

If you’re looking for a cooler that makes the most of the limited space on your kayak, this well-crafted catch bag is one of the best options around. It features a tapered design made to fit in most kayak wells along with 6 D rings for lashing it down securely.

Both the interior and exterior materials are rugged and durable – so they’ll hold up to spiny fish and other hazards. The thick insulation is more than adequate, and will keep ice chilled for a full day on the water in hot sunny weather.

Measuring 36” long and tapering from 10” to 20” wide, the bag is large enough to hold larger saltwater species like redfish, flounder, sheepshead, and yellowtail. The internal volume works out to about 70 quarts – which means it can hold about 95 pounds of ice.

The materials are easily washable, as well as mildew and UV resistant. Ice retention time is about 4 days in ideal conditions, so you’ll have no problem keeping everything cool for multiple days if necessary.

Keep in mind that like other Reliable Fishing Products, the bag is not 100% leakproof. It’s designed to let a small amount of ice melt out – keeping everything inside nice and cool.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 70 quart
  • Dimensions: 20” x 36” x 8”
  • Insulated kill bag can keep ice for up to 4 days
  • Rugged and durable construction can handle tough conditions
  • Tapered design is built to fit in a variety of kayak wells
  • Washable, mildew, and UV resistant

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Live Bait Cooler: Engel Live Bait Cooler with 2 Speed Aerator

Engel 13 qt live bait cooler & minnow bucket - englbc13-n

If you’re looking for somewhere to stash live bait while fishing, this cooler/aerator is the perfect solution. It comes in several different capacities (7.5, 13, 19 & 30 quart), so you can easily find the right cooler for your particular needs.

A whisper-quiet 2-speed pump maximizes aeration and extends battery life, allowing you to adjust the level of bubbling action. It can run off of two D-cell batteries, or a boat/vehicle battery. The pump connection is on the lid, making the cooler airtight, and preventing accidental spillage during transport.

A net basket comes included – allowing you to lift bait out of the cooler effortlessly. This makes hooking up bait much easier, so you won’t have to fish around your bait bucket by hand. A convenient shoulder strap also comes included, making transportation a breeze.

The cooler can also be used as a regular cooler without the pump and hose, so you can stash food and drinks inside when not using it for bait.

Key Features

  • Capacity: 70 quart
  • Dimensions: 20” x 36” x 8”
  • Insulated kill bag can keep ice for up to 4 days
  • Rugged and durable construction can handle tough conditions
  • Tapered design is built to fit in a variety of kayak wells
  • Washable, mildew, and UV resistant

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How to pick the right fishing cooler

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Fishing coolers differ significantly in terms of design, materials, and sizes. Picking the right one for your boat or fishing style can be a confusing task – so let’s take a look at some of the most important features to be on the lookout for.

Ice Retention

Ice retention time refers to how long ice can stay solid inside a cooler. Manufacturers will give a rating for the number of days of ice retention – which should generally be taken with a grain of salt. Many manufacturers will test ice retention in ideal conditions, but real-life conditions tend to be less than ideal.

If you’re frequently opening and closing the lid, or storing the cooler in direct sunlight, then you can expect significantly less ice retention time than if you stored it under ideal conditions.

To extend your ice retention time, you’ll want to use larger ice chunks, store your cooler out of direct sunlight, open the lid only when necessary, use a 2 to 1 ice-to-contents ratio, and pre-chill the cooler before use.


Fishing cooler materials can vary significantly, and can have a major impact on cooler performance.

Rotomolded coolers are a newer manufacturing method, using a single piece of rotomolded polyethelyne to create rock-solid coolers that won’t break down no matter how rough you are with them. These coolers cost significantly more than their cheaper solid-bodied counterparts, and are typically made by high-end manufacturer’s like Yeti and Pelican.

Soft bodied coolers (kill bags) are lightweight, highly portable, and can be stashed away when not in use. Kill bags are great for smaller craft like kayaks and canoes, where you might not have enough space for a full-sized cooler. Higher-end soft coolers can retain ice for an impressive period of time, often for 3+ days.


Capacity refers to a coolers internal volume, and will give you a good indication of how much stuff it can hold. Manufacturer’s also typically give a rating for how many standard sized cans it can fit, as well as how many pounds of ice.

Of course, high capacity coolers are larger, bulkier, and cost more than their more compact counterparts. Whether or not you should spring for a larger cooler will depend on the size of your boat, your budget, and how much cooler space you require.


Drainage is an important consideration for any fishing cooler, and especially so for larger models. If you use a cooler for a prolonged period of time, the ice will inevitably start to melt, decreasing its cooling ability, and creating a swampy environment.

Built-in drainage holes allow you to remove melted ice from the cooler without needing to lift it up and dump it out. Many are threaded, so you can attach a drainage hose and drain overboard without moving the cooler.

Extra Features

Modern coolers come with all sorts of bells and whistles, some of them being highly useful, while others are a little silly. Let’s take a look at them in detail.

  • Rod Holders: Rod holders are a useful addition for any fishing cooler, and especially for coolers used for shore, dock, or pier fishing. They’ll let you transform your cooler into a mobile fishing cart! If your cooler didn’t come with built in rod-holders, then you can add aftermarket rod holder like the AIEVE Fishing Rod Holder which is compatible with YETI and RTIC coolers.
  • Cup Holders: Let’s face it, you can never have to many cup holders! Many hard-bodied coolers have molded cup holders that let you stash drinks directly on the cooler lid.
  • Wheels: When it comes to fishing coolers, wheels can be serious game changers. They’ll let you easily transport fully-loaded coolers without so much as breaking a sweat.
  • Aerators: Live bait coolers are essentially hard-bodied coolers with built in aerators for keeping bait fish alive for long periods of time. These coolers are handy for any angler that frequently uses live bait. They’ll let you keep pinfish, shrimp, and other bait alive and lively!

If you’re looking for a compact fishing bag to go with your cooler, check out my review of the best fishing slings and shoulder bags

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