If you are heading out for a long day of fishing, you’ll want a cooler that can keep up. This buyer’s guide highlights our top picks for best fishing coolers. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. These fishing coolers are durable with features like fish rulers, drain plugs, bottle openers, and they are leak-proof so you can keep your catch on ice without any mess. Each cooler has its own unique style to fit the needs of beach, boat, or lakeside anglers. Some of these fishing coolers are compact too, making them an excellent choice for kayak fishing.
Sportsman 20 Quart Rotomold
When it comes to quick, on-the-go coolers, there aren’t many choices better than the Igloo Sportsman.
The Igloo Sportsman is a 20 quart rotomolded cooler built with T-style lid latches, and a reinforced carrying handle. Both features sit prominently on a white rotomolded body, which contains over 2” of insulation foam in all areas. The body of this cooler leads neatly to an oversized drain, which allows anglers to quickly displace water buildup from the inside.
Due to it’s small and handy size, the Sportsman is likely the best cooler for kayak fishing, as it can sit onboard without taking up too much room. It also does great as a backcountry cooler, for anglers looking to capture small mountain species.
SUITABLE FOR: Backcountry and kayak anglers
CAPACITY: 20 quart
ICE RETENTION: 4 days
DRAINAGE: Singular oversized drain
PORTABILITY: Convenient handle for easy carrying
CONSTRUCTION: Sturdy rotomold with white design
FEATURES: Self-stopping lid hinge
- Strong and durable rotomolded construction
- Secure T-handle lid latches
- Oversized drain plug for quick release
- Efficient carrying handle
- Small carrying capacity
REYLEO doesn’t waste time – with its premier Ice Chest it is incredibly durable, leak-proof, and sharp-looking, easily making it one of the best coolers for fishing on the market.
REYLEO takes on competing top brands with a rotomolded cooler equipped with rubber straps, a capped drainage spout, and a super durable metal handle. Of course, those are all expected, but where REYLEO differentiates its product is the presence of a fish ruler, bottle opener, non-slip mats, and drink holders. All these unique features are wrapped up into a sleek gray, blue, or sea green box that looks straight off the factory line.
Although the 21-quart size is slightly smaller than others on the market, the REYLEO Ice Chest also comes in a 52 quart (link to best marine coolers article) for those expecting longer days on the water. Being similar to the Sportsman, the REYLEO is another great option of ice chest for kayak fishing.
COLORS: Blue, Light Gray, Sea Green
SUITABLE FOR: Kayak and backcountry anglers
CAPACITY: 21 quart
ICE RETENTION: 3+ days
DRAINAGE: Singular twist-based drain
PORTABILITY: Steel handle for easy carrying
CONSTRUCTION: Sturdy rotomold with slick colorful design
FEATURES: Non-slip rubber feet, bottle opener, and fish ruler
- Bottle opener
- Sharp exterior design
- Quality latches
- Incredibly leak-proof
- Lid-based fish ruler
- Drain cap collects condensation
20 Quart Elite Cooler
This US-based brand cuts no corners with the Pelican 20 – it is a robust product sure to land up on any fishing cooler review.
Pelican opts for an injection-molded cooler with the 20 quarts, as opposed to typical rotomolded constructions (like many modern competitors). Thankfully, the final product is a fine piece that can endure large amounts of damage and blunt force.
The 20-quart cooler is outfitted with 4 self-draining cupholders, a side cutout for easy transport, and an anti-shear hinge system to ensure that the top lid doesn’t get torn off.
Although the design is slightly odd for a cooler, it’s more vertical than horizontal orientation is still extremely useful and handy. All in all, the Pelican 20 is a small fishing cooler that can be taken on backcountry hikes or day trips to nearby lakes and ponds.
COLORS: White, Canyon Red, Seafoam, Tan/Orange, and 8 others
SUITABLE FOR: Beach, boat, and lakeside anglers
CAPACITY: 20 quart
ICE RETENTION: 2+ days
DRAINAGE: Drain plug absent
PORTABILITY: Reinforced molded handle with side cutout for easy transport
CONSTRUCTION: Durable injection-molded cooler with vertical design
FEATURES: 4 self-draining cupholders
- Sidepiece cutout for easy carrying
- Anti-shear hinge system
- Self-draining cupholders
- 2 inches of polyurethane insulation
- Rugged and durable construction
- Lifetime warranty
- Odd dimensions
- No drain plugs
Igloo spares no expense with its BMX cooler. This high-end product assembles all the brand’s most advanced features.
The BMX 52 is a heavy-duty blow-molded cooler which is reinforced with a diamond plate insert, oversized hinges and latches. Unlike old school Igloo coolers, the BMX comes with a variety of useful features such as skid pads, rubberized T-latches, a threaded drain plug, and four tie-down points that guarantee secure transportation. Resulting in what is no doubt, one of Igloo’s finest coolers for fishing.
Every BMX 52 is rated to hold ice for 5+ days, while also resisting UV damage and degradation. Overall, the BMX 52 is a great option for anglers looking for a large fish cooler to take out on a boat, or to a campsite.
COLORS: Carbon, White, Sandstone/Red, Aquamarine, and Green
SUITABLE FOR: Beach, boat, and offshore anglers
CAPACITY: 52 quart
ICE RETENTION: 5+ days
DRAINAGE: Threaded drain plug
PORTABILITY: Swing-up latches with reinforced steel bar for reliable transport
CONSTRUCTION: Heavy-duty blow molded construction with rugged design
FEATURES: Skid pads and diamond plate metal insert
- Diamond plate insert for increased support
- Threaded drain plug for zero leakage
- Heavy-duty blow molded construction
- 3-year warranty
- 5+ day ice retention
- Slightly curved lid
45 Quart Ice Chest
SuperHandy lives up to its name with its 45-quart ice chest – a piece crafted from rotational molding.
Like many other rotomolded coolers for fishing, the SuperHandy 45 is fashioned from a slow rotational plastic molding process to evenly disperse the plastic particles. The end result is a super hard and durable plastic, which can be tossed and thrown around without incurring damage.
The key features found on the SuperHandy 45 are its dual bottle openers, dual gasket drain plug, and rope handles. Although, all considering – its tan color is fairly standard. Anglers can also opt for the wheeled version, which is likely the best fishing cooler with wheels.
SUITABLE FOR: Beach, offshore, and inland anglers
CAPACITY: 45 quart
ICE RETENTION: 5 days
DRAINAGE: Dual gasket drain plug
PORTABILITY: Rope handles with tie downs
CONSTRUCTION: Rotomolded frame with durable locking design
FEATURES: Snag-less T-latches and dual bottle openers
- 22-inch fish ruler
- Convenient strap handles
- Latches sink into cooler when locked
- Durable rotomolded frame
- Steel bottle openers
- Great ice retention
- No tether for drain plug
19 Quart Cooler/Dry Box
Engle’s Dry Box is a retro-styled cooler that offers supreme convenience for any angler heading to the docks or the backcountry.
Due to its 19-quart capacity, the Dry Box isn’t a piece made for salmon and ocean fishing, but rather streamside and river fishing. The molded cooler is fitted with two metal latches and a top carrying handle, giving it somewhat of a lunchbox appearance. On each side of the top are two narrow slits, which allow anglers to run a strap through if they would like to carry the piece by shoulder rather than by hand.
Nevertheless, the small fisherman cooler still does some impressive things, such as preventing odors from lingering, providing an easy clean-up option, and keeping contents chilled for nearly 2 days.
COLORS: White, Coral, Sea Foam, and four others
SUITABLE FOR: Riverside, creek, and freshwater anglers
CAPACITY: 19 quart
ICE RETENTION: 2 days
DRAINAGE: No drain plug
PORTABILITY: Top handle and additional carrying strap
CONSTRUCTION: Injection molded plastic with slick surface
FEATURES: Additional shoulder carrying strap
- Integrated shoulder strap for easy carrying
- Stain and odor resistant
- Easy to clean surface
- Includes inner accessory tray
- Lacks drainage spout
- No strap to stop lid from opening wide
The Grizzly 20 is one of the finest fish coolers on the market, as its robust and sturdy construction make it practically indestructible.
Unlike many of Grizzly’s large fishing coolers, the G20 is a smaller, more compact rotomolded product equipped with a carryover handle. The carryover handle is fitted with a comfortable rubber handpiece, which rotates along with the handler’s body as they transport it.
Where the G20 really stands out is its oversized drain. Sure, it still has all the basics such as non-slip rubber pads, a fish ruler, and latching handles, but the drain is a true game-changer. The oversized piece manages to perfectly hold in any water while secured yet can rapidly release it once removed. Unlike other fish cooler boxes, discharging water from the G20 is a total breeze.
COLORS: White, Tan, Red, and four others
SUITABLE FOR: Lakeside, river, and inshore anglers
CAPACITY: 20 quart
ICE RETENTION: 4 days
DRAINAGE: Oversized drain plug
PORTABILITY: Top handle with comfortable rubber grip
CONSTRUCTION: Sturdy rotomolded frame with flat design
FEATURES: Oversized drain plug
- IGBC certified bear-resistant
- Pressure injected foam for optimum temperature retention
- Reliable metal handle with comfortable grip
- Non-slip rubber feet on each corner
- Oversized drain for quick release
- Handle grip rotates while carrying
The KENAI 65 is a large fish cooler that’s ideal for any angler heading deep sea or salmon fishing.
There’s a lot to like about the KENAI 65, as the large-scale rotomolded cooler is well worth its weight. The notable external features of the 65 are its strap handles and rubber latches, which can both guarantee many years of rugged use. As per usual with big fish coolers, the model is outfitted with non-slip rubber feet which guarantee that it doesn’t slide around in a boat or on a dock.
Where the 65 distinguishes itself from other models, is its interior divider slots, which allow handlers to split the container into multiple sections for other goods. This unusual feature works extremely well for anglers looking for a boat or surf fishing cooler that can hold both fresh fish and cool refreshments.
COLORS: White, Orange, Teal, and six others
SUITABLE FOR: Deep sea, offshore, and salmon anglers
CAPACITY: 65 quarts
ICE RETENTION: 6 days
DRAINAGE: Angled drain plug
PORTABILITY: Dual handle carrying system with nylon straps
CONSTRUCTION: Bold rotomolded rectangular construction
FEATURES: Built-in divider slots
- Silicone rubber lid gasket for maximum temperature retention
- Low profile latches
- Nylon-rope handles with comfortable grips
- Built-in divider slots for separating goods
- Responsibly sourced materials
- Noticeably heavy
- Absence of fish ruler
Small Cooler 35 Quart
A relative newcomer to the cooler industry is Cordova, an American based firm that manufactures all its goods inside of the US.
Since joining the industry much later than many other competitors, CORDOVA has still managed to differentiate its 35-quart small cooler. They do a fantastic job of using unique features not found anywhere else, such as a raised lid to prevent goods from sliding, machine cut metal handles for incredible durability, and a top-locking latch mechanism that allows for easy access. All these features are then centered around a rotomolded frame, that comes in neat colors like sand, orange, and aqua.
Although the model lacks a fishing ruler and does need to be slightly tilted to drain, it is well worthy of being on any quality fishing cooler review.
COLORS: Aqua, Orange, Sand
SUITABLE FOR: River, lakeside, stream anglers
CAPACITY: 35 quarts
ICE RETENTION: 5 days
DRAINAGE: Unscrewable drain plug
PORTABILITY: Dual CNC cut metal handles
CONSTRUCTION: Decorative rotomolded construction
FEATURES: Top mounted latches, CNC metal handles
- Innovative metal side handles
- Quad-core rubber gasket for maximum temperature retention
- Top mounted lid latches for easy access
- Raised lid edges to prevent goods from sliding off
- Gorilla Grip non-skid feet
- Absence of fish ruler
- Cooler must be tilted to fully drain
YETI, the king of sports brands with capital letters, delivers great quality and reliability with its Tundra 45 cooler.
The Tundra 45 is a medium sized cooler for fishing that is crafted with the same rotational molding method that all of YETI’s products are. As a result, it is impressively durable, and resilient against the bumps and bruises that could damage traditional blow-molded coolers. The remarkable durability is coupled with polyester rope handles, T-style lid latches, and an interlocking lid mechanism to provide another level of temperature retention.
Performance wise – the Tundra does hold its own pretty well, as it can easily store ice for days. However, even though its branding is fantastic, many of the other coolers on this list can also go head to head with the Tundra 45 and perform at a similar level. Nevertheless, it is a reliable piece that can be trusted time and time again.
COLORS: White, Seafoam, Navy, and four others
SUITABLE FOR: Oceanside, river, and lake anglers
CAPACITY: 45 quarts
ICE RETENTION: 5 days
DRAINAGE: Angled drain plug
PORTABILITY: Dual handle system with comfortable nylon ropes
CONSTRUCTION: Sleek rotomolded construction
FEATURES: Bear-resistant rating
- Maintains ice for days
- Strong and durable construction
- High-quality latches
- Efficient drainage spout
- Very heavy
Ice Chest Hard Cooler 45 Quart
Another great rotomolded cooler anglers can turn to is the RTIC 45-quart ice chest. With a simplistic and sleek design, the RTIC 45 is just what anyone could expect.
Rotomolded coolers have taken the market by storm, and for good reason, they are durable, reliable, and great at retaining temperatures. So surely, it should come as no surprise that the RTIC 45 meets all these expectations and a few more. Crafted with dual drainage points, non-slip rubber feet, and up to 3” of insulation at some points, the model is genuinely dependable.
There aren’t tons of bells and whistles on RTIC’s mid-size cooler, but it is certainly a great all-round product that can be used to keep fish cold whether anglers are at the lake or riverside.
COLORS: Blue, White, Tan
SUITABLE FOR: Oceanside, river, and lake anglers
CAPACITY: 45 quarts
ICE RETENTION: 10 days
DRAINAGE: Dual drain plugs
PORTABILITY: Dual handle system with lengthy nylon handles
CONSTRUCTION: Fine rotomolded construction
FEATURES: Tie-down slots and rapid drain system
- Great for stacking and organizing
- Low profile rope handles for easy transport
- Doubles as a comfortable seat
- Durable T-latches
- Up to 3” of insulation at points
- Few colors available
Coolers have come a long way in recent years, with massive improvements in technology and construction. As a result, there are a few main types of coolers, such as foam, blow-molded, injection-molded, and rotationally molded (rotomolded).
First off, are the classic foam coolers, which are crafted out of Styrofoam type material. They are lightweight, moderately insulated, and easy to transport.
Second off, are blow-molded coolers, which are created with a blow-molding process that makes hollow plastic components. Like foam models, they are lightweight, moderately insulated, and fairly easy to transport.
Third, are injection-molded coolers, which are crafted by injecting liquid plastic into metal trays, which are then left to cool. The result is a solid plastic piece, which is notably durable, well insulated, and resistant to damage.
Finally, there are rotationally molded coolers, which are manufactured by continuously rotating a liquid injected plastic mold to disperse the plastic particles and create an incredibly dense piece. The result is an ultra-durable, well insulated, and heavy piece that can be tossed around without incurring any damage. Though they are heavy and cumbersome, many of the best fishing coolers are crafted by rotational molding.
The capacity of a cooler directly defines how much it can hold, and how long it can likely keep things cool.
Nearly half of a cooler’s available space must be filled with ice in order to maximize temperature retention. Thus, a 20-quart cooler must be filled with nearly 10 quarts of ice, leaving just 10 other quarts for storage. While this may be more than sufficient for some kayak or backcountry anglers, it is likely far too small for deep sea anglers.
Those hunting for prized catches in the deep are best off with a 65+ quart capacity. Such a size can still hold 30+ quarts of contents on top of ice (quite a respectable amount).
A key feature to consider when purchasing a cooler is its portability. A massive cooler for deep sea fishing likely won’t be the best cooler for kayak fishing.
The portability of a cooler mainly comes down to its overall size and available handles. Even large fishing coolers can easily be transported, as long as they contain quality handles and locking mechanisms. The weight of a massive cooler will obviously be more than that of a small, but aside from weight and size, the portability won’t be affected much.
Anglers using kayaks to fish are best off with coolers around 20-35 quarts, whereas anglers heading to the seaside are best equipped with 50+ quart coolers. The quality handles on most modern coolers make them a breeze to carry, so there is no true need to stress out looking for the best fishing cooler with wheels, unless the overall weight is a problem.
A multitude of fun and useful features can now be found on coolers as the chilled compartments have become a staple in every household.
Although they are not necessities, some of the additional features that can now be found on coolers are bottle openers, raised lid edges, cup holders, fish rulers, and tie-down holes. Such accessories are added more for convenience, as they don’t affect the overall performance of a cooler.
1. Why do you need a fishing cooler?
A fishing cooler is an essential product for anglers looking to take fish from the sea, lake, or riverside back home.
Coolers serve as the transport unit that can efficiently move fish from one location to another without the fresh catch going bad. These insulated and durable storage containers can be packed full of ice and water, giving anglers the chance to toss in fish without worrying about them spoiling.
The two main functions of a cooler for fishing are simply: to keep the fish cold and to efficiently transport the goods. Any additional functions are added bonuses, but the prior two are absolute necessities.
2. How long can I keep fish in a cooler before it goes bad?
Though chilled storage compartments can keep fish stable for long periods of time, even the best cooler for fishing has an expiration date for its contents.
Outdoor temperatures directly affect the amount of time that a fish will last on ice, as a fish caught in the hot Florida sun will spoil much quicker than a fish caught in a cold Alaskan bay. Nevertheless, a good rule of thumb is to get fish to the freezer as fast as possible, in order to maximize their quality and longevity. With that being said, most respectable coolers will keep a fish fresh for well over 24 hours, with some models extending to as long as five days.
3. How big does a fishing cooler need to be?
A fishing cooler only needs to be as big as the anticipated size of fish an angler wishes to catch.
Small creek and tributary species such as bluegill, perch, and crappie can all easily be stored in a 20-quart cooler, with plenty of room to spare. However, the size of the fish isn’t always the limiting factor, as the number of fish an angler wishes to keep can be just as much of a constraint. So naturally, the only thing to do is go up another size.
Mid-size species such as bass, catfish, and trout will typically fit in a 45-quart cooler with a fair amount of ease. As the number of fish one wishes to keep goes up, so should the size of the cooler.
And finally, larger fish such as salmon, inshore species, and steelhead are best kept in a cooler close to 70 quarts.
4. Do I need to buy a fishing cooler with wheels?
Truthfully, there is no reason to worry about finding fishing coolers on wheels, as most of the time the coolers that come with wheels don’t offer nearly as much ice retention as standard boxes. That is not to say that there aren’t some great models out there that come with wheels, but typically the most reliable coolers are those which come with anti-slip grips, in the form of an ice chest.
Nevertheless, anglers that anticipate hauling large amounts of supplies or fish to and from the waterside can opt for a wheeled model, as it could make transport easier.
5. What is the difference between a fishing bag and a fishing cooler?
Although they both are designed to carry an angler’s goods, a fishing bag and a fishing cooler are dramatically different.
Fishing bags closely resemble backpacks or tote bags, with an over shoulder strap or handle to transport the goods. Like a cooler, they are equipped with insulation to store fish and other prized catches. Such bags can range in size from just 20 quarts, to as much as 100+ quarts.
Coolers, on the other hand, are designed with plastic frames, that can either be rotationally molded or blow molded. They contain thick layers of insulation, durable surfaces, and large vacant spaces to store goods. Yet, the biggest difference between the two is simply the performance, as coolers typically do a much better job keeping contents cold, whereas bags are more designed for easy transport. Although there are some decent bags out there, most simply can’t compete with traditional coolers.
6. How to clean and care for a fishing cooler?
Anglers who purchase any of the best fishing coolers are certainly going to want to maintain and clean them properly. Such care can keep a high-end product new for years, making it a great overall investment.
The best way to clean a fishing cooler is to thoroughly rinse the inside out, removing all the noticeable buildup or materials. After everything is clear, add one tablespoon of soap, and a half cup baking soda. Then spray with a generous amount of water, and scrub away on the sides and interior with a sponge, dish pad, or other cleaning tool. The combination of soap and baking soda works to kill the bacteria, while also absorbing the odors.
Once the mixture is rinsed out, handlers can apply Clorox spray to the inside to kill the bacterial colonies that still remain. The spray should sit anywhere from 4-8 hours, before it can be wiped out, thus finishing the process of cleaning the cooler.
7. What are the most trusted fishing cooler brands?
Arguably, the most trusted fishing cooler brands are KONG, YETI, Pelican, KENAI, and Grizzly. Although most of the brands don’t create models specifically for fishing, their rotomolded and insulated variants do a great job of keeping fish cold.
What truly sets these brands apart from many others, is their products’ ability to last and endure trip after trip, without incurring any noticeable amount of damage. Which is a real game-changer for anglers that take yearly fishing trips to Alaska, Mexico, or Hawaii and need a cooler that won’t fall apart on them. Overall, there are plenty of great options on the market, but the above brands truly do manufacture most of the best fishing coolers currently.
As always, we create our content with you, fellow adventurers, in mind. So, how’d we do? Did you find this informative? Did it help you make a decision? Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear from you below. Thanks for reading and we hope your next adventure is a great one!