How To Clean A Fish

Where I’m from, fishing is not just done for enjoyment, but in the hopes of a good Friday night fish fry! It’s not just enough to know how to catch a fish, you’ve got to know how to clean a fish, too!

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Tools of the Trade

Before you start, you’ll want to get the following items ready: a bucket or plastic bag, newspaper or plastic sheeting, and a sharp filet knife.

I highly recommend wearing your fishing clothes or an apron while doing this job as it can get a little messy. It’s also a good idea to have a towel of some sort handy just in case.

Prep Your Workspace

Lay your newspaper or plastic sheeting down on the table and set your bucket or plastic bag on top. You’ll want to make sure that your guts bin (as I like to call it) is nearby. Trust me, you don’t want to move those fish guts any further than you absolutely have to. Make sure your towel is close by as well.

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Don’t forget to get your apron on if you are wearing nicer clothes. I was always trained to clean my fish while I was still in my stinky fishing gear. Saves on laundry!

How To Clean A Fish

Lay your fish down flat on one side. Grab your filet knife and cut in just behind the top of the fish’s head. You need to make sure you cut in just enough to reach the fish’s spine, but not through it.

Continue to cut at this depth around the fish’s head, being sure to keep the fish’s head attached to the body.

Next, turn your filet knife flat and cut horizontally through the center of the fish, moving towards the tail. This will look like you are cutting off the side of the fish.

Use the backbone of the fish as a guide so you have a flat, even cut. Remove this filet and save it for later, setting it on a clean part of your newspaper or plastic covering.

Flip the fish over and repeat that same process on the other side of the fish. Remember, use the backbone as a guide to help you keep your cut even.

The next step is to remove the rib cage from your filets. Use your filet knife (or a smaller knife if you prefer) to cut out the small, nearly clear set of bones on the lower part of the fish filet. These will typically come off in one complete piece.

The last step is to remove the skin. Starting from the tail end of your filet, slide the knife in between the meat and the skin. Drag your knife away from the tail end, while still holding the skin firmly. The skin will completely separate from the meat.

I should note there are other ways how to clean a fish that don’t require skin removal, but I prefer to cook my fish without the skin. If you prefer, you can descale your fish instead of skinning it.