The weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining brighter, and that means the fish are out and about, ready for you to catch them. Picture this: it’s the perfect summer day, you have all of your fishing gear ready, you hook your bait, cast your line and you catch a big one! While some people practice catch and release, other anglers hook to cook. Before you get to eat that juicy fish, you need to gut and clean it and we’re here to teach you how in just four easy steps.
Gutting and cleaning a fish can be a messy task. We recommend doing this task outside if possible! Many boat docks will have a fish cleaning station, but any flat surface will do. How you clean your fish will depend on how you plan to eat it. Whole fish, fillets, and steaks all have different steps. Read each step carefully to learn how to get each end product. Before you begin make sure you have a sharp knife and a bag or bucket for easy cleanup.
Removing Scales or Removing Skin
If you’re not planning to use the skin you have two options. You can either leave the scales on and peel it and the scales off together after cooking, or you can cut open the fish and cut the skin away.
Depending on the type of fish you’re cleaning there can be a lot of scales. If you’re planning on eating the skin of the fish it is important to remove the scales. You can use a specialized tool for this like the Cuda Descaler, but the blunt edge of your knife will also do the trick.
If possible, rinse the fish under cold running water while rubbing it with your hands to remove its protective slime. Grip the fish by the tail and using a blunt edge, scrape away the scales working from tail to head. Make sure to scrape both sides thoroughly but gently so that you don’t rip the skin. You can use your fingers to check for any missed scales. It can be helpful to put some newspaper down before descaling your fish as it can be a messy task!
Gutting your Fish
Turn your fish so that its belly is facing towards you. Look for the small opening neat the bottom of the tail section. Insert an inch of your knife into this vent and cut in an even line towards the head of the fish. You can stop an inch below the fish’s head. If you plan on removing the head you can keep cutting through the gills. Carefully spread apart the two sides of the fish until you can reach inside. Pinch where the organs connect to the head and gently pull them out. Repeat this process at the tail of the fish. Visually inspect your fish to make sure all of the organs have been removed. Some fish have a kidney tucked along their spine. You may need to scoop this out. You can rinse the inside cavity with water while using your hands to rub away any remaining residue.
If you want to eat your fish whole, you are done! Great fish to eat whole include: Bluegills, Sunfish, Bullhead, and Catfish.
Filleting the Fish
If you aren’t planning to eat your fish whole your next step is to fillet the fish. To fillet the fish line your knife up with the fishes’ spine just below it. It can help to choke up on the knife, and use a finger on the blunt edge to steady the blade. Slide your blade sideways through the fish. Keep your knife level with the backbone as you cut. After the fillet is removed you can also remove the skin. Place your fillet skin down on your flat surface. Angle your knife slightly downward so that it will stay tight to the skin as you separate the fillet and the skin. With practice you will be able to separate the skin and the flesh in one smooth motion.
Some great fish to fillet are: Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, and Perch.
The fishes head is often removed when creating fish steaks. To detach the fishes head, find the pectoral fin. This is the fin located just behind the gills. Set your knife at a 15-degree angle just behind this fin and cut toward the head. Turn it over and repeat this cut on the other side. Cutting on an angle is important; if you cut straight down, you’ll be missing out on a good portion of the meat that sits right below the gills. After the head is removed you can cut your fish into steaks by chopping right through the spine.
Great fish to make into steaks include: Trout and Salmon.
And there you have it! Now your fish is ready to be grilled, baked, or fried in your favourite recipe. Or, you can freeze your fish to eat it on a later date. For more tips on fishing gear click here. We’re happy to help make sure you have the proper gear for your next fishing trip, you can shop our fishing selection online, or give us a call here at Triggers and Bows, your source for hunting goods, located at 340 Bishopsgate Road in Burford.