How to Gut a Fish Step by Step
The Importance of Properly Cleaning and Gutting Your Fish
If you're a fish lover, there is nothing like the taste of freshly caught fish when it is properly cleaned and prepared.
Eating fish that are not properly cared for can cause serious illness or even death.
Not only does improper care of the fish pose serious health risks, it can also cause the fish to taste poorly and make it spoil sooner.
It is vital that cleanliness be observed at all times when handling any type of meat. Fish should be prepared and stored properly. Hands and fingernails should be washed prior to cleaning the fish. Fish should be cleaned on a clean surface.
Any equipment used to clean the fish should be sanitized prior to their use. Avoid contamination by protecting your fish and equipment from flies and other pests.
Recommended Tools and Equipment for Cleaning Your Fish
- Fillet Knife or Kitchen Shears: The most important tool for cleaning your fish is a good sharp fillet knife or kitchen shears. Dull cutting tools can be difficult to use and pose a safety hazard.
- Cut-Resistant Glove: A specialized glove to help protect from cuts made from sharp objects can really come in handy when trying to cut slippery fish.
- Fillet Board: A fillet board can give you a clean cutting surface to work on. Some have clamps to hold the fish while you work.
- Fish Cleaning System or Table: If your spouse would prefer (or demands) that you clean your fish outside, there are some great commercially made cleaning tables available to help you perform the task while making cleanup easier.
- Fish Scaler: You can use your fillet knife, a butter knife or spoon to scale your fish but for faster and easier results, commercial scalers are available.
Preparing to Clean Your Fish
The first thing to consider when cleaning your fish is where to clean it. In many states, it is legal to clean your fish at the lake or stream where you caught it. In other states, this is strictly forbidden. Before cleaning your fish at the lake or stream, get to know your local laws.
If you have to take your fish home to clean them you will probably want to do it outside. Cleaning your fish, especially scaling it, can be a messy process.
It's a good idea to do your fish cleaning in a location that you have access to water for rinsing and cleaning your fish and equipment.
A commercially available or homemade fish cleaning station is ideal for cleaning your fish. Be sure to sanitize it before and after cleaning your fish.
Once you have established a location to clean your fish, you should sanitize the tools you will be using.
Removing the Scales from Your Fish
If you plan to skin your fish, you will not need to scale it.
Removing the scales will help remove bacteria from the surface of the fish. This will not only be more sanitary but it will also help the meat last longer in the refrigerator or freezer.
Removing the scales will also provide an improved dining experience. If you do choose to leave the scales on, you will want to remove the entire skin from the fish before eating.
This important task is one of the messiest parts of cleaning and preparing a fish. You will probably want to do it outside because the scales will go everywhere.
If you are using a fillet knife to remove the scales, take the knife and work it at an angle against the grain of the fish scales. Do this in sections starting from the tail and working your way up to the head.
Make sure to get all the scales. The scales near the head and fins will be the most difficult to remove. The technique is similar if you use a spoon or butter knife.
If you use a commercial scaler, follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
Rinse the fish thoroughly after scaling it.
Tip: A plastic mesh type pot scrubber works well when scaling a trout. Make sure to only use a new one with no detergents or cleaners.
Gutting a Trout
After you have scaled your fish, you will probably want to gut it. There are however, some fish species that you may wish to forgo gutting and just fillet the meat off the fish. This works well when cleaning channel catfish.
To gut your fish, slip the tip of the knife into the vent at the bottom of the fish. Slide the knife upward toward the head.
Keep the knife just under the skin, cutting too deep will cut into organs spilling blood, or the contents of the gall bladder, stomach and intestines.
Continue cutting until you reach the boney location just near the base of the gills. Now take the knife and cut slits just behind the lower jaw of the fish. This will leave a "V" shape that you can put your finger into and pull. When you pull, the gills and entrails should all come out at one time.
After removing the guts, there will be a line of what looks like red blood at the top of the cavity. Take your finger and squeeze out any blood that is there.
If you don't like to have the fish look at you when you eat it, you can also remove the head at this time. To remove the head, bend it backwards until the neck bone breaks and then cut through the flesh that is left with the fillet knife. Be sure to leave the head on if you intend to skin your fish.
When you are finished gutting your fish, rinse it thoroughly inside and out. Be sure to do an extra good job rinsing your fish because this may be the last time you will rinse it before eating or storing it.
Removing the Skin (Optional)
It's quite easy to remove the skin from some types of fish while cleaning. Trout are one of the fish that is very easy to skin.
Sometimes it's easier to cut out the fins from the fish prior to skinning. If you want to first cut fairly deeply around each fin to remove each one. Leave the tail on.
Now you're ready to skin your fish. Bend the head back until the neck breaks and most of the flesh breaks away from the head.
Pull the head down past the body. If done correctly, the skin will separate from the flesh of the fish until it reaches the tail. It may help to separate the skin from the flesh with your finger or thumb as you are pulling downward. Pull or cut away the skin from the tail.
Storing Your Cleaned Fish
Make sure your fish is well dried before wrapping and placing in the refrigerator or freezer. Excess water can damage the flesh of the fish. Leaving air in storage bags can also damage the flesh because moisture that is in the air can freeze on the fish causing freezer burn.
For best results, eat or prepare your fish for storage as soon as possible.
Cooking Your Fish
Cooking fish can be one of the easiest main dishes you can prepare. If your spouse doesn't like you to cook the fish indoors due to the odor, you may wish to cook it outside on a gas grill or barbecue.
Cooking fish is so easy it can be done anywhere, at home, on the barbecue or while camping.
- Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap your fish.
- Place the fish in the middle of the aluminum foil.
- Place butter or margarine inside the cavity of the fish.
- Place a few small pieces of butter or margarine on the outside of the fish.
- Salt and pepper as desired.
- You may also place dill weed or your favorite spices inside the cavity of your fish if you like.
- Wrap the fish up in the aluminum foil.
- Place the wrapped fish on a cookie sheet and place in preheated oven at 425 deg. Fahrenheit. If you're cooking the fish in a campfire, simply place the wrapped fish in the hot coals. Make sure you place it in a position that you can get to when the fish is done.
- Allow the fish to cook. Cooking time should only a few minutes depending on the size of the fish. After 10-15 minutes, take out your fish and check to see if it is done by taking a fork and pulling apart the meat from the thickest area. The cooked fish should be lighter in color and be nice and flaky. Be careful not to overcook your fish as it will become mushy.
- If your fish is fully cooked, you can place it on a plate, squeeze a wedge of lemon on the fish if desired and eat it right out of the aluminum foil.
Got Pan Fish?
The process of gutting and cleaning your fish may vary with the type of fish species you are cleaning.
If you're catching pan fish. Here's an entertaining and sexy video from Heathers Outdoor Kitchen that goes through the process of catching, cleaning, cooking, and eating your pan fish.