How To Clean A Fish In Ten Simple Steps

There’s no higher satisfaction than taking a juicy bite of fish that you caught yourself that very day. Fishing is one of America’s favorite pastimes, and it is an ideal way to have a relaxing experience in nature away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the best aspects of fishing is that you reap the rewards of your work with a savory meal. However, to have this delicious and rewarding experience, you first must learn how to clean a fish.

This is possibly the most unpleasant part of fishing because cleaning a fish will get you up close and personal with the anatomy of a fish. This may sound disgusting, but it will help you appreciate your meal even more once it is cleaned, cooked, and flavored. Learning how to clean a fish forces you to push through any squeamishness you may have regarding blood and guts, but it also brings you closer to the processes that create your food. This is one of the most natural and satisfying ways to make a meal, and it helps you to appreciate fully what you put in your body.

What Does It Mean to Clean a Fish?

cleaning a fish

Cleaning a fish consists of separating the edible parts of the fish from the inedible parts. This involves cutting the fish open and removing certain parts such as the ribcage and skin. There are certain preparation procedures that also go into this process to ensure that your fish is fresh and ready to be eaten. To discover how to clean a fish effectively, it is important to have the right equipment and take care when making your cuts.

It is essential that you make certain cuts in the correct direction and from the correct areas on the fish’s body. You also must look out for bones as no one enjoys taking a delicious bite into a fillet and discovering a sharp bone in one’s mouth. When cleaning your fish, you will also separate the scales and skin, which can take a thorough eye to ensure that all bits are removed. Follow these ten simple steps when learning how to clean a fish, and by the end of the process, you will have a delicious meal on your plate!

How to Clean a Fish in Ten Simple Steps

If you are a beginner in fishing, the idea of learning how to clean a fish may be intimidating or repulsive. However, if you follow these steps, the process is relatively simple, and the reward you receive far outweighs the work. Get ready to enjoy a delicious meal once you have perfected the art of cleaning a fish!

1. Gather Materials

It is crucial that you have the correct materials to clean your fish as using the wrong knife can make the process less efficient. Obtain a sharp fillet knife, a scaling tool, and a bowl of cold water. You will also need a cutting board that is at least the length of the fish, but one that is double the fish’s length is preferable. Also, you will need a bucket for discarded parts in order to keep your work area clean and uncluttered.

2. Scale the Fish

In order to remove other parts from the fish, you first must take off the scales from its outer body. Keep the head still with one hand and make short, raking motions along the fish from the tail to the head using a scaling tool. Repeat this on both sides of the fish, applying the technique up to the gills and around the fins. Afterward, rinse the fish in cold water to ensure that all fins are detached.

3. Prepare to Separate the Spine and Ribcage

When learning how to clean a fish, the first significant cut will remove the spine and ribcage. Lay the fish on your cutting board with the spine facing you. Carefully find the place where the gills meet the fish’s body under the fin and put your knife there at a 45-degree angle. Moving from the spine to the belly, make a cut about 1/2 of an inch deep or half the fish’s width into the fish.

4. Separate the Spine and Ribcage

Begin by putting your knife where your first cut meets the fish’s spine. Cut into the fish horizontally as close to the spine as possible, from the gills until right before the tail. This should only go through about half of the fish’s height, and it should not cut the fillet away from the tail yet. During this motion, pay attention to bones and cut slowly and carefully, in more than one cuts if necessary. Now that the spine is separated, open the fish with your hands and locate the ribcage and separate it as well.

5. Separate the Stomach

Move the fish so that the stomach is facing you and make a horizontal cut into the fish, avoiding the intestines and stomach. Make sure not to cut through the tail; simply cut to the bottom of the fish and stop. Remove the stomach, kidney, and entrails from the fish, discarding them into your bucket and ensuring that your work area is clean. By now, you should mainly have the fillet meat in front of you with most inedible parts of the fish separated.

6. Separate the Fillet from the Skin

Separate the fillet from the gills in a fluid peeling motion as if you are opening the pages of a book. The head and body of the fish should be on the left with the fillet on the right. Make a horizontal cut along the fish from the tail to the head, staying as close as possible to the skin without cutting through it. This should result in a fillet completely severed from the fish with no skins or bones stuck to it.

7. Repeat Step 6

Every fish has two fillets, so you will now need to flip the fish over and proceed to separate the second fillet using your skills gained in step 6. It may be necessary to make more than one fluid cut, which is fine as long as you effectively separate the fillet. If any leftover skins remain attached, simply remove them for a clean fish. By this point, your fish is almost down to the parts you will be eating, which is encouraging if you are ready to stop cutting and begin eating.

8. Remove the Head

This step is up to your discretion, but fish are typically cooked and served without the head. Trout, however, are cooked with the head still attached. Make a fluid cut to separate the head from the body, ensuring that it is completely severed. You are now essentially ready to cook and eat your fish!

9. Clean Your Area

Immediately after finishing, clean your fish-cleaning table. Collect all guts, scales, and heads and remove them. Failing to adhere to campground regulations when getting rid of fish remains could attract dangerous animals, so it is vital to clean your area thoroughly. If necessary, use water to remove any blood remaining, and double check that you have collected all animal parts before leaving the area.

10. Marinate and Cook

You have gotten the hardest and most unappealing part of the process out of the way, so now you can enjoy the fruit of your labors. Decide how you would like your fish to be flavored—lemon? Garlic? Brown sugar and orange? There is often no wrong answer as long as you choose flavors that will blend well. Flavor your fish and let it sit for a few minutes in order to soak up the flavors, cook it until the skin is flaky, and enjoy!


Most people in our current society consume mindlessly, eating the food on their plates without understand the processes necessary to create it. This is why catching, cleaning, cooking, and eating a fish is a unique and valuable experience. This allows your to know where your food comes from and how much work was necessary to prepare it, which only leads to a higher enjoyment when you finally get to eat it. Learning how to clean a fish is part of the important process of learning how your meals come into being.

Along with giving you a perspective on how your food arrived on your plate, fishing is a valuable and ancient tradition that brings people in touch with nature and teaches life lessons. There is no better lesson on patience than that of staring into the water for hours waiting for the bite of a hungry, unsuspecting fish.

Learning how to catch a fish and then discovering how to clean one teaches us that we should work hard for what we get in life and that the unpleasant experiences are often worth their happy outcomes. If you were considering taking up fishing but were intimidated by the process of cleaning a fish, you should now have the confidence and motivation to go out and catch your own fish!

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