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How to Clean Your Catch: Part 1

Along the same lines as our last two blogs, this one will give you information about properly cleaning your catch to be cooked!

Fishing offers not only an awesome outdoor voyage, but also a wonderful dinner for you and your loved ones. However, before you are allowed to relish in it, you first must properly clean your catch.

Always start by treating the fish right when you land it. You still have to keep the fish fresh, even before cleaning your fish, or it will spoil. Keep caught fish in a live well or a cooler. Always fill your cooler or live well with the same water you’ve been fishing in. Fish spoil rapidly if you don’t handle them correctly from the moment you land them. Spoiled fish have softened flesh, robust flavor and “fishy” odor.

Things You’ll Need To Clean Your Catch

  • Work table
  • A good fillet or fish-cleaning knife
  • Scaling tool, or a dull knife or a spoon
  • Container for the cleaned fish, zip-top bags work great
  • Bucket for scales and discarded fish parts

How to Fillet a Fish

Filleting means slicing the meat out of the fish without any bones. Larger fish, like largemouth bass and striped bass are typically filleted. A filleted fish has its skin and all of its bones removed before cooking.

Fillet knives have a long, thin blade that’s razor- sharp and specifically intended for the filleting of fish. To work accurately, they must be as sharp as possible.

  1. Lay the fish on its side on a flat surface
  2. Cut the fish behind its gills and pectoral fin down to, but not through, the backbone

    An illustration of how to filet a fish, by cutting the fish from behind the gills out to its tail, slicing close to the bone. Courtesy of

    An illustration of how to filet a fish, by cutting the fish from behind the gills out to its tail, slicing close to the bone. Courtesy of

  3. Turn the fish so that its back (dorsal fin) is facing you. Make a long slice along the back of the fish from the cut you made behind the gills all the way to the tail
  4. Repeat this slicing motion until you can lift the meat part way away from the back bone with your thumb
  5. Once you can lift the meat partially away, continue to run the tip of the knife along the ribs of the fish till you lift the fillet most of the way off the carcass
  6. Push the blade of your fillet knife all the way through the body of fish from the dorsal side through to belly at the anal vent, and pull the knife towards the tail to separate the fillet from the rest of the fish
  7. Repeat these steps on the other side of the fish
  8. Lay the fillet on the table with the skin side down. Insert the knife blade about a 1/2-inch from the tail, gripping firmly and put the blade between the skin and the meat at an angle
  9. Using a little pressure and a sawing motion, cut against, but not through, the skin
  10. Remove the fillets from the skin
  11. Wash each fillet in cold water
  12. Pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. The fillets are ready to cook or freeze


When you think of a fish dinner, usually a fillet comes to mind. Although filleting is possibly the most common preparation for cleaning your fish, keeping a fish whole for roasting or grilling is also a great way to enjoy fish. If you plan on keeping your catch whole, you’ll need to clean and scale it. But that is a blog for next week!

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