⚠ Before you head to the water check the latest COVID-19 updates. We encourage you to follow CDC recommendations.
For the best possible meal, start by treating the fish right from the moment you land it. If you're going to eat your catch, you have to keep it fresh, even before you begin cleaning your fish. Keep caught fish in a live well, a cooler or on a stringer in the water. And always fill your cooler or live well with the same water you're fishing in.
If you're not going to eat your catch, unhook it carefully—while it's still in the water—and release it using proper catch and release practices.
How to Clean A Fish: Steps
If you are planning on cooking your fish whole or if you are going to steak it, rather than filleting it, you must learn how to gut a fish.
- To begin, rest the fish on the table or cutting board. Insert the knife tip into the fish's belly near the anal opening and move the blade up along the belly, cutting to the head.
- Keep the knife blade shallow so you don't puncture the intestines.
- Spread the body open and remove all of the entrails, locate the fish's anus and cut this out in a "V" or notch shape.
- Some fish have a kidney by the backbone. Remove it by scraping it out with a spoon or your thumbnail.
- Rinse the cavity out with a good stream of water and wash the skin. Some fish have a dark tissue lining the abdominal cavity that can be scraped off to prevent a strong, oily flavor.
- Remove the head if you like, trout are often cooked with the head on.
- Clean your fish-cleaning table immediately, collect the guts, heads, and scales, and discard them properly.
- Your clean fish is now ready to be cooked.
How to Clean A Fish: Tips and Warnings
Research the area you're fishing to determine if the fish are safe to eat, some bodies of water are polluted with mercury and other heavy metals that fish absorb. Always check your state regulations before your head out fishing.
Now that you have a clean fish, or prepared your steaks or fillets, you can store your fish or cook your fish! Check out our favorite cooking methods and recipes as well.
- Fish fins can be very sharp and cause serious puncture wounds, so be very careful when learning how to gut a fish, fillet a fish or clean a fish whole.
- Some fish are too bony or strong flavored to be considered edible.
- Some fish have very sharp teeth, be careful if you're holding a fish by the head while cleaning your fish.
Learn how fillet a fish step by step, how to store fish and more in our next section.