How to Clean & Gut a FIsh

Fishing for sport might be fun, but what’s even more fun (and delicious) is eating what you catch. For that, you need to know how to clean and gut a fish. Will the process be awkward and messy at first? Probably. But put in some quality practice and you’ll be a samurai in no time. As a result you get fresh, healthy fish that you caught all on your own, which is about as satisfying as eating can get. Here’s our little guide on how to clean and gut a fish. Master the method and you’ll be a campground hero.

This article is part of our Good Eating Series.


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How to Kill a Fish

Before you learn how to clean and gut a fish, you must know how to kill a fish. On a related note, you should only kill the fish if you can clean it within the next one or two hours. Until then, keep the fish alive in a bucket of water. The reasoning behind all of this is that dead fish can spoil quickly. We already know what rotten fish smells like, and we’re pretty confident you have no interest in discovering what it tastes like. Here are three ways to kill a fish:

  1. Sever the spinal cord. Take a small, sharp knife and cut through the area under and between the fish’s gills, then snap the fish’s head back to break its spine. This method is quick, but bloody.
  2. Hammer to the head. Use a wooden or metal mallet to crush the head of the fish. Multiple strikes might be required, but the process is far more humane than it sounds. This method is especially effective for larger and more powerful fish.
  3. Iki jime method. Take a sharp, narrow spike and pierce the area above the fish’s eye to stab it directly in the brain. While this assassin-like method is the most efficient, it can also take the most practice. That’s because the location of a fish’s tiny brain is not only hard to pinpoint, but it can vary depending on species and family.

 

How to Clean a Fish

Okay, you now have one dead fish in front of you, and a scaling tool or butter knife in hand. You’re ready to clean the fish, which for most fish entails getting rid of all the scales. Ideally, the fish is still wet–if not then you should rinse it. Also, be sure that the table or surface you’re using is either covered in newspaper or easy to wash down. Now do the following:

  1. Hold the fish by the head with your free hand.
  2. Moving from tail to gills, scrape away the scales using short, quick strokes.
  3. If you’re scaling the fish indoors, fill a basin with water and submerge both the fish and the tool to finish the job–this will keep scales from flying in every direction.
  4. Be sure to scale both sides of the fish, and rinse off any stray scales at the end using a hose or faucet.

If the fish doesn’t have scales, then it’s probably a bottom-feeder like catfish and you’ll need to skin it. You should wear gloves for the process to avoid getting hurt. Then do the following:

  1. Hold down the fish’s head, and start by removing the dorsal fins.
  2. Make a shallow, perpendicular cut along the spine.
  3. Using pliers, grip the skin at the dorsal fin area, and peel it back toward the tail on both sides.

 

Gutting a Fish

And now for the really fun part. Just kidding. Gutting a fish is definitely not the fun part. On the other hand, you can’t learn how to clean and gut a fish without actually gutting the fish, now can you? To begin, you should hold the fish by the back. If the fish is small, you can hold it in mid-air. If the fish is large, put it on a table. Then perform the following steps:

  1. Insert your filet knife into the fish’s underside, starting at the anus and slicing toward the head. This will split the fish at the base between the gills.
  2. Use your fingers to spread the abdominal cavity, then reach in and remove the entrails.
  3. Take a small spoon to scrape out any remaining entrails like the kidney.
  4. Rinse the cavity out with water.
  5. Cut off the fish’s head if you so desire.
  6. Filet the fish.

And that is how you clean and gut a fish! Now who’s down for some sushi?

This article is part of our Good Eating Series.

 

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