How to Clean a Fish

Two Methods:Cleaning the FishFilleting a Fish (Quick-Preparation)

Cleaning a fish is quite simple, though it isn't always pleasant. That said, after you've got the first one done and have tasted the glory of freshly-caught fish, you'll forget all about the bit of blood and guts. Make sure you have a sanitary work station and dispose of all raw fish parts after working.

Method 1
Cleaning the Fish

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    Get a plastic bag or bucket ready for guts and bones and lay out newspaper to keep clean. Have your disposal system ready before you start cutting so you can toss the guts and excess fish without getting up. Newsprint laid out on the cutting surface is helpful for soaking up the inevitable liquids that will spill out of the fish.[1]
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    Using a dull knife or spoon, use a quick raking motion to remove the scales. You want to work against the normal direction of the scales, raking up from tail to head. Think of a short, shallow, scoop motion, getting under the scales and pushing up and into them quickly to rake them out of the fish. The back side of a knife, held a little less than perpendicular to the fish, works well too.[2]
    • Get both sides, the top, and bottom of the fish.
    • It can help to scale under running water, or simply underwater in the sink, to prevent a mess.
    • Don't worry if you miss a few scales -- they aren't tasty, but they won't hurt anyone.[3]
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    If cleaning a bullhead (also known as a Sculpin), catfish, or another thick-skinned bottom feeder, consider skinning it. These fish, in particular, have a thick, unappealing skin that most people remove before cooking. To do so, cut a 1" notch right where the top of the fish's head meets its body. Then, gripping the fish from the head, peel the skin back to the tail. Rinse thoroughly when done.[4]
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    Cut a shallow incision from the anus up towards the head. The small hole on the belly of the fish, back near the tail, is the anus. Using a sharp knife, make a shallow cut from here along the belly of the fish, stopping at the base of the gills.
    • Don't jam the knife in their, or you'll cut the intestines open. You want a shallow cut so that you can pull them out intact, preventing messy (and unappetizing) spillage.[5]
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    Use your fingers or a dull spoon to scoop out the fish's innards. Get in there and get everything out. These gummy, long guts should come out without much of a fight. Make sure to check inside to get out anything you missed, like the large, dark kidney in the back or some strands of innards along the walls.[6]
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    Scrape out any dark, inner membrane if found. Not all fish have this thin layer in their inner cavity, but you want to remove it if they do. This is strongly flavored and has an oily, extra-fishy aroma that you don't want in your final dish.[7]
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    Cut off the head off directly behind the gills, if desired. You do not have to cut the head off, and depending on your cooking method you might not want to, as the head adds flavor and depth. The "cheek meat" of the fish, as well, is considered the best part in some cultures.
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    Remove a dorsal fin by pulling firmly from tail to head. This, like the head, does not have to come off if you don't want to remove it, but it will help remove many nasty little bones. Simply grip the fin tightly near the tail, and pull quickly in the direction of the head to rip it out cleanly.[8]
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    Rinse the fish off, inside and out, in cool water. Make sure you wash the outside, getting rid of any sticky scales, as well as the inside, getting rid of bits and blood. Your fish is now ready to cook![9]

Method 2
Filleting a Fish (Quick-Preparation)

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    Lay the fish on one side and cut just behind the top of the head until you hit the backbone. Don't cut through the spine, just to it.[10]
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    Continue this cut in an arc around the fish's head. Again, you don't want to cut deeper than the backbone. You will not be cutting the head off, just cutting about halfway into the fish.
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    Turn the knife and cut horizontally towards the tail, through the center of the fish. You'll basically be cutting off the entire side of the fish, removing the whole flank, skin and all. The knife will travel perpendicularly to the backbone, which you can use as a guide to ensure a nice, flat cut.[11]
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    Flip the fish and repeat on the opposite side. Simply repeat the same process on the other half of the fish, removing the other fillet.
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    Using a smaller knife, lift and remove the ribcage from the inside of the fillet. This will be the small, almost translucent set of bones on the lower third of fish fillet. It should come off in one piece.[12]
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    Scale the fish or remove the skin entirely. If you want to cook the fish with the skin still on, use the dull side of a knife to rake the scales off. Use a short, lifting motion from the tail to the head to quickly scrape all of the scales off. If you don't want the skin, simply slide the knife between the fish and the skin and simply cut the skin away.[13]
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    Alternatively, use a sharp knife to cut directly through the fish, perpendicularly, to form steaks. To do so, you simply cut perpendicular to the backbone, going all the way through the spine to get thick, 1" steaks. This is common with bigger fish -- trout and salmon -- and retains the spine running through the middle of the fish.[14]


  • If you do not know what type the fish is, do not eat it. If you do eat it, remove all the fins. Some fish have dangerous spines on their fins!
  • Only clean and gut fish if they're longer than three inches.
  • If you catch a brook trout, all of its fins are edible. The fins will taste like potato chips if they are put into a frying pan with butter and flour.


  • Some people have accidentally eaten the wrong tropical fish. The rule of eating fish is "Temperate eat all, tropical he falls." Do not eat a fish in the tropics unless you know it's not poisonous.
  • When you eat the fish, be aware that no matter how well you removed the spine, there will usually be ribs left in the meat. The ribs are edible, but make sure none of them go down the wrong pipe.

Things You'll Need

  • Butter
  • pepper
  • Flour
  • Knife
  • Frying pan
  • You could also fry your fish in Oil.

Article Info

Categories: Fishing