You’re out on the water, filling the cooler with fillets, and planning your delicious fish meal. Maybe grill it with some lemon zest? Or prepare some sushi? How about fish tacos? The possibilities for a delicious, fresh meal are limitless. But first you need to know how to properly clean your catch. Any improper handling can result in spoiled goods, and nobody wants that.
For the tastiest fish meal, start by treating your catch as soon as you land it since you’ll want to keep it as fresh as possible. Keep your catch in a live well, a cooler or on a string in the water. For best results, always fill your cooler or live well with the same water where you’re fishing. Then follow these steps to clean your fish.
1. Prepare the Cutting Board
Set down a newspaper, old work towel or shirt, on the cutting board and place your fish on top of it. It’s much more difficult, and unsafe to fillet a slimy fish that’s sliding around the cutting board. By placing your fish on the towel or newspaper you’re able to secure your fish into place and begin the process.
2. Insert The Knife
Insert the knife tip beneath the pectoral fin (the fin just below the gills) on the side of the fish and make cuts towards the top and bottom of the fish’s head, focusing on one side of the fish at a time. Starting at the top of the skull, use the backbone as a guide and cut towards the tail. Make a shallow cut by gently running your fillet knife down the back all the way out to the tip of the tail. If your knife is good and sharp, it takes very little pressure. After the initial cut, tilt the fillet up, let the knife do the work, and continue to make cuts towards the belly of the fish, now using the rib cage as a guide until you’ve removed your first fillet from the fish.
3. Remove The Entrails and Kidney
By cutting the fillet starting at the backbone of the fish, following the rib cage down, and cutting towards the bottom of the fish, you’re avoiding the entrails and intestines which are typically located in the belly. Be careful not to puncture these organs as it could spoil your fillets.
4. Flip the Fish, Repeat
Once one side of your catch has been filleted, it’s time to turn the fish over and repeat. Using the same technique as before, start your cut at the top of the head and make a shallow cut down to the tail using the backbone as your guide.
5. Remove the Bloodline
Once you’ve filleted both sides of your catch, you’re left with two beautiful pieces of meat that are almost ready for the grill. Removing the bloodline of the fish will greatly improve the end result of your freshly cooked catch. Though safe to eat, the bloodline has a strong, fishy taste that many people find undesirable. You’ll typically find the bloodline running laterally through the center of the fillet, it’s easily identifiable by its dark red coloring compared to the rest of the fillet. Simply use your knife to cut the dark sections of the meat off.
6. Remove the Skin
This step is optional. Depending on the species and how you’re planning on preparing your meal, you may want to leave the skin on. If you opt to remove the skin, slightly angle your blade down and make gentle sawing motions using the entire length of the blade, cutting from the top of the fillet to the bottom.
7. Rinse and Enjoy!
After you’ve removed the bloodline, the entrails, and fully filleted your fish, be sure to clean your prep station well. And discard the guts, head, and carcass properly. The last step is to use fresh water to rinse your fillets to remove any excess oil or debris before bagging your meat. Make sure you have a cooler loaded down with ice to keep the fillets fresh as you head home. You’re now ready to get cooking!
Fishing with a Local Captain or Guide
It takes practice, and yes, many mistakes to master the art of filleting your catch. A great way to learn is by getting hands-on experience from a local Captain, someone who’s literally cleaned thousands of fish! If you’re new to the area, on vacation, or are wanting to fish a body of water near you that you’re unfamiliar with, hiring a local Guide to show you the ropes is the sure fire way to head back to the docks after a day on the water with a cooler full of fish. Oftentimes, filleting the day’s catch is included in the fishing trip’s price and your Captain would be happy to teach you the tips and tricks of the trade. FishAnywhere.com has made it easy to find a professional Captain near you, compare rates, and book your next fishing trip online in a matter of minutes.
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