Learn to Clean Fish

How to Fillet, Clean and Debone Fish

Learn how to clean fish is important because you may want to eat your catch. We love eating certain types of species that we catch like Perch and Walleyes. They taste great and it is easy to prepare them. It’s not difficult to do, however, it’s important to know the parts of a fish before you start this process.

If you’re interested in eating what you catch it’s important that you keep your fish fresh before you start.

We keep clean fish in mind when we set out to catch the fish we are going to eat we keep our fish in a live well. They stay there before we begin. Sometimes we keep them in a cooler with the water we’re fishing in. Most freshwater fish will die after being out of the water for a short period of time. Fish will spoil easily, so it’s best to plan on catching and cleaning them right away because you want to eliminate that “fishy” odor.

Before you begin to clean fish, make sure that you have the following:

  • Working table
  • A good fish cleaning knife (I use an electric knife)
  • Bowl with cold drinking water for the cleaned fish
  • Newsprint or bucket for discarded fish parts
  • Damp cloth to clean your hands

Here are some basic clean fish tips that I use. I will be filleting the fish, which means cutting the meat of the fish without the bones. Select the type of fish you plan on cleaning.

For this example I will be using a Perch. You can remove the scales of the fish with a fish scaler or a large spoon before you begin cleaning the fish. However, if you are filleting a fish you really don’t need to remove the scales as you won’t be eating them. Some like to do so.

When you clean fish like small fish, you can handle them with one hand while cleaning. Using a flat surface, hold the fish’s head with one hand. With the knife cut the fish behind it’s gills and it’s pelvic fin. Cut all the way down to the bones but not through the bones.

Be careful when using a knife. Remember safety at all times. Visit our “First Aide” section to learn about safety.

As you can see I’m using an old outdoor board table to clean my fish as I want to make sure that I clean the fish outdoors.

Without removing the knife, turn the blade and cut through the ribs of the fish and glide the knife toward the tail. You can use the fish’s backbone to guide you along.

This is an easy step, just take your time so that you let the blade do it’s job.

As you can see, I’m holding the head of the fish as I start this process so that my hands are away from the blade. Once the blade moves toward the tail you can move your hand on the rib meat to hold the meat in place.

Remove any fish guts that you may have picked up along the way. Place them on the newsprint for easy disposing. Make sure that you don’t leave any fish guts behind as it will attract all types of creatures especially the large unwanted ones like racoons and bears.

Use water to wash off your cutting area as you want this area to stay clean. Fish odor attacks all types of unwanted animals.

Wrap the fish guts in the newsprint and dispose in a sealed garbage container to prevent odors from escaping. I tend to place this newsprint in a sealed plastic bag then in a sealed garbage container. This prevents any odor from escaping.

With the skin facing down, place the knife close to rib meat and slice it away from the skin.

Don’t cut too close to the skin as you want to not want scales left on the rib meat. Take your time.

Be careful when holding the rib meat as the knife will be close to your fingers. This processes is easier when cleaning larger fish. Smaller fish’s rib meat makes it difficult to hold when the knife is in close proximity to your finders.

Again, discard the skin onto the newsprint.

Place the fillet in the cold drinking water. Repeat the steps above for filleting the other side of the fish.

When you have finished filleting all your fish, wash each fish in cold drinking water, pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. The fillets are ready to cook or freeze.

It’s important to know that not all fish are safe to eat so research which fish are edible. It’s also important that you make sure you have washed the fish thoroughly before you prepare them just like you need to keep your hands clean during this process as well.

Visit our “How to Cook Fish” section to learn how to prepare a wonderful meal.