What You Need to Clean a Fish

  • Newspaper
  • Bucket
  • Sharp fillet knife
  • Scaling tool (or butter knife)
  • Cooler of ice
  • Platter for clean fish
  • Disposable gloves (optional)

Preparing to Clean a Fish

The most important thing you need to know when preparing to clean a fish: clean the fish as soon as you can. If you still have a day of fishing ahead of you, try to keep your fish in water or on ice until you’re ready to clean it.

Here are some quick preparation tips:

  • Since cleaning a fish is a pretty messy endeavor, you’re best off doing it outdoors. If you happen to be in a state park, you’ll likely find a cleaning station around. If not, find an outdoor table and set down some newspaper. Make sure you have access to running water before you start, as you’ll need to rinse the fish and hose down the station after you’re finished.
  • Rinse the slime off the fish as best you can. It’s not any fun trying to clean a slippery fish — especially when you’re holding a sharp knife.
  • After you rinse the fish, use paper towels to wipe it dry.

How to Scale a Fish

Most of the fish you’ll catch will have scales, which should be removed. Scales tend to go flying everywhere (think of fish scales like nature’s glitter), so it’s a good idea to perform this task outside. Consider working over a bucket to help catch rogue scales. If the weather is terrible, scale your fish over a deep kitchen sink.

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  1. Remove the fish from your cooler and lay it down with its head facing your non-dominant hand. Firmly grab the head with your non-dominant hand and use your dominant hand to remove the scales with a scaling tool or butter knife. Use short, quick strokes until the fish’s body is smooth.
  2. Flip the fish over and scale the other side.
  3. Rinse off the lingering scales with water. Make sure the water pressure isn’t too high, or else you might damage that delicate fish meat.

Note: For fish with skin rather than scales (e.g. catfish), simply make a shallow cut along the pectoral fin and the length of its back, then use a pair of pliers to peel off the skin.