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How to Clean a Fish

What You’ll Need to Clean a Fish

  • Work table
  • A good fillet or fish-cleaning knife
  • Scaling tool, a dull knife, or a spoon
  • Container for the cleaned fish, zip-top bags work great
  • Bucket for scales and discarded fish parts

How to Fillet a Fish

When you clean a fish, filleting means cutting out the meat of the fish without the bones. Larger fish, like largemouth bass, redfish, striped bass, and walleye, are usually filleted. A filleted fish has its skin and bones removed before cooking.

Scaling isn’t necessary. Fillet knives have a long, thin blade that’s sharp and specifically designed for filleting fish. To work properly, they must be really, really sharp. If you have any slime on your hands or the fillet knife handle, wash it off to prevent slipping.

Tip: When learning how to fillet a fish, you can also wear metal or rubber-mesh fish-cleaning gloves to protect your hands.

Steps to Fillet a Fish:

  • Lay the fish on its side on a flat surface
  • Cut the fish behind its gills and pectoral fin down to, but not through, the backbone
  • Turn the fish so that its back is facing you.
  • Make a long slice along the back of the fish from the cut you made behind the gills all the way to the tail
  • Repeat this slicing motion until you can lift the meat partway from the back bone with your thumb
  • Once you can lift the meat partially away, continue to run the tip of the knife along the ribs of the fish till you lift the fillet most of the way off the carcass
  • Push the blade of your fillet knife all the way through the body of fish from the dorsal side through to belly at the anal vent
  • Pull the knife towards the tail to separate the fillet from the rest of the fish
  • Repeat these steps on the other side of the fish
  • Lay the fillet on the table with the skin side down.
  • Insert the knife blade about a 1/2-inch from the tail
  • Gripping firmly, put the blade between the skin and the meat at an angle
  • Using a little pressure and a sawing motion, cut against, but not through, the skin
  • Remove the fillets from the skin
  • Wash each fillet in cold water
  • Pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel
  • The fillets are now ready to cook or freeze!

Tip: Smaller pan fish can be filleted the same way, but the bones of these fish are small enough for the knife to pass through. Follow steps 1 and 2, but then turn the blade so it is flat like the table and work it from head to tail. The knife blade will be longer than the fish is wide, so it should make one clean pass from the head to the tail resulting in a small fillet.