How to Clean a Fish

Learning how to clean a fish can be an extremely useful skill for fishermen after a successful fishing trip. Since this process is best done within two hours of making the catch, knowing the steps to clean a fish correctly can preserve the fish meat and improve the taste.

When you clean a fish before cooking, there are a few common procedures for reference. Following the methods that explain how to clean a fish will help ensure your safety and reduce the chances that the fish will become contaminated. Find out more about the steps for cleaning a fish in the subsequent sections.

How do you prepare to clean a fish?

Before you begin cleaning a fish, you need to make certain preparations. After fish die, they spoil quickly, so it is important to preserve each catch on ice until you are ready to clean it. Figuring out how to clean a fish is a messy process that is best handled outside, if possible.

If you plan to gut a fish, follow the instructions below.

  • Prepare a table outside and cover it with a disposable table cover. You should also have clean water on hand while completing this process. If you have access to a hose nearby, set it up by your cleaning station.
  • Collect all of the supplies you will need to clean a fish before cooking, and these supplies include all of the following:
  • At least one bucket for waste
  • If you do not have access to a hose, prepare another bucket of clean rinsing water
  • A sharp knife for cutting
  • A cooler or container of ice to keep the fresh fish meat cold
  • A scaling utensil or knife, for fish with scales
  • A pair of pliers for fish with skin
  • Gloves, if preferred

Our free fishing recipes guide can help you create amazing meals once you know how to clean and gut your catch of the day.

How do you clean fish with scales?

You are ready to take the next steps for cleaning fish once you finish setting up the cleaning station. Cleaning a fish with scales can be tricky, but practice will make you an expert. Review the guidelines below to help you begin cleaning a scaly fish.

  • Remove the fish from the container with ice and place it on the table. Only remove one fish at a time to keep the other fish fresh and cool as you clean.
  • Scale the fish with a knife or scaling tool by holding the head firmly and scraping the scales in short strokes, starting from the tail and moving towards the gills. With the right amount of pressure, the scales should loosen and come off. Fish fins can be sharp, so make sure you handle these areas with caution.
  • Flip the fish over and scale the other side once you have removed all the scales on the first side. Make sure you remove the scales around fins and throat areas.
  • After scaling, rinse the fish with clean water. Do not use high-pressure water, because the fish meat is tender.
  • Place the fish inside a cooler on ice until you are ready to gut the fish.

Once you complete the entire process for cleaning fish, you can find tasty recipes in when you download our free fishing recipes guide.

How do you clean fish with skin?

Some species of fish have skin instead of scales, so the process of cleaning a catch is slightly different. To clean these types of fish, complete the following steps:

  • Remove one fish at a time from the cooler of ice and place it on the table on its belly.
  • Make an incision behind or under the dorsal fin or over the back of the fish. Hold the head as you do this. You can cut off the ventral (bottom front) and dorsal (top) fins, if desired, which can be helpful when working with spiny fish.
  • Make a shallow, perpendicular cut along the spine. Be careful so that your knife does not break the spine.
  • Lay the fish on one side and peel back the skin of the fish with the pliers. Grab the skin where you cut along the spine with the pliers and pull the skin towards the tail. Flip the fish over and repeat this step. If the skin is hard to peel away, help release it with a knife. Small remnants of skin can be removed with your fingers.
  • Rinse the fish gently with clean water and place it back in the cooler to remain cold until you are ready to begin the fish gutting process.

How do you clean out a fish before cooking?

After following the steps to clean a fish, you can begin the process of cleaning out the catch before you cook. The internal organs and bones are not good for eating, so you need to remove these parts of the fish. For in-depth instructions on cleaning out a fish, review the steps provided below:

  • Hold or place the fish belly-up and insert a small portion of the fillet knife into the anus near the tail of the fish. Gently slice along the belly from the tail to the throat. Be careful not to cut the organs.
  • Use your fingers to spread the abdominal cavity of the fish, and then reach inside the fish to remove the innards. Discard these in the waste bucket.
  • Rinse out the cavity with clean water, as well as the outside of the fish. A hose or faucet is best for this step, if available.
  • If preferred, remove the head of the fish before preparing to cook.

While cleaning your fish, keep in mind that the mouth, gills and fins of fish can be sharp. Then, after completing the steps above explaining how to clean a fish, you can proceed with preparations for your tasty meal.