How to Clean Fresh Fish

How to Clean Fresh Fish
Cleaning fish is the first step in preparing them for the dinner table or for filling your freezer. This isn't for the squeamish, but it is necessary. While a flexible fillet knife is preferable for filleting, many anglers like to use a rigid or serrated knife while cleaning. Typically you'll clean the fish as soon as possible after catching them---this helps keep the meat clean---and leave filleting for the end of the day.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Sharp knife Flat, hard work surface Dishwashing gloves
  • Sharp knife
  • Flat, hard work surface
  • Dishwashing gloves
Step 1
Sharpen your knife. Having a sharp knife is crucial to quick and efficient cleaning. Kill or stun the fish by either piercing the brain through the top of the head with your knife or by hitting it over the head with a blunt object.
Step 2
Slide the point of the knife in through the opening behind the fish's gills and pierce the gills several times on each side. The fish's heart will continue to beat for some time after its death, so if you've killed it, the fish will still "bleed out," which keeps pooled blood from ruining the meat. Some anglers consider killing the fish this way---letting it bleed to death---a more humane method than hitting it or piercing its brain.
Step 3
Wait until blood no longer flows from the gills; this may take a couple of minutes. While you wait, wash off your work area and put on dishwashing gloves, which will help you keep a solid grip on the slimy fish.
Step 4
Lay the fish flat on your work surface once it's stopped bleeding. Cut the head off, slicing along the very inside of the curving jawbones. Make sure that all of the feathery red gill tissue is removed. Most anglers discard the heads, although some cultures prize fish eyes or heads as delicacies.
Step 5
Insert the point of your knife into the fish's anal opening and cut a slit all the way along the belly. You don't need to cut deeply, just to open through the abdominal cavity.
Step 6
Open the abdominal cavity and pull out all the internal organs. Again, these are typically discarded although some cultures use them in traditional foods. Most of the time you can pull these organs out by hand, although on occasion you may need to slice them out.
Step 7
Slice open the length of the intestines' lining, just under the spine, to access the dark fecal matter. Take care not to pierce through the intestines to the meat on the other side.
Step 8
Use the knife, your gloved hands or a spoon to scrape the fecal matter out of the intestines. Wash the inside of the fish thoroughly in water---lake, sea or river water is fine as long as it's reasonably clean---to remove any last traces of fecal matter or internal organs. Some cleaning knives have a scoop on the handle to help do this.

Tips & Warnings

Keep your cleaned fish on ice until you're ready to fillet them.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

The Latest from the Community