Fish: You Catch 'Em, You Clean 'Em

Theorectially, I agree if you catch fish to eat, you should be able to clean them yourself. The feminist in me doesn't believe that cleaning fish is the "man's job." In practice, I've never had to clean my fish. My grandmother taught us to fish, and I grew up hearing "you catch 'em, you clean 'em," but I just never had to. Someone else always did it, usually DauDau (as we called my grandmother), before we even left the pier.

During the first few years of fishing with my husband, we caught a few here and there, and he usually cleaned them when we got home. It wasn't a big deal, until we had our first really big catch.

Coming home with over a hundred fish in the coolers after a weekend trip to the NC Outer Banks feels great! Until it's time to clean 'em. I decided, being the wonderful wife that I am, to learn to clean the fish and help my hubby.

Morally, after all, I knew if you catch 'em, you clean 'em.

Fish Cleaning System


Ken had a fish-cleaning station set up in our back yard: an old board plopped across two saw horses near the water hose. He had a system: I stood on one side of the table between the cooler with the fish and a bucket of water. I would scrape the scales from the fish, and he would cut the heads off and gut them and toss them into the bucket of water. The bucket was at the corner of the "table" and he stood on the other side. When a few fish accumulated in the bucket, he would pause to rinse them and put them into zip lock bags with water, ready for the freezer.

After a bag or so, I realized our table was on an incline, and I was standing on the highest ground and leaning way over to scrape the fish. My back was starting to hurt. If I could stand on the opposite side, I could actually stand up straight. So I asked if we could rearrange the cooler, bucket and water hose.

I know you can guess what happened. He exploded. Accussed me of trying to mess up his system. Said I was slowing him down.

Ken can be kind of unpleasant when he's hot and tired. I was kind of hot and tired myself, but rather than holding my own in the screaming match as I normally would, I stayed calm. I placed my spoon gently on the table and apologized for slowing him down, then I went into the house to finish the "women's work" of unpacking. I haven't offered to help since, and he if ever hints around for my help, I remind him that he had his chance to "teach" me.

My sister and I are headed to the Outer Banks in a couple of weeks without Ken. I bet if we catch any fish, she will probably make me clean mine. But I bet she won't fuss if I do it the way I want to!

How To Clean a Fish


Just because I haven't had to clean any fish doesn't mean I don't know how. I've watched, lots. And I just finished reviewing a few videos on youtube to refresh my memory. In this case, I'm talking about cleaning basically pan-sized fish, which we generally fry. How to filet a fish is a different subject for another hubber, as is cleaning any kind of fish that needs to be skinned. I don't have any experience with either. But for the fish we catch from the Outer Banks - mostly croaker, spot, puppy drum, mullet, flounder - and even pond fish like bass and crappy, this method will work.

First you scale them. There are lots of handy fish scaling tools available, but a spoon works just fine. Just don't skip a good sharp knife for the rest of the process. Next you cut off the head, just behind the gills. That part is icky but the third step is the nastiest. You gut 'em. Slice open the belly and yank out the innards. Finally, wash the fish and get ready to eat!

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Comments 16 comments

Deborah 8 years ago

yes, I can assure you that you will be cleaning your own fish! I know that when Dawdaw was still alive and she and I fished pretty regular, we stopped keeping "pan fish". If they weren't big enough to filet; we didn't keep them. Me being the optimist that I am, you will also learn to filet! Actually, fileting is much easier and cleaner. The only nasty part is the scaling, then you just cut the filet out. You skip all the real nasty stuff like the head and the guts. I am sure that your little prissy butt can handle that:)

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Smart, Jerilee!

Deborah, when I hear "pan fish" I have a mental image of fish too small to keep, but you lose a lot of meat when you filet our typical catch. Some of them are big enough to filet, I guess. I'll try to make sure to catch ones with you big enough to have some practice :-) Oh, and you are right. I'm prissy, and the filet sounds much better than gutting.

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DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

Don't you girls remember the time we went camping at Sandpiper without your daddy and Franchesca's mom taught you how to clean the fish you'd caught on the pier? I remember being so proud of you all because you were really just little kids (I am surprised at myself for letting you handle a knife!) and you did a great job of cleaning those little fish!

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dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

sorry, Mama, I don't remember cleaning the fish. Maybe I didn't catch one. But is that the same trip where we had the big thunderstorm and were scared to death on the bridge?

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Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

I have been on many a camping trip to the High Sierras. My Daddy's favorite pursuit was catching those rainbow trout, which we fried up for breakfast, lunch and dinner if necessary, just so Dad could fish some more without having a limit in possession.

Nothing like fresh trout when you are camping in fresh, high-altitude air, he a never complained about cleaning them-- even the ones I caught.

SuzyQ 8 years ago

Hmm.......I learned how to clean fish when I learned to fish as a kid!

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

SuzyQ, I guess technically I did too - but by observation rather than practice. They just never "made" me do it, so I didn't volunteer. Kinda gross, ya know?

spryte profile image

spryte 8 years ago from Arizona, USA

LOL! I loved the article and the comments :) With that said...I'm really glad I'm a catch & release type of fisherwoman on fresh water. I've watched the guys clean fish out on deep sea fishing trips, marveling at how they managed to do so with the boat rocking underneath. Since I'm a natural born klutz...I figured it was safer for everyone if I left it in their capable hands. :)

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Ah, I can't clean fish for "saftey" reasons....good one Spryte!

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

Dineane, you probably weazled your way out of it somehow;o) I have been on that bridge in more than one thunderstorm, that might have been one of them.

Remember your friend who was on it when a waterspout came along and lifted her car?

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Ken and I saw twin water spouts when we were coming across the bridge once. I still can't believe how calm I was. It was really kind of cool, but then they were not close enough to lift the car up! I was thinking it was the Aligator River bridge where Kara's car was lifted, but you may be right.

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Karen LaVelle 8 years ago from Texas

That was my dad's favorite saying, too.  But he was basically a cat fisherman.  Those have to be skinned and it took more muscle than us kids had!  Thank the good faeries for that!  But, unfortunately, I grew up to become a Bass fisherperson. And I HATE scaling fish with a passion.  Therefore, I usually throw them back.  =o)

Besides, I have other family members who always have a bag of filets for my freezer.  LOL  That said...I DO know how to do it...I CAN if I am hungry enough, but I am not above weazling out of the cleaning part if I get the opportunity!  Great story!  I love the way it is written!  Ya'll have a good day/week/month/year, and al!   =o)

Karen LaVelle

cvaughn570 8 years ago

Great story Dineane! I don't eat fish, but I love to go fishing, so if I catch them someone else is cleaning I only go fishing if there is someone that is going to eat them though.

R. Blue profile image

R. Blue 7 years ago from Right here

Typical women.....but that's OK....I never learned how to wash dishes.....would probably just drop them and break them......but I can clean and filet fish with the best of them....clean crabs.....and I don't mind it a bit. I'm thinking paper plates and plastic cutlery.

dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

LMAO, RB - I don't mind paper plates either :-)

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fishtiger58 7 years ago from Momence, Illinois

My hubby taught me many years ago how to fillet panfish. Its pretty simple, he cuts the fillet off the fish then I skin and clean the meat. It does help if the fish are chunky and we prefer the bones out so filleting is the way to go for us. We usually keep about 16 bluegill for a family of 4.

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