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Cleaning Fish - How to Scale, Clean, Fillet and Store Fish

Updated on October 7, 2014

Cleaning, Filleting, Skinning, Storing Fish

This page has tutorials and other information on how to handle, scale, skin, fillet and store fish in order to enjoy the freshest, highest quality seafood available.

When cleaning fish it's important to decide if you will scale or skin the fish as well as choosing to fillet the fish or simply gut and remove the head, tail and fins.

After cleaning and rinsing fish in cold water, they should be chilled immediately. Fish can be cooked the same day, kept chilled for several days or frozen for later use.

How to Fillet and Skin Fish

Choosing Fish to Fillet

Smaller fish may not be suited for filleting but most larger fish can easily be filleted in order to provide high quality boneless meals.

Skinning Fish Fillets

Skinning the fish and trimming any dark meat can further raise the quality of your meal. To skin the fish, lie the fillet down flat, skin side down. Using a SHARP fillet knife, make a cut using a slicing motion parallel to the skin.

Care of the Fillets

Fish should always be kept cold! Store fish in an iced cooler and clean them right away after your trip. Fillets will be best if rinsed, placed in zipper bags and placed back on ice immediately after cleaning.

Using All of the Fish

Don't want to waste anything? There's even a trick for that! You can use kitchen shears and remove the gills from the head, then rinse the head, skeleton, skin and scraps of dark meat for use in making a delicious fish stock.

Any parts not used can be added to a compost pile. Fish scraps are excellent sources of minerals and other nutrients for your garden.

Vacuum Bags and Zipper Bags for Storing and Freezing Fish and Seafood

Vacuum bags work by removing air from freezer storage bags. You simply place your food in the freezer bag, seal the bag, and use the vacuum tool to air from the bag. Removing excess air cuts down on freezer burn.

Several types of bags and vacuum devices exist, ranging from inexpensive hand pumps to large models for bulk freezing.

One of the most popular options is a series of an economically priced, hand-held vacuum sealers which remove air from the specially designed Reynold's food bags. To purchase a manual or electric RHV, shop online or visit major grocery stores and mass retailers.

The average cost of a vacuum sealer starter kit is very affordable and the kit includes a few quart size vacuum food bags. Refills of quart size bags or gallon size bags are available.

bluegill sunfish
bluegill sunfish

How To Scale and Clean Panfish - Bone In

This technique is best for small fish that are not suitable to be filleted.

1. Scale the fish with a fish scaler or dull knife. While holding the fish with one hand, use the tool to remove all scales. You must run the scaler or knife from tail to head in order to get the scales off. The skin should be smooth when all scales are gone.

2. Cut the fish's head off. make the cut at the back of the fish's gills. Cut through at this point.

3. Cut from the belly back to the vent, avoiding all organs. Remove all organs, saving the fish roe if any is found.

4. Cut off the tail and fins.

5. Rinse the fish and place on ice immediately.

Save Your Fish Scraps!

Fish scraps are an excellent contribution to your organic garden. Fish have been used to nourish crops for thousands of years as they are excellent sources of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other important minerals.

Fish heads, scales, skin and bones all make great additions to a garden. Fish parts can be laid in a sunny area to dry, then added to a compost pile or buried in a fallow section of the garden.

Like crustacean shells, fish scales, bones and skin release nutrients slowly, providing plants with a natural, steady dispersion.

How to Fillet a Codfish - YouTube Video


How to Skin Catfish

Catfish lack scales and tend to have very slimy skin. Their sharp spines make them a challenge to clean. The easiest way to clean catfish is usually to skin the fish first, then fillet it.

Some anglers remove the fillets and then skin them. This method removes the thin layer of red meat that lies just under the skin. For larger catfish, this is said to improve the flavor of the fillets.

Fish Cleaning Feedback

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    • profile image

      .. 3 years ago


    • Wedding Mom profile image

      Wedding Mom 5 years ago

      Great lens.

    • DailyRogue profile image

      DailyRogue 6 years ago

      Great tips, especially the vacuum sealer. I use one now for all of my fresh seafood. It makes a huge difference in preserving quality.

    • BeaGabrielle1 profile image

      BeaGabrielle1 6 years ago

      Properly cleaning a fish has always been a challenge for me!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very clear information and very useful too. A very nice lens for fish lovers like me. :) Thanks.

    • mattseefood lm profile image

      mattseefood lm 7 years ago

      Nice lens! A lot of information about fish. Keep it up :)

    • BeaGabrielle1 profile image

      BeaGabrielle1 7 years ago

      I love fish but unfortunately, I don't know how to prep them. good thing I chanced upon your lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Skillfully done. I used to love watching my Dad filet fish after we had been out fishing as a family and we mostly brought home walleye along with a few perch and crappie. We ususally threw the northern pike back.

    • profile image

      termit_bronx 7 years ago

      Wow, great lens and very informative! Unique topic here on Squidoo, I love it!

    • NatureMaven profile image

      NatureMaven 8 years ago

      Hi it's me again. You sure do know about fish and fishing! *****I am lens rolling this to my Piney Run Park lens. Happy casting!

    • northamerica profile image

      northamerica 8 years ago

      [in reply to Deena]

      I agree it is sometimes hard to identify skinless fillets once they are stored together. Bagging each species separately is sometimes the only way to tell besides the taste of the cooked meal. Pre-labeled zipper or vacuum bags are a good thing to have ready before fish cleaning begins.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      We just came back from Louisiana with a truck full of Trout and Reds...I know the reds have the red streak through the meat...but it looks like so does all the can one tell the difference in a big trout and a smaller red once it has been cleaned? Thanks.

    • grayth lm profile image

      grayth lm 9 years ago

      very informative lens on cleaning fish, the pictures were very clear and the explanation great.