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How to Gut a Fish: Gut it, Fillet it and Cook it Without Leaving Camp

Freshly caught fish taste GREAT!

If you want to eat what you just caught, though, you need to learn how to gut a fish.

Not only will we teach you about gutting a fish, but also how to fillet a fish and even cook it in the wild!

Just after you’ve caught the fish

After you’ve made your catch, the first thing you need to do store it to keep them fresh. You can do this in a few different ways, but the most efficient will be using a fish stringer and then putting them in a cooler with ice water. Storing the fish properly also helps retain its flavor!

Remember, if the fish isn’t big enough to keep to practice proper catch and release methods.

Click here to read about catching trout.

How to clean fish scales

Before you start gutting the fish, you need to descale it. If you have a descaling tool great! If not, then you can use a dull knife or even a spoon to work the scales out.

  • Place the fish on a table and firmly grab its head.
  • With a knife or scraper, use short and quick strokes to remove the scales.
  • You can damage the meat if you apply too much pressure.
  • Apply just enough so the scales pop right off.
  • Be careful when working around the fins!
  • Once you’ve removed all of the scales from the fish, rinse it with cool water.

How to remove the skin from a fish

Not all fish have scales. So if you’re planning to eat some catfish, you need to remove the skin instead.

  • Make a SHALLOW cut just behind the dorsal fin through to their other dorsal fin.
  • Use pliers to pull the skin towards the tail.
  • If there is any stubborn skin, remove it with your fingers.

How to gut a fish

Now that you have your fish cleaned, it’s time to remove the guts. You’re going to want a sharp knife so that you can make a clean cut.

  • Place the fish on a table and firmly grab its head.
  • Insert the knife just before it’s tail and bring the knife towards the fish’s head to split the fish open.
  • Again, you want to keep the blade shallow. If you puncture the intestines, you can ruin the taste of your meat.
  • Spread the body open where you just made your cut and put out all of the entrails.
  • Locate the fish’s anus and cut it out.
  • Next look to see if the fish has a kidney. If it does, it will be located around the backbone. Use either a spoon or your finger to scrape it out.
  • Rinse the fish out.
  • If the fish has a dark tissue lining their insides, remove this to avoid the fish having an overwhelming oily flavor.

Preparing your fish to eat

Now that you’re fish has been gutted, you need to decide how you’re going to cook it. This can be done in one of three ways: fillet, steak, or keeping them whole.

How to fillet your fish

If you choose to fillet your fish, then there is no need to skin it.

  • Lay the fish on its side and insert the knife behind its pectoral fin and cut downward to the backbone.
  • With the sharp end of the knife pointing towards the tail, hold the knife flat and using a saw motion cut towards the tail.
  • After you’ve cut through to the tail, lay the fish skin side down on the table and insert the knife between the skin and the meat.
  • Use that same saw link motion to remove the skin from the meat, and you’ll be left with just the fish fillet.
  • Rinse the fillet with cold water.

How to Steak, your fish

This method is usually only reserved for larger fish, but the idea is simple: cut the fish all the way through in 1 ½” -2” slices. Cut out the excess fat as well as any bones—except for the backbone.

How to cook your fish in the wild

Cooking a fish out in the wild is a lot easier than you may have thought.If you descale it, season the fish with your favorite spices and wrap it in tinfoil. Place the wrapped fish on the hot embers of your campfire flaky and white.

You can also choose to leave the scales on and cook it whole on a stick over the fire. Gut the fish, either tie it to a stick or pierce it and place it over the fire. All of the skin will eventually flake off then it’s ready to eat!

Tips for gutting and eating fish you catch

Quickly and humanely kill the fish

Quickly putting the fish out of its misery is not on the humane thing to do, but it also is better for the meat. While a fish is struggling to fight for its life, it’s releasing toxins that taint the meat. Also, flopping around bruises the already delicate meat. So to prevent any of this from happening there are a couple of ways to quickly kill the fish.

A quick blow to the head with a blunt object is the most widely used method. Usually done with a wooden mallet, hit the fish firmly on the top ofit’s head.

Another method you can try is one that was brought to popularity by Japanese fishermen—known asIkijime or brain spiking. Using a sharp object, your goal is to pierce the fish's brain quickly.

Make sure fish are safe to eat in your area

This is often overlooked, but not all fish you can are safe to eat. A lot of waters may be polluted with PCBs, dioxins, and mercury that the fish will absorb. Back before we were well informed on pollution, factories use to burn off a lot of these chemicals through their smokestacks. Unfortunately, even though factories no longer do, these chemicals are persistent and will stay in our water systems for some time to come.

Learning how to gut a fish is an essential tool for an angler, and it also makes fishing trips much more fun. Eating what you catch allows you to feel a real sense of pride in your skills as an angler. And it saves you some money on those family fishing trips!


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