I’ve been fishing since I was a little girl so I learned how to gut and clean a fish at a very young age. I learned how to bait a hook and catch a fish before I learned how to ride a bike. Fishing for food to feed our family was a way of life for us growing up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning some great self-sufficiency skills that would stay with me throughout my life. Now that I’m a mama, I feel honored to pass these skills on to Little A.
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One of our favorite places to go fishing with Little A is a mountain lake about half an hour from home. We take our canoe and fish the lake for a while and then have dinner cooked over the campfire as the sun sets. This week’s trip up to this lake was our way to celebrate our anniversary. I had to laugh thinking about how most people would go out to eat at a fancy restaurant to celebrate an anniversary. Instead we prefer a simple meal cooked over the campfire in the mountains! (Here’s our post on how to cook on an open fire if you missed it!) We always catch fish when we visit this beautiful place. This week we harvested four nice sized cutbows (a cross between a rainbow trout and a cutthroat trout).
When catching trout, we don’t fillet them. Instead we gut and clean them to prepare them for cooking. Usually I prefer to gut a fish out in the wilds where it is caught. That way the innards can be left behind for another animal to feast on. Sometimes, like this week, the sun set so early that it got dark before we had time to clean the fish. Instead we put the fish on ice in our cooler and brought them home to gut and clean them. The good thing about gutting the fish at home is we can bury the fish innards in the dirt in our garden since it is an amazing natural fertilizer!
4 Steps to Gut and Clean a Fish
Before getting started with gutting your fish, find a flat surface. If you’re in the house this is easy since you can just use the counter top and cover it with newspaper or use a cutting board. When outside, look for a large flat rock or bank of the waterway that is relatively flat.
Step 1. We don’t keep the head on our fish when cooking them, that is just how I grew up eating wild fish. If you want to keep the head on, skip this step. Find the pectoral fin which is just on the back side of the head behind the gill. Place a sharp knife just behind the fin and cut straight down to cut the head clean off the fish.
Step 2. Find the little hole on the back underside of the fish where the poop comes out. Insert the tip of a sharp knife in this hole and slowly slice forward on the underbelly of the fish clean through the end where you cut the head off. (You can’t miss the fact that my husband is using a bright pink knife to gut and clean these fish- what a guy! This knife works amazing. If you want one for yourself, you can find them here)
Step 3. Remove the innards. Use the sharp tip of your knife to scrape the innards out of the crevice in the spine of the fish. Sometimes this will wash out under running water or if near a natural water source swish the fish in the water a few times.
Step 4. When cleaning a trout, there typically aren’t a lot of big scales that need to be scraped off. There is a natural protective film on the outer part of trout that I always refer to as fish slime. This is what makes fish so slippery and hard to pick up! Rub the outside of the fish while rinsing in water to remove the slime. Cut off any remaining fins.
Now your fish is ready to be grilled, baked, or fried in your favorite recipe! You can also freeze your fish to preserve it for a future meal. Growing up we always just put our fish in a plastic zip bag and put it in the freezer. My husband said he remembers cutting open a milk carton, putting the fish inside and filling with water to freeze. We actually didn’t do either of these! Now that we have this amazing new gamesaver vacuum sealer (you can find them here) we vacuum sealed two of our trout and put them in the freezer for a future meal. The other two we’re cooking up for dinner (recipe coming soon!)
Do you have any tips to share on gutting and cleaning a fish?