Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cleaning Freshwater Fish

Hopefully the information we provided so far has helped? You have got out on the water and caught a lot of BIG fish? This month we are going to provide some information on how to prepare your catch for the dinner table or camping by the lake.

I ate fish often while growing up. Most were small bream and cats caught in local ponds. After I got married, Alice and I ate fish a lot - out of economic need. We would fish for bass during the day but release all them and run trot lines at night for catfish. Then I learned to fillet bass and now fillet everything I catch. Fillets are much better to me than fish cleaned any other way.

Filleting fish is fairly easy. Following is a step by step process that works for me.

1. Catch a fish. I prefer bass of about 1 1/2 pounds and never keep bass over three pounds, letting the bigger ones go to catch again. You can fillet any fish but bigger bream and crappie are better. Hybrids from 1/2 to three pounds are good, too.

2. Ice fish down over night. Fish left on ice overnight produce bloodless fillets the next day and are much less "fishy" tasting, I think. Fish filleted and fried on the lake bank right after catching them are best, but if I am going to wait till I get home to clean them I always ice them down.

3. Get a good fillet knife, sharpen it and find a flat table to use. The picture below shows my set-up with a board across a trash can. I like a big fillet knife and I sharpen it just before starting. Many people use electric knives and they work well, but I often cut through the backbone when I use one and hate cleaning them!

Slit the Belly To Guide Your Cut

Slit the belly of the fish

4. Flatten the fish out on the board and make a slit through the belly of the fish, from just under the jaw down past the anal fin. I like to cut on either side of the anal fin - this helps guide the knife later. You need a sharp tip on your knife for this step.

Cut Along the Backbone from Head to Tail

Cut along the backbone from head to tail

5. Lay the fish flat and cut across the body just behind the head. Cut down to the backbone but be careful not to cut through it. When your blade hits the bone, turn it sideways and cut toward the tail, following the slit in the belly and cutting as close to the backbone as possible. Your knife needs to be extremely sharp to cut through the rib bones during this step.

Filleting Bass - Cut the Skin Off the Fillet

Cut between the meat and the skin of the fish

6. Follow the backbone to the tail, stopping the cut without cutting through the skin at the tail. Let that skin hold the fillet to the carcass and flip it flat. Cut between the skin and the meat.

Fillet Bass - Cut Out the Ribs

Cut out the ribs for a bone free fillet

7. You now have a fillet with rib bones. Many people like to leave them in but I cut them out, ending up with a boneless, skinless fillet. I usually put my fillets in a ziploc bag with some salt and fill it with water, squeezing out all the water, and leave them in the refrigerator for a day or so. Take them out, rinse in cold water, pat dry, roll in cornmeal and fry. Or, you can freeze them in the ziploc bag. White fish like bass will keep many months. Oily fish like hybrids start to get rancid in a few months so I try to cook them within two months. They usually don't last that long!

Or, if you are camping by the lake and cannot wait, try this tasty recipe. It's so good!


Musky/Fish (your choice)

fresh herbs

olive oil

sliced lemon

salt and pepper


Stuff a whole fish with lemon and fresh herbs of your choice; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron skillet on hot embers; add some olive oil and the fish. The fish can also be coated with olive oil and placed directly on a raised, heated grill over embers. Cook until crispy on the outside and flakey inside; cooking time will vary.

Fireplace Potatoes


3 baking potatoes, cut into small chunks

1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

1/8 cup finely chopped onions

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

ketchup and mustard (optional)


In a cast iron pot, mix together potatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place pot on embers and stir often. Cook about 15-20 minutes, until potatoes pierce easily with fork and enjoy!

Keep a tight line!


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