Fishin’ for Fun & Food
Enjoy eating your catch with basic cleaning and filleting techniques.
Forestville, WI (April 18, 2023) – The reason this topic is in “Health Science” is because catching fish is healthy for your physical and emotional health by spending quality relaxing time outdoors with family and friends on the water. Then after you’ve caught some fish for dinner, it’s healthy for your body and brain by eating a super protein that’s low in calories and yet high in Omega 3. To make the process of cleaning and cooking your catch relatively easy, watch the video and explore the helpful content provided here by our friends at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And believe it or not, cleaning fish provides an opportunity to learn more about fish anatomy and fish diets (what the fish was feeding on before you caught it will still be in its stomach).
Cleaning is the technique used to prepare fish without removing bones. Filleting leaves the fish boneless, and occasionally skinless, and is generally used for larger fish. The most important step in preparing any fish is choosing a sharp knife of the correct size and shape. Most fillet knives have thin, slightly flexible blades five to eight inches long. A dull knife can be more dangerous than a sharp knife because you must work harder to make the proper cuts. Make sure your knife is sharp, and hold it away from your fingers and body as you carefully prepare your fish.
Cleaning fish is the simple process of removing the scales and internal organs. Then you can cook your fish with the skin and bones intact and remove the bones before eating. It works fine on most species of fish, especially on panfish such as perch, crappies, and bluegills.
Step #1 – Remove the scales using a spoon or fish scaler. Scrape off the scales from the tail toward the head.
Step #2 – Without cutting through bones or internal organs, cut around the head, behind the pectoral fins, and down to the anus (also called “the vent”).
Step #3 – Break the backbone by bending the head downward and twisting. Remove the head and internal organs. Clean the inside with water while gently scraping away any remaining “stuff”.
Step #4 – Check local rules, but generally you can dispose of wrapped fish waste in a trash bin or bury it deep in your garden. Fish waste does not belong in compost bins. If trash pickup is a few days away, consider freezing them until trash removal.
Filleting fish takes a little more time and skill with practice and is often used on larger fish such as salmon or walleyes. But the rewards are having a clean, skinless, and boneless “fillet” to bake or fry. A sharp “fillet knife” is key to successfully cleaning your fish.
Step #1 – Cut along the dorsal fin from head to tail and along the anal fin from anus (or vent) to the tail.
Step #2 – Just behind the gill cover make a vertical cut through the flesh down to the bone. This cut extends from the back to the stomach. Deepen the cut made along the dorsal fin working from head to tail. Hold the knife nearly parallel to the row of bones extending upward from the spine to the back. This cut should extend downward only as far as the backbone.
Step #3 – Repeat this procedure on the stomach side. Cut first from behind the gills to the anus, then along the anal fin cut you made earlier. These cuts should be just below the surface of the belly skin to avoid rupturing internal organs. As you cut up toward the backbone your fillet will come free.
Step #4 – Do not cut the fillet from the tail. Flip the fillet so that it is lying skin-side down. Hold the fish down with one hand just in front of the tail fin. Beginning at the tail carefully skin the fillet, working away from your hand. Work slowly and patiently; cutting too deeply will result in slicing through the skin and not cutting deeply enough will result in lost meat.
Besides the fillet knife, “sharpen” your aquatic science by “exploring” the various internal organs of your fish. Check out your fish’s stomach contents! Examining a fish’s last meal will help you become a better angler. Knowing what the fish was eating can help you better match your next lure to this species’ diet. We’ve also included some lessons below that you can share in class that should help you on your way to becoming a fish biologist, or at least knowing their basic anatomy.