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How to clean a fish at the campsite

  • May 12, 2015

After reeling in your big catch of the day, you throw your fish into a cooler, head back to the campsite and start a fire. Thinking of some savory fish fillets, you open up your container to find a scaly, slimy whole fish that isn't even close to ready for the skillet. Now what?

Don't let the finned critter intimidate you. Cleaning a fish can be simple and easy once you know the procedure. Here's the step-by-step breakdown.

What you'll need
Make sure you have the necessary supplies beforehand. As soon as you pack your fishing rods and bait, you should be expecting to reel in something you may eat later. Pack the cleaning equipment with your tackle box.

You'll need:

  • A sturdy work surface - a work table is best but a large cutting board and a picnic table can work in a pinch
  • A sharp fillet or fish-cleaning knife
  • A spoon or scaling tool
  • Metal or mesh gloves for beginners
  • Plenty of clean cloths or paper towels
  • A container for the cleaned fish that you will cook later
  • A bucket for the guts and other parts.

How to clean a fish
This next part will get messy very quickly, so make sure you're not wearing your favorite shirt and take off any other accessories. A watch tide graph can be a fisherman's best friend - showing you exactly where you can find feeding fish with the ebb and flow of the water. However, covering it in fish parts won't do it any good. Set it aside with everything else you want to keep clean.

  1. Rinse and pat down the fish with a cloth or paper towels. Fish are very slimy right out of the water, and you'll be working with a very sharp knife. That said, do your best to clear away the slippery substance.
  2. Next, scale the fish by holding it by the head and moving the scaling tool from the tail up using short scrapes. Continue until the scales are gone from both sides. Rinse afterwards.
  3. Lay the fish on its side on the work surface.
  4. Start cleaning and gutting by cutting the fish across the belly down from just below the gills all the way down to the back fin near the anal opening. While you're doing this, keep the blade shallow to avoid piercing the organs inside.
  5. Next, you can remove the head and the intestines at the same time by cutting at an angle just behind the pectoral fin up to the head. Cut down to the backbone, but not through it, on either side. 
  6. Trim the edge of the cut to the first cut across the belly at the chin.
  7. Cut the back bone just below the head.
  8. If done correctly, you'll be able to pull the head off with the guts by gently moving the head away toward the belly.
  9. Some fish have a kidney by the backbone you will need to remove with a spoon. Remove this and the dark inner membrane of the cavity with a raking motion.
  10. Rinse the inside of the fish thoroughly.
  11. Discard all guts and scales from the workspace into the appropriate container and dispose of it.

And voila! Your fish is now cleaned and ready to throw into a skillet for cooking. This method works for nearly every fish you'll encounter on a fishing trip.  However, cleaning a flat fish is slightly different.

Fishing is a great way to spend a day trip, but it's hardly as fun when you have to throw back everything you catch because you don't know what to do with it. These steps will turn your hard work at the reel into a tasty meal in no time, and nothing tastes better than a dinner you've earned.

When going fishing you need a watch that can help you. The PRW3500T-7 is great because of its tide graph features. Why would you want a watch without all of these great features that can help you on the trail or on a boat!