How to Clean a Fish

Steps for Cleaning a Fish

It goes without even saying that in a survival situation being able to clean your freshly caught fish is incredibly important. No matter what kind of cooking method you might use, cleaning your fish properly will eliminate the bacteria that occupies them and get rid of some nasty tasting parts of the fish. 


Check this post our further for a simple explanation on how to clean your freshly-caught fish.

How to Clean a Fish

Cleaning a fish is not that difficult, even for someone who has never done it before. With just a little practice, you’ll know the work around cleaning fish and you’ll start getting used to the unpleasant part in the process since you are gutting a fish after all.


Here are the tools you need:


  •         Large knife, a kitchen knife will do
  •         Scaling tool or butter knife if you’re in a pinch
  •         Cutting board
  •         Disposable gloves (or just wash your hands really well)
  •         Spoon
  •         Platter

Just keep in mind that you need to clean the fish as soon as you can after catching it. Rinse your fish as much as possible until all the slime is off them—this way, you can easily grab a firm hold of the fish. You do not want them slipping from your hand, especially when you’re about to cut your fish. If you don’t have the time or you are out on a boat, you can safely keep them in water or store them on ice until you’re ready to clean them. And here’s a good tip: cleaning a fish will create a lot of mess, so always do it outdoors.

Step 1: Scale The Fish

First thing first: Scaling fish is messy. When removing the scales, expect that they will be tossed all over the place. It’s a good idea to do this work outside, so you wouldn’t have much trouble cleaning up afterwards. But if you’ve got a deep sink, then you wouldn’t have to worry about scales getting scattered everywhere.


  1. Lay the fish down on your chopping board or any flat surface. Firmly hold the head using your non-dominant hand and hold your large knife using your dominant hand to scale the fish more effectively. Scale the fish with quick and short strokes until the scales have been removed and the fish has a smooth texture to the skin.

  2. Flip the other side of the fish and do the same scaling rountine.

  3. Now, rinse off any lingering scales on the fish with LIGHT water pressure since meat is soft and can be easily damaged.

Step 2: Gut the Fish

This is the unpleasant part of cleaning a fish but it’s also good to get accustomed to. To keep your spirits up, remember that you’ve got to earn your food- so its time to do the dirty work.

  1. Lay the fish on your chopping surface and place your non-dominant hand on its top to get a hold of its position. Now, stick the knife into the fish’s belly near its anal opening and run the knife sliding all the way to the base of its lower jaw. Do not take the knife too deep inside. If you go too deep, it will produce a bad odor due to the intestines getting pierced.

  2. Pull the cavity apart and spread the body open to pull out the entrails. Cut off the gill filaments from the base of the head with your knife.

  3. Use a spoon or even your fingers if you can to remove all the insides including the liver, kidneys and any remaining organs. Afterwards, remove the black stomach lining that can be found in the cavity- it tastes horrible.

  4. Lastly, give it a good long rinse from the cavity into the inside as much as possible with light water pressure as well.

Step 3: Prepare The Fish For Cooking

No matter how you cook your fish, whether it’s smoking, grilling, boiling, salting & drying, etc, you always need a good fish fillet to start with. Here’s how to cut your fresh caught fish into perfect fillets

  1. Cut off the fins on the sides, top, and bottom of the fish. You can do this while you de-scale your fish.

  2. Run the knife down the fish’s spine. Start your cut at the tail, and but up the fish’s backbone. Slice gently. Do this when you finish de-scaling your fish.

  3. Run the knife over the rib cage. Be careful and work with the shape of the fish’s rib cage. This is when you should be able to take the fillet off the body of the fish. You’ll probably see some small bones. You can remove some of these tiny bones with tweezers.

  4. Repeat the cuts on the other side of the fish. 

  5. Done! Almost… So you now have two rough fillets after making those two cuts. Now you need to trim the fat, trim the skin, and grab some large tweezers to de-bone the fillet. After a little more work you’ll have a fresh fish fillet to cook or store!


Final Takeaways

Cleaning a fish doesn’t look easy at first, but it’s a very useful skill to have and it becomes a pretty easy routine once you get used to it. If you find a good source of fish while you’re in a survival situation or a SHTF situation, if could mean the difference between life or death. That’s why it’s great to have these skills.


We have given you the general idea of how to clean a fish, but there is still much to learn. And since there are plenty of different fish you can reel in, you need to do your part of researching certain fish to determine whether it is safe to eat and how they should be cleaned exactly. Furthermore, learn more about your bug out / bugging in location, since that’s where you’ll likely be trying to catch fish. Some places might be polluted to the point the the fish aren’t edible, even today, so be careful when you eat when you catch.