1. How to Kill the Fish
If the fish is in a live well, there are a few different methods you can use to kill the fish….from bashing their head in….to making an incision in which they bleed out….to stunning them in a “humane” way. Bleeding the fish is recommended for the best-tasting results, and while you can still get much of the blood out immediately after killing the fish, it can be easier and cleaner to let live fish bleed themselves out. This may be especially important for fish that are caught after a long struggle in which stress hormones have been coursing through their body. On the flip side of the coin, if you’re wondering if fish feel pain and whether there’s any point to humane killings, there’s been a good amount of debate and controversy about this over the years, and the best evidence we have at the moment suggests that while fish do feel pain, they feel pain in a qualitatively different way.
2A. Scale the Fish
Scales or skin, the fish should be wet before you start. For fish with scales, you can use a butter knife or similar tool to scrape the scales off the fish, starting with the tail and moving toward the gills, remove the scales that easily fall off. Avoid excessive pressure that threatens to gash the fish. Be careful around the fins which can prickly on many species of fish, but you’ll need to work to remove all the scales between the tail and just below the gills. Eventually, you can then use a hose or faucet to help remove the scales, but again avoid pummeling the meat underneath the scales with a bunch of water pressure.
2B. Skin the Fish
For fish with skin, cut down the length of the spine. For catfish, cut from the one dorsal fin down to the other one near the tail. Then use pliers to peel back and remove the skin. Here, too, don’t force it if the whole skin doesn’t immediately come off. You may need to use the knife to loosen stubborn bits of skin. Once the skin is off, rinse the fish off.
2C. Gut the Fish
An entirely different method for cleaning and preparing scaled or skinned fish is to gut them. Here, you make a cut under the belly of the fish from just above the tail to just under the gills. Reach in and pull out the fish entrails which should look a little like what you might imagine from miniature sized human intestines. Leave the muscle, or fillet. Next rinse the fish out to remove any remaining entrails and unwanted fish parts. You can then remove the head if so desired.
3. Clean Up and Cook Up
The cleaning station doesn’t need to be a sterile environment or anything, and you should practice good hygiene and sanitation throughout, but it can be especially important to separate the good-eating fillet from the rest of the fish parts. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with less-than-stellar culinary results, or potentially even worse. Take the container of prepped fish to the cooking area and thoroughly wash down the cleaning station. For the absolute best results, you should cook and eat the fish right away—or at least some time that same day. If you don’t plan to cook the fish right away, make sure it stays chilled during the interim. Beyond this, we simply encourage you to explore different methods and recipes for cleaning, preparing, cooking, and serving your haul of fish.