You’re going to need a few things:
- sharp knife (a fillet knife is best, but any thin sharp knife will do)
- clean running water
- plastic bags
- cooler with crushed ice (best option, if possible)
Step 1: Kill It
Do the fish a favor and kill it quickly and humanely. Give it a good rap on the top of the head right behind the eyes with a stick or a commercially available “Priest” (a wooden or metal club used to dispatch fish).
Killing a fish quickly is not only kinder to the fish than letting it suffocate in the air or die on a stringer, but it also translates into better tasting fish. The sooner you clean the fish, the better.
Step 2: Clean It
- Rinse the fish with clean (not lake) water, to remove the protective slime.
- Remove both pectoral fins.
- Use a scaling tool, a spoon, or the blunt side of a knife.
- Run your scaling tool down the length of the fish’s body at an angle, from tail to head.
- You’re done scaling when the body is smooth.
- Insert the tip your knife into the anal vent.
- Carefully slit the belly open all the way up to the gills. Be careful not to cut the internal organs, you don’t want to taint the meat.
- Insert the tip of your knife (sharp side facing jaw) into one side of the tab directly beneath the jaw and push it out the other side of the tab.
- Cut the tab free.
- Hold onto the jaw with one hand.
- With your other hand’s thumb, push into the tab
- Use both your thumb and index finger to reach into the body cavity and pull out (forcefully) the guts and gills.
- Scrape out the blood line (dark red line clinging to spine inside the body cavity) with your thumb’s fingernail or a spoon and rinse out body cavity.
- Cut the head off, below the gills (optional).
- Cut the tail off (optional).
- If you want to remove the bones, cut along both sides of the dorsal fin and give it a good yank from the tail back to the head (optional).
Step 3: Keep It
- Properly dispose of the guts. Don’t litter. A good way to deal with the guts is to double bag them and put them in the freezer until trash day.
- In the field, pack the body cavity with ice and place in your cooler. Don’t let fish sit in the melt water.
- At home, store cleaned fish in a covered container in the refrigerator (40° or lower). Fish will keep for two days.
- To freeze, wrap the fish in plastic wrap as a vapor barrier (to prevent freezer burn) and follow that with a good-quality freezer wrap.