Fishing 101: Should You Gut a Fish Before Filleting?

Last modified on July 29th, 2020 at 6:46 am

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Fishing is all fun and games until it’s time to clean the catch. It would often leave me wondering, should you gut a fish before filleting it? Won’t it be easier to clean when it’s already in pieces? It’s been an ongoing debate even for long-time anglers too. Gutting the fish is arguably the most daunting task after a bountiful fishing trip. 

When should you gut your freshly caught fish?

If you’re a rookie angler, it’s best to gut the fish before you fillet it. This is to make sure you don’t accidentally rupture any of the innards. Rupturing the liver or intestines may cause your fish to smell and taste bad. What’s worse is, for some species, their digestive enzymes can be poisonous too. Not to mention it will be harder to clean. Therefore, you must take extra precautions during the time spent between catching the fish up until serving it.

How to properly dress a fish before filleting:

dressing a fish

Prepare a clean station on the boat where you can scale and bleed the fish after catching it. You also need a cooler with slushy ice (ice with a little water to store the fish in). 

To make it as humane as possible, kill the fish as soon as you catch it. Do not leave it flapping around the boat, it’s inhumane and it will stress out the fish which will decrease the meat quality of it.  

Now you want to bleed the fish. Cut the gills out then rinse it in cold water to try and remove as many digestive enzymes as you can. Then put it in the cooler and keep it iced until you have access to a cleaning station.

Once you dock and have access to a cleaning station with clean, running water, it’s time to dress the fish! Take a fish out of the cooler and scale it. Lay it face down on a chopping board, then use a scaling tool or the back of your knife to scale it. Start from the tail, rub it with the scaler using short strokes until you get to the head of the fish. 

To gut the fish, insert the tip of your fillet knife into the fish’s anus right next to the tail. Now you want to carefully run the knife upward towards the head. Make sure not to plunge the knife in so as not to damage any internal organs. 

Gently spread open the fish’s abdominal cavity. Then pull out the entrails and gills with your hands. Since we’re filleting the fish, cut the fish head from above the pectoral fins. 

Lastly, rinse the fish with cold water then pat with a clean cloth or paper towel before you start filleting.

Fish is one of the most perishable food you will ever have to deal with. Make one mistake while cleaning the fish and you risk puncturing its organs. This risk is higher if you chose to fillet the fish without gutting it. 

So, don’t be scared to get your hands dirty and clean that fish well! It will be worth it once you and your family is savoring that creamy fish fillet that you caught and prepared from scratch. 😉

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