If you're going to eat your catch, you have to keep it fresh. Keep caught fish in a live well, a cooler or on a stringer in the water. And always fill your cooler or live well with the same water you're fishing in.
If you're not going to eat your catch, unhook it carefully—while it's still in the water—and release it.
Fish spoil quickly if you don't handle them properly from the moment you land them. You'll end up with softened flesh, a strong flavor and a "fishy" or sour odor.
In this section we'll give you some basic tips on how to clean fish, as well as some more detailed information on scaling, filleting, steaking and storing your catch.
Scale the fish on a flat surface using one hand to hold it by the head. Rake the scales from the tail toward the head with a fish scaler or a large spoon. Remove the scales on both sides of the body.
Fish with very fine scales, like flounder, take a great deal of patience to clean. Take your time—some people are very sensitive to getting scales in their mouth while eating.
Removing the skin improves the taste of many fish. It also removes a layer of fat just under the skin. Catfish, bullheads and other bottom-feeding fish are usually skinned. Here are some tips on how to clean fish by skinning:
Knowing how to fillet a fish means getting the meat off the fish without the bones. This one of the finer methods of cleaning your fish. Larger fish, like largemouth bass, northern pike, salmon and walleye are usually filleted. A filleted fish has its skin and all of its bones removed before cooking. Scaling isn't necessary.
Fillet knives have a long, thin blade that's very sharp and specifically designed for filleting fish. To work properly, they must be really, really sharp. If you have any slime on your hands or the fillet knife handle, wash it off to prevent slipping.
You can also wear metal-mesh fish-cleaning gloves to protect your hands. Here are the basic steps for how to fillet a fish:
A large fish is often cut across the body into thick steaks. First clean the fish and skin or scale, if necessary (salmon steaks are often prepared with the skin still on). Before cutting fish steaks, chill the fish or put it in a freezer until it is partly stiff for easier cutting.
Cut through the body working from the tail toward the head. Make each steak from 1/2-inch to 1-inch thick. After steaking, trim away any belly fat or bones you can see, but not the backbone.
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