How to Clean & Gut A Fish

If you enjoy the thrill of catching fish, you may want to learn how to prepare it as well. Whether you are an experienced angler or just starting out, it is a great skill to learn especially when you are camping and enjoying time in nature.

Here is a step-by-step process to preparing your wild-caught fish:

  1. Kill your fish. If you have just caught your fish, you need to ensure that it is fully dead before you begin. Lay the fish down on a flat surface and hold it around the body. Then hit it with a blunt object like a mallet on the top of its head. If you do not have a blunt object you can “spike the brain” by using a knife to cut through to the brain located just above the fish’s eye.
  2. Wash your fish. Place the fish in a sink and let the water run over the fish and rub its body to clean away any dirt, debris, and slime from its scales
  3. Remove fins and tail. While you can still prepare the fish with the fins still intact, you may want to cut them off, but this step is optional.

Before you cut the fish, open be sure you are in a safe location. The odor released when you gut a fish can attract bears and other predators so be sure to take the proper precautions.

  •  Slice fish open and remove its guts. Begin from the tail and cut upwards towards the fish’s head. With the fish open you can remove the guts by pulling them out with your hands.
  • Cut the head off. Remove the head by chopping it off at the gills just behind its eyes.

Now you can begin filleting the fish to prepare it to be cooked.

  • Start with a fillet knife cutting from the tail up to the head. Use a smooth slicing motion to ensure the pieces come out in a nice fillet.
  • Remove the bones. With the fish open begin picking out the spine and bones. The bones may be tough to remove as they are fairly small. You can use tweezers to remove the smaller bones.

Now your fish is fully prepared to cook.

pan fried tilapia with asian slaw and roasted potatoes

Here is an easy fish fillet recipe:


  • 2 5- to 6-ounce fish fillets, like black bass, haddock, fluke, striped bass, tilefish, snapper or salmon, 1/2- to 1-inch thick
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, tarragon, chives or another herb
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional
  • Lemon wedges


  1. Pat fillets dry with a paper towel. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy 10-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil. Place the fillets in the pan, skin side down (if applicable), laying them down away from your body. If fillets have skin, press down gently with a spatula for about 20 seconds to prevent curling.
  3. Lower heat to medium and let sizzle until fish is golden and caramelized around edges, about 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully flip fillets and add butter and thyme to the pan. Tilt pan slightly to let the melted butter pool at one end. Use a spoon to baste the fish with the pooled butter. Continue basting until golden all over and cooked through, 45 to 90 seconds more, depending on the thickness of your fish. Serve immediately with chopped parsley (if using) and lemon wedges.

Recipe from NYT Cooking

Dockside Fishing Center offers fishing charters in Virginia Beach! With bait and tackle included, all you have to do is pack your equipment for a fun day out on the water. Be sure to dress warm! Make your reservation today, to catch your own fish and then prepare them yourself using our easy-to-follow guide!

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