Cleaning Your Catch

Fishing is a favorite outdoor sport for millions in North America. While many anglers practice catch and release there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few for the table or shore lunch to enjoy some tasty fish dinners.

Keep it Fresh

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh fish. But to ensure the fish you catch are at their flavorful best, take some time to plan for their proper care.


Fish are extremely perishable food, Fish that do not have red gills, clear eyes and a fresh odor should be discarded, keep your catch alive as long as possible. A good stringer, fish basket or boat live well is fine for short periods, especially when the water is cool. It’s best to clean a fish within the first hour or two, and cook it within 24 hours.

If you’re keeping fish from a fishing trip, they should be field dressed (gutted) or filleted as soon as possible, rinsed, placed into a plastic bag and put directly on ice in a cooler or refrigerator. The colder the storage the longer the fish will maintain with little flavor loss. Fish stored in a cooler with ice usually will stay fresh for 2 or 3 days to be eaten, be sure to drain often not allowing the water to soak into your catch.

Storing & Freezing Tips

If you’re not going to cook the catch right away then freezing the fish should be done at once. Here are a couple quick tips for proper freezing techniques. Don’t loosely wrap the fillets with freezer paper, plastic wrap or a used bread bag and toss them into the freezer. This will cause the fillets to dry out or freezer burn. Most freezer’s today are frost free which pulls the moisture out of the air to prevent frost buildup, it also pulls the moisture out of poorly wrapped fillets.

The best to preserve the fillets are to freeze in water. Any dehydration that occurs will happen to the ice, not the fish. We suggest using covered freezer containers or clean milk cartons, fill with meal sized portions and add cold water ensuring that the fillets are encased in ice. If needed add additional water.

As a rule, fats in fish will begin to oxidize over a period of time, fatty fish such as lake trout and salmon have a freezer life of about 1 month, while lean fish, walleye, pike and panfish will have 2 to 3 months.

Never thaw frozen fish at room temperatures by placing the fish in a kitchen sink, this may cause bacteria to grow as the fish is thawing. Thaw the container of fish in the refrigerator overnight drain as necessary or by running under cold running water. Do not refreeze the fish after it has been thawed.


Have the Right Tools

Having the right tools for the job will definitely make any job a lot easier. You finish much quicker and with less of a mess. You may want to place newspapers under your work area to manage an easy clean up.

Get the Right Knife. A good fillet knife has a long, thin, flexible blade. Most sporting goods and department stores sell fillet knives. Buy a good quality knife and keep it sharp. It’s important to keep your blades sharp. Use a honing stone or a sharpening steel to do so.

Choose a fillet knife that fits the size of the fish. Short fillet knives tend to be firmer, as longer fillet knives are more flexible. It pays to have two or three sizes. 4″ for panfish. 6″ for walleye and pike and 7 1/2″ for salmon and lake trout.

Fillet Boards

Have a smooth, flat board to for a cutting surface. We recommend high density polyethylene plastic that cleans up well. A canoe paddle or a cooler top makes a good cutting board if you are filleting for a shore lunch.


How to Fillet a Fish

Filleting is a popular method of preparing fish for meals. With practice and the proper knife, filleting is really easy. Here are a few video tips to go over these easy methods and techniques about filleting a Walleye, how to debone a Northern Pike and our favorite a Northwoods Fish Fry from Badfish Outdoors.