How to Clean a Fish at the Campsite (And Then Cook It)

The first bite of fresh fish can be unforgettable, especially when you're the one who caught it.

Prepping that freshly caught fish for the campfire can be intimidating, causing some outdoor enthusiasts to freeze it for dinner back at home. Cleaning and filleting your fish isn't as complicated as you might think. And what work is required will be forgotten, once you taste a fish cooked over the campfire.

Here are the seven steps to follow as you take your fresh catch from your hook to the dinner plate all at the campsite.

How to Keep it Fresh

Keep your fish on the stringer in the water and then in a cooler of ice water until you're ready to prepare it; this helps retain flavor and quality. Back at the campsite, clean and cook the fish right away or put it in a bag and freeze for later.

How to Clean a Fish

Use the Necessary Equipment

While many campgrounds, especially state parks, provide fish cleaning areas, some rural locations lack this amenity. In this case, any outdoor table is a great work surface. Some other tools to have on hand include:

  • fillet knife
  • scaling tool
  • bucket or other container for discarded parts
  • water source to keep the fish and work surface clean
  • zip top plastic bags to store the fish if necessary

Scale the Fish

Always work with one fish at a time. Hold the head with one hand and, using a scaling tool, dull knife or spoon, apply short, raking motions, moving from the tail toward the head. Use caution around the sharp edges of the fins. Repeat the action on both sides of the fish, around the fins and up to the gills. Rinse the fish in water when you've finished.

Skin the Fish

Bullheads, catfish and other bottom-feeders lack scales, but are protected by a thick skin, which most people prefer to remove before cooking. First, cut the sharp spines off, which makes handling the fish easier.

Once you've removed the spine, make a cut behind the head and along the pectoral or belly fins. Hold the fish by the head with one hand, grasp the skin with the other, and pull toward the tail. Rinse the fish when it's completely skinned.

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