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Are You Properly Cleaning Your Fish?

Fishing outings and summertime go hand in hand. Whether you're a more experienced angler or you just love the outdoors and want to enjoy the thrill of catching dinner for your friends or family on your next camping trip, cleaning a fish well is a skill you've got to have. Plus, it's a great way to impress that certain someone.

There are a few ways to prepare small fish like bass, trout, stripers, bluefish and the like. Some people like the presentation of serving a grilled or bakes fish with the head on, some like it with the head off and others yet like to prepare their fish in fillets.

No matter how you want to serve up your catch, you need to make sure you:

1. Have a very sharp knife, big enough to go across the entire width of the fish.

2. Throw your fish on ice as soon as you reel it in and unhook it. Keep it iced in a cooler until you're ready to clean, gut or fillet it.

3. Find a fish cleaning station at the campgrounds or public land where you may be fishing. Otherwise, set one up for yourself in your backyard or wherever you're at. It needs to be standing height, like your kitchen counter tops, but best to keep the fish cleaning out of the house. The last thing you want are scales stuck to your kitchen surfaces (and they will stick...for the long haul) and that stink to linger for days.

4. Scale your fish. Buy a fish scaler or you can use a dull knife, even the blade in a Swiss Army knife. Go against the grain of the scales and scrape them all off. Careful around the fins, though; they can be sharp.

Note: Some fish secrete a sort of slimy liquid to help them move through the water, which is why they can feel slippery. To make it easier to clean, you may want to wipe the fish off with a towel or wash it off with water.

Preparing Your Fish With the Head On

1. After you've scaled your fish, make a cut underneath the chin right down to the vent, located on the belly in front of the ventral fin.

2. Open the fish up and scrape out the guts, all the way up from the tail to the gills. Going in the direction from the tail up will be easier.

3. Cut the gills out.

4. Wash the bloody remnants off the fish.

5. Dry it by blotting it with a towel or paper towel and refridgerate it, immediately. It's wise to bring some sealable bags with you, like Zip Lock bags, and keep it in ice until you're ready to cook.

Cooking Your Fish Without the Head

1. After you scale the fish, cut the head off. Remove the gills. Stick a knife into the center of the throat and cut the belly open.

2. Take out the guts.

3. Wash it, dry it and chill.

Filleting Your Fish

1. After you scale your fish, grab it from the tail and lay it down flat.

2. Cut into the fish until you feel the bone.

3. Turn the knife so it's parallel to the fish. With a sawing motion, cut it flat until you near the head.

4. Stop at the gills and make the cut.

5. Turn the fish over and do the same thing. You'll have two flat fillets with the skin on one side. You can also do this one more time in order to cut the skin off, but the skin keeps the fillet from falling apart once you start cooking it.

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