How to Use a Knife to Safely Clean a Fish


Catching a fish is only the first step in getting ready for a nice dinner, and the proper cleaning techniques are also very important to ensure your safety and the quality of the fillets. Whether you are cleaning the fish immediately after the catch or throwing it into a cooler to deal with when you get back home, there are some tools you need and some tips you should follow to safely clean and prepare your fish.

The Right Tools for the Job

You don’t really need all that much to get the job done right – a sturdy, flat table, a range of sharpening tools, and, of course, the right knife. There are a number of options for the knives, though, but the most important thing is simply to make sure you feel comfortable using it. There are both electric and manual knives, and some even have folding blades for ease of transportation. There are also many knives that feature an ergonomic handle, which is nice, but they’re not necessarily right for everyone.


The actual knife you use (its shape, length, handle and design) will depend on the fish you are cleaning. Some knives are made for one specific kind of fish, and they can make the job a lot safer and easier. However, by simply following some simple guidelines, you can clean and prepare your fish without wasting meat or threatening your fingers.

Tips for Safe Cleaning

The most important tip for safely cleaning a fish is to never, ever, use a dull knife. Always check the quality of the edge before you start trying to fillet or gut a fish. Dull knives lead to accidents, so keep them well-maintained and very sharp. It’s also important to note that cheaper knives will lose their edge much faster than higher-quality blades, and that means you may have to spend a lot more time trying to keep it sharp.

If you are new to fishing, be sure to start with a smaller fish. Don’t go overboard and try out your fledgling knife skills on a huge fish. Begin by always making careful, deliberate cuts and keep all your precious digits out of the way as much as possible.

Your cutting table should be very secure and stable so you can hold the fish to its surface and not worry about sudden wobbles and shifts in position. Hold the fish firmly and make your first cut behind the head and then cut down to the bone and follow the line through the rest of the fish. Repeat the process on the other side and then remove the fillets and get them ready for skinning.

Separating the skin can cause problems for some people, so you should be extra careful here. Use a clean blade and keep it wet to reduce drag and increase the amount of control over your cuts. Start your cut on one end until you have separated enough skin for you to hold solidly. Switch your grip to this flap of skin and start pulling the fillet and wiggling it back and forth with one hand while you hold the blade still with the other. This will keep your hands away from the sharp blade while you do this precision work.

Cleaning a fish may not be the most exciting part of the experience, but when you can do it right you’ll have higher quality fillets to enjoy and all your fingers to go fishing again.


Cade Knotts is a writer for BladeOps. When he isn’t writing; Cade enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, and everything outdoorsy.


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