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In regard to links throughout this Site, you may see a word that is underlined but NOT highlighted blue like a link, It IS a link and these are words that can be found in our Dictionary. In case  you're unfamiliar with some of the fishing lingo.

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Prepare Your Catch


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Catch and Keep

Anglers who choose to keep and eat the fish they catch should refer to their state's annual fishing guide for the latest updates on creel and size limits plus fish consumption advisories. By knowing how many fish you intend to keep and what size (selective release), you can plan for other equipment. Many fish are kept in floating fish baskets or on stringers; however these work best in cooler weather.

In warmer water, fish tend to die quickly due to stress from heat and from being caught. All fish are best when they are kept fresh on ice.

To keep your cooler clean and to keep fish out of the water, use a plastic bag to isolate your catch.

Cleaning Your Catch

After you leave the water with your catch, you want to properly prepare it for eating. There are two different ways to clean your catch:

filleting and dressing.

1. Filleting  involves cutting the edible part of the fish away from the inedible part; no bones are left in the edible portion.

2. Dressing  implies taking off parts that cannot be eaten, and most bones are left with the edible portion. Some fish, like catfish, have a skin that must be removed. Other fish have to be scaled with a knife or a spoon.


Filleting fish, such as bass, removes all bones from the meat. To fillet a bass, place the fish on its side on a firm, flat surface.

Make a cut behind the gill plate from the top of the fish to the belly and into the flesh to the backbone. Do not cut through the backbone.

Flip the fillet over, skin side down, and insert the blade between the skin and the meat.

Without removing the knife turn the blade toward the tail, cut through the ribs, and continue on the tail, closely following the backbone as a guide. Do not cut through the skin completely at the tail, but leave a half to one inch intact.

With a sawing motion, follow the inside of the skin closely with the blade and cut the meat away from the skin.

Cut the ribs away from the skinless fillet. Repeat the steps for the other side of the fish.

Small fish, such as bream (sunfish), are usually dressed.

Dressing a fish leaves some of the bones in the meat, but less meat is lost during the cleaning process.


To dress a small fish, place the fish on its side on a firm, flat surface. Use one hand to hold it in place by the head. Scrape the scales from the tail toward the head by using a fish scaler, spoon, or dull knife. Remove the scales on both sides of the body.

Use a fillet knife to cut along both sides of the dorsal fin.

Grasp the dorsal fin and pull forward to remove. Spines should pull out with fin. Repeat process to remove the anal fin and spines.

Cut off the head immediately behind the gills and remove the organs. Wash in cold, clean water. The fish is now ready to freeze or cook.

Some fish, such as catfish, are usually skinned. To skin a catfish, first remove the spines to prevent puncture of a hand or finger.

Cut through the skin around the head and pectoral fins. Do not penetrate the body cavity.

Using a pair of pliers, pull the skin away from the meat, working from the head toward the tail. Break or cut the head away from the backbone and remove the internal organs.

The finished product is ready for the skillet.

Caring for Cleaned Fish

Once fish are cleaned, they should be washed thoroughly, then frozen immediately or refrigerated and cooked within three days.

Frozen fish may develop freezer burn unless they are tightly wrapped or frozen in water. When freezing fish in water, you should use just enough water to cover them. Plastic freezer bags work well for fillets, if they can be sealed without leaking.

There are numerous cookbooks that have a variety of recipes and methods for cooking fish for the table. By trying many different ways of fixing fish, the angler finds those dishes that best suit individual tastes.

Final Touches for Fillets

Many fish have a dark strip on the "skin side" of the fillet. This is what is left of a blood vessel that took blood to the tail. It is also a place where fat has been stored, and fat is associated with some of the pollutants that accumulate in fish flesh.

Using a fillet knife, lift that fat and dark area out.

(1) Make a "v-cut" the full length of the fillet from both sides of the dark area.

(2) Now lift out the dark meat out, gently cutting underneath it, and discard that portion.

Next look on both edges of the fillet for white or yellow fat. Trim that fat and your fillet is ready for your fish fry!

Eating fish, even fish from an area listed in fish advisories, is a choice you make as an angler. By limiting your consumption rate, selecting smaller fish to eat (less time to accumulate pollutants), removing as much of the potentially polluted flesh (fat) as possible, and cooking it properly, you lower your risk dramatically. For more information on fish advisories, see your state's fishing guide.



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It is important that people who fish follow all fishing rules and regulations.
These rules help conserve fish populations and also help anglers be successful.
Regulations may limit the size of, number of, and season that a type of fish may be caught, and may require a license to fish. In some cases, only “catch and release” fishing is allowed, which means the fish must be let go. Some bait is illegal in certain areas.
Contact your state wildlife agency by visiting Our Rules and Regulations Page.

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