Cleaning the Fish You Catch While Camping

February 23, 2009
Filed under: Camping Tags: , , ,

Whether you’ve been following the last few posts on Ice fishing and want to give it a try, or you’re thinking about trying to land a few in the upcoming spring/summer fishing season its time to think about one of the more, err how shall we say “gross” aspects of catching fish to cook while camping.

Okay, you’ve caught your fish, you want to cook your fish and you want to eat your fish. The first step is, you have to kill (gasp) your fish! Oh, come on. Did you think fishsticks came from the fish fairy?

The easiest way to go about this necessary task, unless you are into sushi, is to give the fish a sharp rap on the top of the head with a blunt object such as a the handle of a hunting knife, the back of a hatchet, or even a rock. Of course if you have a hatchet or sharp knife anyway, you could just cut the head off, but some people think this is cruel. Personally I say 6 of one, half-a-dozen of the other. The fish has to die, the quicker the better.

Some fishermen keep their catch alive on a stringer until they have caught their limit. To me, this is cruel, and there is a chance you dinner will escape. Once you have done the deed, you can keep your fish fresh by putting it in an ice chest with ice, or if that’s not an option, then you can keep your catch on a striger until you are ready to cook it.

If you are not going to cook your fish immediately, you need to at least bleed it if you are waiting to catch more for dinner. This means you cut the main artery that leads to the gills so the “blood” drains out and doesn’t get into the meat. It is safe to keep uncleaned fish on a stringer in a cool river for a short time, but try to avoid putting fish that are already gutted back into the water so that meat doesn’t get contaminated.

Did I just say gutted? Yes, the next step to enjoying a fresh fish dinner cooked over a campfire(or camp stove if open fires are taboo) is gutting the fish. Here is a step by step procedure that may help if it is your first time:

  1. First of all, do not clean the fish too close to your camp. You don’t want to attract any wildlfe that would possibly want to eat fish guts.
  2. FYI- fish guts are slimy, slippery and gross, but it has to be done. If you have a limited supply of fresh water save it to wash the fish after you are comletely done. If the feel of scales, fish slime, or guts is driving you crazy during the process clean your fish near the water you caught it in. Swishing your hands, or slimy half gutted fish in the lake, river or stream in which you caught it, is not going to kill you.
  3. You want to begin by getting rid of the scales. Some campers/fishermen actualy buy a tool called a scaler for this, but a butter knife works just as well. Hold the fish by the head and start scraping. Scrape from the tail, toward the head. You do have to apply a little pressure. Make sure you get the scales around the fins, gills and throat of the fish. While it won’t kill you to eat a scale, its not the most appetizing experience. (If you have caught a catfish, you can skip this part-catfish don’t have scales!) Rinse the fish to remove loose scales.
  4. Turn the fish so its belly is up. Locate the anus, and cut it out making a V shaped cut.
  5. Insert the knife into this V and slit up the belly toward the gills. Depending upon the type of fish you may have to force the knife a bit to cut trhough the area around the pelvic fins.
  6. Now comes the fun part, insert your fingers into the cavity and pull out the guts. After you have done this a few times you should be able to just grap the section at the base of the head, pinch a little and pull everything out at once. Make sure you scrape out the liver, which attaches to the back bone and the swim bladder which attaches to the cavity itself.
  7. Remove the gills with your knife.
  8. Cut off the head (some people leave the head onsome fish, especially trout, I say eww!, I don’t want my dinner looking at me.
  9. Rinse the fish in clean water and either cook it immediately, or put it on ice.

If you are backpacking or have a limited amount of water to wash yourself with, here is a tip-lemon juice not only tastes good on fresh fish, it helps cover up some of the fish smell that will stick to your hands. Take some along.

By Sandra M. Webster

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