Before attempting to cleaning fish, it is advisable to find a suitable work area. A clean, sturdy bench or table makes cleaning fish a simple task. Also required is a simple fish scaler, fillet knife, resealable bags or other containers, a source of clean water, and an ample supply of ice.
Before cleaning, fish should be rinsed thoroughly to remove any blood, slime, or debris. Before filleting, most fish must be scaled. Start by holding the fish firmly and working the scaler along the body from the tail to the head. After the scales have been removed, rinse the fish again if possible.
To fillet most types of fish, begin by making vertical cuts behind the head and in front of the tail. Next, cut downward along the top, as close to the top fins as possible. Continue cutting downward and back, separating the meat from the bones. When cleaning most species, it is necessary to cut around the rib cage in order to avoid getting bones in the fillet.
Once the first fillet has been cut free, the fish should be flipped over and the process repeated. If desired, the skin can be removed by laying the fillet flat, skin side down, and carefully cutting the meat away from the skin with a zig-zag motion.
After filleting the fish, some anglers inspect the body cavity and remove fish roe (eggs) if present. Depending on the species of fish, season, and other factors, the roe may be edible and is often considered a delicacy. After the fillets and roe have been removed from the body, they should be rinsed again, bagged, and chilled immediately.
If fish stock is desired, remaining racks can be prepared for cooking by removing the gills, entrails, and rinsing. To make fish stock, racks are simmered and the resulting mixture is then strained to separate any bones.
Fish cleaning tips, food handling procedures, fish consumption advisories, cooking guides, and other information can be found on many federal or state agency websites.