If new to cleaning a fish, remember this: No matter what type of fish you are cleaning, size matters. This holds true for trout as much as any other species.
If you are a high-lake angler who likes to fry up pan sized morsels at camp or a parent taking your child out on their first trout-angling adventure in a stocked lake, cleaning these usually smaller trout proves quite easy and simple.
Also read: How to catch a trout
On the other hand, if you catch steelhead or lunkers from deep lakes, the larger girth and length of these fish present more cleaning options. Whether it is large or small, you need to make sure all excretory organs and creamy, viscous skeins inside the gut cavity are removed.
From there, you can either throw the entire fish in the pan, cut a larger fish into steak-size chunks or filet it to avoid all bones. However, also know that there is more to this chore than just the cleaning.
Cleaning a trout can be much less difficult than many other species. For one, a trout’s skin and scales do not provide as much resilience or stubborness as a bass, walleye, crappie, perch or catfish.
You need not scale a trout or otherwise peel its skin. You can throw it in the pan or oven with skin attached, or even the head and tail if you or your dining mates are not light of stomach.
Also, a trout does not host as many needling, potentially blood-drawing fins along the spine or pectoral area. A trout can be handled without protective gloves.
Once you get a handle on cleaning these morsels, you can actually become good enough to remove gill rakers, entrails and veins all in one sweeping tug—at least for those trout of ranging from roughly 6-13 inches.
Of course, the ease of cleaning any fish ultimately comes down to the sharpness of your fish or fillet knife. Keep it sharpened between each fishing trip.
Getting back to size, let’s examine how a novice angler approaches trout of sizes A, B and C.
How to Gut and Clean Trout depending on Size
Cleaning Trout A
These trout likely come from smaller than average waters: High-altitude lakes, streams you can cast across, planted rivers, ponds and, most especially, lowland lakes stocked with trout for opening day of fishing. They fit perfectly inside a medium to small frying pan.
The ventral or butt of the trout and its gill rakers—lying beneath the gills—become your focal points when cleaning pan-sized trout.
✔ Start by inserting the knife into the ventral or butt, a blackish, small hole in front of the ventral fin.
✔ Continue cutting up toward the head with fish upside down in your hand.
✔ Once you reach the reddish gill rakers, insert the knife horizontally and underneath said rakers to sever them.
✔ Then place your forefinger underneath the rakers and pull them back toward the ventral. The entrails should follow as they remain attached to the rakers.
Then, you simply need to take a small spoon or spoon-end of many fish-cleaning knives to scrape the white, mucus-looking skein and blackish blood vein from deep along the spine of the fish. Rinse the now vacant cavity with cool, fresh, running water.
Need a visual? Try starting out with a YouTube tutorial:
Cleaning Trout B
Trout that weigh in over a pound-and-a-half or stretch to 16 inches and more can challenge the size of your pan if not the appetite of your dining friends or family.
In this case, you can apply the same approach as on Trout A, but cut or steak the fish in half.
Note, however, that gill rakers become tougher to sever and remove along with the offal when trout reach these proportions. You may need to cut the main tube from guts to rakers and then drag all the entrails out, while removing the gill rakers separately with your sharp knife.
Cleaning Trout C
Do you most enjoy eating fish without bones?
Then you probably prefer to catch Trout C—steelhead or trout that grow up to the length of your arm and sometimes longer. Because of their size, they lend themselves to filleting better than small trout.
With a very sharp filet knife—usually an instrument that features an extremely tapered blade with a fine point on the end—proceed to slice into the back of the fish, starting from just below the head, but not all the way to the guts. Continue downward toward the belly with knife blade perpendicular to the fish.
Fish cutting boards (found at several outdoor retailers and usually of plastic rather than board), complemented by a heavy duty clamp at the top of the board, work best for filleting fish.
But, a straight board of real wood, wide and long enough to accommodate the trout, can work just as well.
If you wish to secure the fish to the board, use another knife, pierced though the tail to keep the fish steady as you carve your filets.
To better understand this method, again, try using a YouTube tutorial.
It’s not just the cleaning that counts
No matter how painstakingly you clean your trout, it all goes for naught if you fail to keep it cold. Ice is best. Keep ice and cooler handy when catching them and after cleaning them.
Bacteria that compromises flavor flourishes in moisture, especially warm moisture. Therefore, don’t leave your fish dangling in lake water on a stringer after catching them.
- To truly treat your taste buds, place your freshly caught fish on ice and preferably not submerged in melted ice.
- Eventually, even ice in a cooler melts as your fishing day progresses, but start out with pure ice.
- Take fish off of the ice when starting to clean them and immediately throw each fish back onto new ice after cleaning.
- If you ever run out of ice, you should simply drop your catch into a dry cooler as a stopgap. Then, try to buy or obtain ice as soon as possible.
When storing your fish in the freezer, always try to wrap them tightly in freezer paper rather than plastic, which can result in air bubbles that invite bacteria.
Head on or off?
The saying, “a fish rots from the head down,” applies more to social, political and corporate worlds than it does to the fishing world.
A fish’s head rots faster than other parts of the body as evidenced by watching your dead trout in a creel of grass or on a stringer. You will notice discoloration first on and around the head, then along the body.
Really, when it comes to heads, it’s a matter of preference. If you otherwise can’t fit your trout in the pan, lob off the head. Same goes for the tail.
Trout, especially the red- or pink-meated kind, rate among the best flavored sportfish in freshwater. It is always best to treat them accordingly when it comes to freshness.