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How to Skin a Catfish

by Keith Sutton   |  May 16th, 2014 5

skin-a-catCatfish have been a staple of North American cuisine throughout recorded history. Native Americans ate them, as did European explorers and the earliest settlers.

In fact, our hankering for delicious catfish has done nothing but grow, with catfish now among the most popular American food fishes.

Some catfish anglers fish primarily for trophy specimens like big blue cats and flatheads, which can weigh more than 100 pounds. These usually are caught, photographed and released.


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But most catfish fans hope to catch a mess of 1- to 10-pounders (usually channel cats) they can take home and prepare for the dinner table. Smaller cats are much more abundant and delicious than their heavyweight counterparts.

When the catching is done, those of us who enjoy eating our catch must then separate the catfish from its skin to get at the flaky, white meat inside. These whiskered warriors are scaleless, so their skin has evolved into a thin yet very tough covering.

Were you to try cooking the fish with its skin on, as we do many panfish, you would find the skin is too tough and chewy to eat. It must be removed before the fish is cooked.

As a reminder, use great care to avoid the catfish’s sharp dorsal and pectoral fin spines throughout the skinning process. If you’ve ever wondered how to skin a catfish the right way, check out these great tips. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by Ryan Gilligan

Photo by Ryan Gilligan

About the Author
With a resumé listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith “Catfish” Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he’s written are available through his website.

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  • Pete

    Thinking I could clean that fish before he can get started. Also I bleed all mine when caught. From the boat I make a small cut up from the bottom above the tail, this will bleed the fish. Then after doing say a dozen like this I move them to a cooler with ice. Meat is white and so much better this way.
    Also If I plan on hanging up a fish its with a small rope inside its mouth and out the gills. Then hang the rope over something that will hold that. I have cleaned hundreds of pounds per day years ago. Now I clean some to eat and put in the freezer for later.

  • David

    In how to clean a catfish, in what step do you remove the entrils ?

  • D.C.

    These whiskered warriors are scaleless, so their skin has evolved into a thin yet very tough covering. I think God made them that way in the first place. No evolution needed.

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  • jim

    Ever seen them “shuck” a small catfish at Santee Cooper? I have seen it, and it is fast and effective to leave the smaller fish to be fried whole…fast, easy and not a lot of tools needed…just a knife…can you get this on line?

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