How to Clean a Catfish

Step #1 - Kill Your Catch

If the fish hasn't died on its way home from your fishing hole put it out of its misery. The best method is simply to aim a sharp knife where the spine meets the head and quickly push it down into the brain cavity.

Step #2 - Cut Around The Head

Before you can start skinning your catfish, you need to cut a ring around the base of the head. Make sure to only through the skin, and not the meat and bone beneath.

Step #3 - Cut Off The Fins

The dorsal (back) and ventral (stomach) will get in your way so it is best to remove them now. The catfish fins can be very sharp so be carful. Side cutters work well for this since the spines can be difficult to cut through.

Step #4 - Remove Skin

On bigger older catfish you can use skinning pliers and start by pulling the skin from the cut you made around the head. Sometimes you may have a fish whose skin isn't as thick so you may have to use a sharp knife and your fingers to pull and cut the skin from the meat.

Step #5 - Remove Head And Guts

Go back to the line you cut around the head and using a big knife cut down to remove the head. If the vertebrae is too thick to cut through you can bend the head back until the vertebrae separates to get your knife between them to cut the neural or connective tissues so you can remove the head.To remove the guts, cut a slit along the belly of the fish from where the head was to the anal fin. Once the stomach cavity is open, you can remove all the organs and put them aside with the head. Try not to puncture anything and you will have less of a clean up. Give the fish a rinse to make sure everything is clear.

Step #6 - Filleting

Dorsal cut
- Hold your knife parallel to the dorsal side (top) of the fish and slice into the fish just above the midline, as close as you can to the backbone to get the biggest fillet possible. Continue slicing until you hit the vertebrae working from the front to the back.
Ventral cut
- Once the top half of your fillet is cut lift it and keep working the knife around the tail and back along the ventral (stomach) side. Hold up the tail section as you cut along the vertebrae. Trim carefully along the ribs to get the most meet on your fillets.
Second fillet
- turn the fish over and repeat.

Step #7 - Clean up

Put the fillets into a bowl and dispose of the unwanted head, guts and skeleton. Scrub the knives, cutting board and counter with soap and hot water then wash your hands when you are finished.

Things to do with your fish heads and guts:

  • Fertilizer for your plants
  • Bait your crab traps with just the fish head.
  • Make fish stock. Make sure that the fish head is clean and prepared before you freeze the head until you are ready to make stock.

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