Cleaning your work surface and
cleaning tools prior to cleaning fish is job #1. I see Seagull crap
on cleaning tables nearly everywhere I clean fish and it darn sure
doesn’t seem sanitary to me. A little water, bleach, and scrubbing
will go a long way in assuring the safety of the fish you take home
Whenever possible, I use a stainless
steel/Kevlar glove on my left hand to prevent knife cuts. This
glove catches and holds particles of meat and slime and would, if
not properly cleaned, be a great source of contamination. It is
bleached before and after use and, when cleaning fish at home, it
goes right in the dishwasher. My fillet knives get the same
treatment, ditto for my knife sharpening equipment. How often do
you bleach your stone? Has it ever gone through your dishwasher?
I like to “blast” the slime off a fish
with water pressure before filleting. It makes the job a lot easier
and more sanitary.
I am a slow fish cleaner but there is
a reason for my low speed. The technique I uses minimizes the
chance of cutting into the abdominal cavity of the fish. As long I
do not cut into the abdominal cavity and I am sure I am cleaning
under sanitary conditions, I wipe but do not rinse fillets.
Abdominal fluids on fish look yucky, often add a taste that I am not
partial to and have the potential of introducing bacteria that
affect the freezer life of the fish. Fillets are bagged in bulk at
the dock. Packaging should be done at home.
A few minutes spent cleaning the work
surface and tools will enhance the flavor and safety of the fish.
Vacuum bagging assures good tasting fish over a longer period. Fish
should be used within a few months of freezing for best flavor.
For the best fish of all, keep no more
than you can eat fresh. Fresh beats frozen every time. If you like
fish, you go fishing more often.
Another Tip for
Flies around the fish cleaning table
are another potential for contamination of your fillets. Here is
something that will go a long way in reducing the number of flies
that land on your fish.
If you catch a Bonita during the trip,
save it for bait or chum for your next trip. Always fillet the
Bonita before any other fish. Lay the fillets, skin side down at the
end of your work surface. (After you’ve sanitized the surface) For
some reason, flies are attracted to dark flesh fish far more than to
white flesh fish. All of the flies will land on the Bonita and
leave your Grouper fillets alone.
Fish Cleaning III
Cleaning Tools: My
I’ve always had good service with Kai-Kut,
Dexter-Russell, and Sani-Safe knives and sharpening products. These
are the knives shown in most commercial fishing catalogs and supply
stores that cater to the commercial fishing industry. Some of these
knives are sold at tackle stores also. I haven’t seen them in
“Marts.” The Normark (Rapala) Kevlar/Stainless Steel gloves work
for me and are considerably cheaper than similar gloves sold by
commercial fishing supply stores. The Normark gloves fit either
hand and in addition to their protective function, allow you to hold
on to slippery skin easier.
I use stainless steel rather than
carbon steel blades. Carbon steel is harder and holds an edge
better but, in a wet and salty environment, they require constant
attention to prevent rust.
Fish Cleaning IV
My knives are very personal. I allow
few people to use my primary knife and absolutely nobody but me
sharpens this knife. A good knife will last 3-5 years for me while
dressing tons of fish in this time. The reason for this longevity I
attribute to proper sharpening technique and little abuse of the
I can only describe the sharpening
technique I use by saying that I make every pass over the stone at
exactly the same angle. Failure to do this causes a rounded edge.
Again, knives are personal tools.
For a new knife, I start out
sharpening it on a medium grit carborundum stone. I apply a little
extra pressure to get the job done fast. ALWAYS use oil on your
stone for initial sharpening. I usually get pretty close to my
desired bevel with 20 or so strokes. I follow this with the fine
side of my stone. Again I add light oil to the stone and, in a few
strokes I should have the knife ready for my soft “Arkansas”
I use the Arkansas stone with water
rather than oil. Some knives take longer than others but generally
a few minutes honing will produce a very smooth razor edge. I
maintain this edge with a Ceramic stick similar to a Butcher’s
Steel. As long as I don’t nick the knife edge, a couple of passes
down the ceramic stick between each fish will return the knife to
“Vee-Block” type sharpeners definitely
have their place and deserve mention here. The knife I use for
cutting bone and heavy scales is sharpened with a Vee-Block
sharpener. The key to using these sharpeners is to use little, but
constant pressure the full length of the blade as you pull the knife
though. If you use hard downward pressure or varying pressure as
you pass the knife through the block, you chip and nick the blade.
This produces a knife that performs erratically, and wears rapidly.
Used correctly, these sharpeners produce a decent edge for most
users and an edge far sharper than many people are capable of
producing with a stone.
After cleaning and sharpening your
knife, apply a light coat of vegetable oil to the blade to prevent
rust. Store your knives in a safe place where air can circulate.
Fish Cleaning V
I prefer use a short bladed knife to
cut Grouper cheeks. It has a rounded tip that is easily sharpened
and this knife makes the job go quicker than any other knife I have
ever used. If I remember correctly, the knife was made by
Victorinox. It had a longer blade to start with but I broke the
blade and made the cheek cutting knife with this function in mind.
I use the Vee-Block sharpener 100% of the time with this particular
When cleaning Grouper and Snapper
throats, I cut the large bones with Tru-Temper pruning shears.
These have a curved blade and anvil. They are, by far, the easiest
cutters to use in this application. The “Guaranteed to cut a penny”
cutters fail miserably at this task. The Tru-Temper shears require
thorough cleaning and oiling with cooking oil to prevent rust.
A simple tool for holding the skin
when skinning can be made by bending about ½” of a dinner fork’s
tines at 90 degrees forming claws. I know several people who use
these forks regularly with great results.
Normark and other companies make
skinning pliers that work great for skinning Catfish and other
species. Those made out of Stainless Steel will last better than
those made of carbon steel or plastic.
I prefer to hang large fish like
Cobia. Filleting and skinning is far easier this way. A hook
screwed to a post works but with larger fish, a pulley arrangement
Fish Cleaning VI
Better Tasting Fish
Bleed fish ASAP. Large fish, once
they have calmed down, can be removed from the fish box, hung over
the side of the boat and bled out by slicing the gill arches. This
is essential for Sharks which must also be eviscerated and washed
out ASAP. A Shark should be bled and eviscerated before boating.
Other large fish like Tuna and Cobia should be bled also. Kingfish
that bleed out taste better.
Cool large fish, especially Sharks and
Tuna as fast as possible for better taste.
Fish Cleaning VII
Don’t Clean Live
I hate to clean live fish. Some
squeamish clients have voiced complaints and there are a couple of
other compelling reasons to make sure fish are dead.
When a fish’s heart is still beating,
blood is being circulated through the fish. This results in bloody
fillets which require rinsing. Blood pools in organs when the fish
is dead, resulting in nice white fillets. I avoid rinsing fillets
as much as possible.
A third reason not to clean live fish
is the safety aspect. A fish might jerk, causing you to cut
yourself. My Kevlar/SS glove has prevented this at least once.
The easiest way to assure all of your
fish are dead at the end of the trip is to add a bucket of salt
water to the ice in your fish box. Fish that are still alive pump
this cold water through their bodies and soon die. This serves an
additional purpose. As the fish die, they exude all of the body
slime which can be easily rinsed off at the dock making cleaning
Fish Cleaning VIII
Deodorizing Stinky Hands
A few drops of Lemon Joy dish soap
will eliminate 90% of fish odors plus make your hands feel a lot
better after fish cleaning. You can eliminate the other 10% of the
odor with a teaspoon of Lavoris Mouth
Wash. An additional benefit of
this procedure is you will have far fewer sores from tiny cuts and