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How to Fillet A Fish and Clean a Fish, then Process Great Fillets

On a typical fishing guide trip with a Blue Mesa Fishing Guide Service, we will process all your fish into beautiful, clean fillets. We will also bag your fillets, but due to time constraints, we cannot dry your fillets. We will however offer to teach you how to clean a fish as a part of our guide trip. Customers are encouraged to grab a knife and join in cleaning fish at the fillet stations.
To learn or know how to fillet a salmon or trout from the lake is really an important part of the ultimate Fishing experience. If you love to catch fish, you should know how to clean a fish. Processing beautiful and full fillets of the fish that you have harvested is very rewarding and important. Remember, releasing fish is great too, because processing wild Kokanee Salmon and other Colorado game fish can be timely, and a very delicate process. If you do however love eating fish learning to fillet them is so important.
Filleting trout and salmon share the same approach. These are long, slender fish with a lateral line of bones running perpendicular to the spine. The meat is a medium level of firmness, and has more oil in it by nature. Because of the generally soft spine, you will have to pay more attention to the final stroke of the filet knife. There are a few ways to clean your fish depending on what form you want your fish in. To fillet trout or salmon, the fish should always be kept on ice right after you catch them. This firms up the meat and makes it very easy to fillet. Once the meat gets warm, you can almost never get it back to its firm fresh state- the meat loses color and texture and ultimately taste.
The first way is to gut the fish. You will end up with the body of the fish intact, without the head, guts, gills and the blood line running inside the spine. The easiest way is to cut through the spine about ½” behind the head. Then make a cut from the vent, up to the pectoral fins. Make two cuts at the pectoral fins to meet the length cut you just made. Then grab the head and pull down to rear of the fish so the gills, head and guts all come away in one piece. Then use your thumb to clean the blood line against the spine. You can just pack your fish in ice to prepare for transport- no bags needed. This product is best for smoking, I don’t prefer freezing any fish, but especially not whole fish in bags.
The second method is to filet the fish into boneless filets, with the skin on or off. This method is less steps, but requires a skilled final pull of the fillet knife. Before you start, make sure your knife is sharp, you have bags to put the fish in, and ice to put the fillets back on. With kokanee salmon and all trout you start at the head and with one long stroke, work the knife down the fish pulling firmly and low towards the spine. Repeat on the other side of the fish. You pull down towards the tail, using the 3 to 4” of blade closest to the handle, with one clean motion, not a sawing action. This will take practice and when you get the feel, the fillets will come out clean every time. Then you must remove the rib bones. To do this, grip the thickest part of the fillet slide the knife underneath the ribs on the thickest part of the fillet. Pull to cut them out with one motion of the knife. You will not cut the skin because there is great meat under the ribs that is best not cut off. I then sometimes, remove the lateral line of bone found in the top ¼ of the filet. I find the line and then run my knife into the filet, always at an angle on the top if the bone, then an 1/8” lower, below the bone line. This last stroke then tucks under the bones to remove the section of meat and bones in one thin strip. This is not always necessary because this thin bone line will soften when baked or grilled and is often eaten without any trouble. The variation to this is that once you follow the steps above for a great fillet, start at the tail and remove the skin from the fillet. So grab the skin, and start a sawing action under the skin and press firmly down on the skin and you will remove the meat from the skin effortlessly. Then clean the salmon or trout fillets with cold water, dry and remove all the blood and store in the bag; skin side to skin side and meat side to meat side: as to keep the flavor the freshest.
The last way is to again fillet the fish with the skin on. Then take a brush and de scale the skin side of the fillet. This is great for canning salmon, or if you prefer to eat the fish and the skin. If you love to catch fish and eat fish, learn how to clean a fish and enjoy full fillets without any waste!

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