A few months ago when I went camping and fishing at Dick’s Creek with my friends, a friend of mine showed me this extremely simple way to clean a fish (in this case, a trout) without fileting. It’s great for a serving the fish in a way you can eat the meat off the bone. You can’t quite make a sandwich with this method, but it’s a very simple, very tidy way to do it. Here are the step by step instructions with pictures from my trip to Nimblewill Creek. It takes no more than 2-5 minutes per trout depending how good you are with your knife.
Tools You Need: A sharp knife, a source of water for rinsing, something to contain the cleaned fish, and a place to dispose or discard the parts you will not use.
Personally, I used my Khukuri knife and Dan his Rogue Survival Knife.
We just did this all by the creek for washing and discarding, and had a pan for the usable parts.
Step 1: Remove the Head
Find a hard surface like a rock, and simply cut the fish through right behind the gills. Be careful of your fingers because a fish like a trout can be very slippery. You can keep the head if you wish to use it, or cook it that way, but I just discard it.
Update: It has been pointed out to me by RawSkillsBushcraft that a rock is not the ideal surface due to the potential for damaging your knife. Instead, find something like a piece of wood that will not dull your blade. Additionally, as I have done previously at Bongam Lake, you can absolutely keep the head to eat the meat from the cheeks or use in a soup. In a survival situation where every bit of protein matters, you need to do this.
Step 2: Cut Lengthwise from the Anus and Peel Open
Make the cut beginning at the anus, and ending at the severed head deep enough that you can get your thumbs inside to peel the fish open cleanly, revealing two filets on the side, and a bunch of organs. Careful not to pop the gall or anything.
Update: For clarification, as a reader suggested, there are specific ways that eases this process. As tomcatHoly explains, position the knife nearly parallel to the fish, angling it so the top quarter inch or so of the blade is pressing against the skin. Push forward to split open the thin membrane on the belly, which will split open as you go.
Now, alternatively, you can insert the knife point perpendicular to the fish at the anus, blade toward the “head” just enough so the knife penetrates through the membrane: a quarter inch or so depending on the size of the fish. You need a sharp knife to do this method. At this point, just angle the knife with blade bent slightly toward the fish, and carefully cut the membrane in the direction of the “head.”
Step 3: Remove the Organs, Push out the Blood
Pull the organs out carefully and discard. Last, press your thumb hard at the base of the spine and push out all the blood built up. Then just dunk the fish in water to wash it off, remove any extra blood or goo, and you’re done!
Voila! Trout cleaned and ready to cook!
Thank you to the readers who provided suggestions to make this guide more detailed and easier to follow. I am open to any and all suggestions, critiques or anything else you wish to say either by comment or using the contact button at the top.