How to clean a trout

Today many anglers choose to release trout they catch, carefully twisting their fishing hooks free and watching as the quarry swims back into the stream with a flick of its tail-fin. That’s a marvelous experience and leaves more trout available for all of us the next time we venture out. That’s the approach I take almost all the time. But every now and then it’s nice to eat a few of these delicious fish.

Clean Trout Quick

When you do decide to keep a few trout for the pan, it’s important that they don’t go to waste and are cared for in a manner that provides the best table fare possible. To ensure the freshest, sweetest meals, they should be dressed out on the stream or lake, immediately after they are caught or a short while afterwards. Fortunately, they are actually among the simplest fish to clean.

Trout deteriorate quickly in the warm weather typical of most fishing seasons if they are not cleaned quickly. One source of deterioration is bacterial growth which attacks the fish’s internal organs, then spreads to the flesh. The second source of decay is the digestive enzymes in the fish which continue to act after the trout dies.

Rapala Soft Grip 7.5″ Fillet Knife

Removing the entrails immediately after the fish is caught eliminates both of these sources of unappetizing trout.

Steps for Cleaning Trout

Step 1: Using a sharp fillet knife, insert the point into the *** opening.

Step 2: Slit up the center of the trout’s belly in a straight line. Do not cut deeply — just through the skin is sufficient. Avoid cutting the internal organs any more than necessary.

Step 3: Cut up to the gills. Stop before you get to the v-shaped point below the fish’s jaws.

Step 4: Insert a finger inside the fish’s mouth and press down on the tongue to extend the v-shaped tab on the bottom side of the fish’s lower jaw. This tab is thick in the middle and thin on each side. Stick the knife through the thin part, from one side through the other, freeing the v-shaped tab.

White River Fly Shop Creel

Step 5: Hold the lower jaw of the trout in one hand with your thumb and forefinger and grasp the v-shaped tab you just freed with the other hand. Pull down on this piece.

Step 6: As you pull steadily downward the entire gill structure and entrails will come out with one pull.

Step 7: To remove the remaining dark-colored blood sac along the backbone, hold trout in one hand and run the thumb nail of the other hand up the length of the backbone.

Step 8: Wipe the fish with paper towels or clean ferns or rinse in water. If you use water, be sure to pat the fish dry with paper towels. Clean

Step 9: Place in a creel or cooler.

White River Fly Shop Creel Bag

Step 10: Or better yet, slip immediately into a frying pan with sizzling butter and lemon juice!

Tips on Fishing Creels

Canvas creels like the popular White River Fly Shop Creel Bag or wicker creels will keep trout fresh for several hours if temperatures do not go above 70 degrees. Canvas creels should be periodically dipped in water to facilitate the evaporation process which keeps the fish cool inside. Wicker creels are best lined with wet leaves or ferns. If you have a cooler handy, place the fish on ice after dressing them.

One of the best parts about trout fishing is getting to enjoy what you catch. If you plan to eat what you catch that you need to know how to clean trout. There are two ways to approach cleaning the trout. You can clean your trout streamside or you can clean your trout at home. There are benefits to either one of these choices.

Most anglers these days let trout go when they catch them. This keeps the sport viable and fun for everyone. The trout live another day and get to reproduce and increase the population. You still get the fun of catching the trout, and the challenge of hooking them. Still, every so often, it’s hard to resist eating what you catch.

The benefit to cleaning trout when you catch it is the freshness. The biggest selling point for any fish is freshness. But no store can ever match a trout you just pulled from a lake or stream. This will be the best fish you ever eat, most likely. For many anglers, this is the reason they love to fish.

Streamside Cleaning

Cleaning trout immediately after catching them ensures the freshest meat possible. Trout begin to decompose quickly out of water and in the warmth. This decomposition comes from the internal organs and digestive juices. These parts of any animal begin to decompose almost immediately upon death. Luckily, cleaning trout is not that difficult once you get the hang of it. You can pluck them from the water and get them cleaned quickly and easily. From there it can go right into the pan. It’s always best to get cooking soon after cleaning fish.

To start, you’ll need some tools handy. Pack these items with your fishing gear ahead of time if you know you plan to be cleaning the fish:

  • A sharp filet knife
  • Paper towels
  • A frying pan. Cast iron is often best
  • Olive Oil or butter
  • Seasoning like salt, pepper, and lemon slices
  • Utensils like plates, knives, and forks

Make sure you have a clean and level area to clean the fish. This is just a matter of safety. If you don’t have a table handy, the back of your car may work. The process of cleaning a trout is smooth and efficient once you get the hang of it.

Step 1: Using a sharp fillet knife, slit the trout from the anus up through its belly. Slice in a straight line. Only use the tip of the knife, deep enough to cut the skin. You don’t want to cut too deeply. Avoid the internal organs as much as possible. If you cut into anything you risk making a big mess. It won’t ruin the fish, but it will make it a harder clean up. Take your time if you are unsure. Safety is always your main concern. Second is keeping your cuts neat and clean.

Step 2: Slice until you reach the fish’s gills. You want to stop before you hit the jawline. Trout have a V-shaped point under the jaw. If you hit that you have gone too far.

Step 3: You can insert your finger in the trout’s mouth. Push down and extend that V-shaped section. Use the blade to slice the thin segments of flesh on either side of the V..

Step 4: Hold the trout’s lower jaw between your thumb and forefinger. Grip it firmly and pull down, tearing the V-shaped segment free. This should remove the gills and entrails. With some practice, this will come free in one fluid movement.

Step 5: Inside the fish you will see a dark red sac. You can find it along the fish’s spine. It’s covered in a thin membrane. This is the blood vein or kidney. You can use the knife to slice into the membrane. If you’re more old school you can use your finger.

Step 6: Scrape the fish’s spine clean. Rinse the fish clean inside. If you don’t have any water, use a paper towel. The kidney and the fluids in it can make you very sick if you don’t clean it properly.

Step 7: Remove the head and fins if you plan to cook the fish right away. If it’s going to be stored, you can leave the head on to prevent spoilage.

Step 8: At this point you can store the fish in the fridge or freezer or proceed to cooking it. If you want to cook it you can cook it as is, or filet it. If you want to store it, seal it in a bag as air tight.

How to Skin and Filet a Trout

Unlike some fish, you don’t need to skin a trout to cook it. Many people prefer to fry a rainbow trout with skin off. It adds crispy texture and more flavor. Still, you can skin the trout if you’d like. The process takes a delicate hand and some patience.

Step 1: If your trout still has the head, insert your knife behind the gill line. If the head has been removed, just do it where the gills would have been.

Step 2: Cut in until you reach the backbone. This will require a small bit of pressure, but not too much. You don’t want to go through the bone. You’ll be able to feel when you touch it through the blade of the knife.

Step 3: Use the fish’s backbone as a guide and cut towards the tail. Your knife should be sharp enough to do this in a single slice. Stop when you reach the tail.

Step 4: Flip the fish over and repeat the same cut on the other side. If the head is still on, make sure you have a firm grip on it to do this. Otherwise you’ll need to be careful gripping the end of the filet.

Step 5: Open me inside of the fish. You can now clear out the bones from the inside. Run the knife along the inside to remove the large rib bones. You should be able to remove the bulk of the rib cage in one pull. You may need to pluck out the smaller ones later with your fingers or tweezers.

Step 6: Put the filet skin side down. Grip the fish by the tail. Slide the filet knife into the flesh just above the tail. Hold the blade at an angle and slide it down the length of the filet. The flesh should act as a guide. Repeat on the other side and you should have two perfect filets.

Preparing Your Filets

Many anglers will tell you the best time to cook fish is immediately after catching it. This is literally the freshest trout you will ever eat. A simple cast iron pan over an open flame is all you need as a heat source.

At home there are dozens of ways you can season trout. Once you’ve cleaned the trout streamside, you may want to keep it simple. A bag with some flour and salt and pepper works great to toss the filets in. Something like seasoning salt or garlic powder could work just as well.

Put a bit of butter or olive oil in your pan once you’ve got it hot. Lay in your seasoned fish fillets. You only need to cook them for about 4 to 6 minutes per side. You’ll know the meat is done when it starts to flake easily. From there you can simply serve it up with a little more salt and pepper. Maybe some lemon slices, or whatever you feel tastes best.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I’m always looking for a new adventure.

It’s no secret that fishing has a special place in my heart and (likely) always will! I’ve fished mountain creeks and rivers of the Oregon coast, experienced both open lake and ice fishing in northern Canada. I can even brag on ocean fishing in Mexico! But my favorite? Fishing for middle-size beauties on moving water! After a day’s good catch, here’s how to clean a trout.

Why This Method?

When it comes to large trout (2 lb+), flaying can be a good option. However, when cleaning smaller trout, no one wants to waste even the tiniest bit of meat! This method allows you to leave the bone in and after frying, barbecuing or baking your fish, the skeleton is easy to peel out.

How to Clean a Trout

Once you are ready to clean your fish, hold it belly-side up. Beginning at the vent, slice the belly open, until you’ve reached the head.

Flip the fish over and, just behind the gills, begin slicing through the fish’s head. Once you’ve cut through the backbone, stop, and put your knife away.

Hook your finger in the trout’s mouth and pull downward. Head and guts will come out as one piece.

Once the innards have been removed, you’ll notice a dark blood vein running the length of your fish’s backbone.

Use your thumb to scrape the blood out, until all is clean.

Rinse the fish clean under cold water and then prepare it in the desired manner!

Any beginner fisherman will jump with joy when they go trout fishing. They can be one of the most abundant fish in stock to catch in many states and areas all across the globe.

You can be sat out on a lake and learning how to use fish finder, yet catch too many, and they can spoil if you keep too many.

However, as with any fish, the quicker you can remove the intestines and get the fish on ice, the better it is.

Even if you don’t have ice, you do need to know how to gut and clean a fish to stop the taste becoming too fishy.

It can be easy to learn how to fish, how to gut fish, or how to filet a trout is necessary and not much harder to do with useful instructions.

Here you can learn all you need to know about what to do with fresh caught trout, and preparing trout to cook.

Tools to Clean, Gut and Fillet Trout

One tool you may wish to get is a skinning board. The board holds a fish firmly from the tail while skinning and descaling using a clip.

Try to keep fresh caught trout alive until ready to gut and clean, or put it on ice or cook it.

A sharp knife is necessary. Any good filleting knife will be razor sharp and hold its edge nicely.

More folks are injured using dull knives as they use lots of extra force when working on the fish. A high-quality fillet knife will fillet any fish with little effort.

A pot of very cold water or ice water to put the fillets in helps to keep fish fresh. If fish warm, it changes the flesh texture and affects the taste.

If saving fillets for later, a good freezer bag is an ideal way to keep them. Place the fillets in the freezer bag and top off with water.

Make sure the water covers the fish. Doing this helps stop freezer burn and keeps fish tasting fresher.

When ready to cook the fillets, place the entire bag in cold water. Doing this will help thaw the fish slower while maintaining freshness.

How to Gut a Trout

  1. Use your board, or grab the trout using its tail. Scrape firmly from the tail toward the head a few times on both sides using a spoon or the back of your knife until you remove all the scales.
  2. Second, you need to remove the head. Cut the head off at a slight angle behind the gill. It may take some force to slice through the backbone. You can remove the lower front fin using this one cut.
  3. Turn the fish onto its back, so its belly facing up. You can see its waste hole a little above its tail fin.
  4. Start your knife cut by inserting the tip in the hole and slice the belly toward where the head used to be.
  5. Spread the belly, and you will reveal the innards. Grab these and pull them with your hand, as they remove quickly.
  6. When removed, you can see a membrane covering the blood vein that runs up the backbone. Take your knife and cut the membrane open.
  7. Using your thumb, scrape out the blood until it’s clean and rinse in water.

Filleting Trout

  1. The first fillet cut is along the backbone. Put the trout on its side and its belly pointing away from you. Start a knife cut on the top of the backbone where you removed the head.
  2. Insert your blade in the groove and cut down the length of the fish, and above the backbone. You should now have a clean, meaty fillet.
  3. Flip over and do the same for the other side.
  4. Remove the bones. Place fillets with the skin facing down and pluck out every pin bone you see. Scrape the flesh with a knife to expose any bones, which are lodged deep.
  5. Now your trout is filleted and deboned; it takes one more cut if you want to remove the skin.
  6. Hold the tail end and with your filleting knife, cut into the flesh at an angle until it comes to the outer layer of skin.
  7. Run your knife down the bottom of the fillet as you pull gently in the other direction with the skin.
  8. Rinse the trout to remove any scales or small bones you may miss.

How to Prepare Trout

If you have a rainbow trout that is too small to fillet or you want to pan-fry, there is no reason to remove the skin.

Clean trout inside and out. Prepare to cook by tossing some salt and pepper inside the fish

Pat dry the fish skin (rolling in seasoned flour is optional)

Place in a frying pan with a bit of oil on medium heat, or campfire for about 4-6 minutes on each side. The fish should flake with a fork when cooked.

Remove Fish Smell

Once you have prepped your fish, you may be wondering how to get fish smell off hands. It
is easy if you have some lemon or vinegar around.

If not, you can quickly run your hands on some stainless steel surfaces for approximately one or two minutes. These metals contain molecules that help remove the smell.

You can find one other way of cooking your fish, and that is smoked trout. You follow some of the cleaning methods, yet the preparation is very different, but it is worth checking out if you can catch many fish. Either that or you can skip to primary cleaning above and stick to pan cooking.

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Backpacking food is often uninspiring. Because vegetables and meat are heavy and inconvenient, they often get left behind. And many easy-to-make, lightweight, dehydrated meals are bland or textureless. It’s a shame when you consider the wealth of free and delicious wild foods we’re surrounded by on so many backpacking trips. Plus, if you gather your meal at camp, it won’t weigh you down on the trail.

If you want to go this route, your options are: get a Ph.D.’s worth of knowledge and experience in order to find and eat wild mushrooms, berries, and plants with confidence, or, depending on the water near your camp and the local laws, pack a lightweight fishing rod (like the small-water ones we recommend here) and just a few other supplies, like a knife and spices. With even a little bit of practice and planning, odds are decent you’ll be able to pull a meal out of a nearby lake or stream, and often that dinner will be a delicious trout.

Trout are one of the better fish to catch and eat in the backcountry, not only because they’re plentiful in mountain waters all across the U.S., but they’re also a cinch to clean and prep no matter their size. That said, if you’re imagining a big fillet of pure meat like you pick up at the store, you’re going to be disappointed. In the backcountry, you’re almost always going to end up with a mess of meat, bones, and skin on your plate. But picking tidbits of freshly caught trout off the bones is only as hard as scavenging every delicious morsel off a chicken wing—and much more satisfying. Plus, it tastes way better than a bag of freeze-dried slop.


Once you’ve caught and killed your fish, you’ll want to clean it as quickly as possible—ideally immediately. Warm temperatures can cause trout to deteriorate and spoil fast, but removing the entrails will slow that process. Waiting until you get back to camp or when it’s time for dinner can result in a wasted fish.

A dedicated filleting utensil, like Morakniv’s rubber-handled Fishing Comfort Fillet 155 ($20) or Opinel’s folding No.08 Slim Stainless Steel Folding Fillet knife ($20), will deliver clean and easy cuts and prove much more effective than knives not built for this purpose. Trust us on this one. Begin by holding the fish by its lower jaw and making a cut up the belly from the anus (the small hole toward the tail) to between the gills. Use the tip of the knife to slice just through the skin. Avoid piercing the entrails or spine and spilling blood.

Cut two slits in the thin layer of skin just behind and under the bottom jaw of the fish, creating a V that points forward. (You can see this area better by sticking a finger in the fish’s mouth and pressing down on its tongue.) Slip your thumb into the V you just cut, and pull down toward the tail—this should remove the gills and guts in one clean stroke. Inspect the cavity for any remaining entrails, and remove anything that isn’t meat or bones. Check local regulations for how to dispose of the entrails: in most places, you can drop them into deep or moving water (not at the shoreline) or bury them in a cathole far away from camp and the water. When in doubt, pack them out in a sealed container.

Once the guts are gone, you should see a line of red along the spine at the back of the cavity. Run your thumbnail along this line from head to tail, squeezing out all the blood. This is the fish’s kidney, it doesn’t come out with the rest of the guts, and leaving it in can spoil the taste. If you want to remove the head, bend it back until you break the spine, then cut it away. (This is optional: if you do, you’ll be missing out on some secret stashes of meat later on.)

Clean the fish thoroughly inside and out with fresh water to wash off any blood or other guts, then dry it well with a clean towel. At this point, the fish is ready to cook. Seal it in a disposable zip-top bag or Stasher Silicone Reusable bag ($12), and keep it as cool as possible until you’re ready to eat. You can usually keep the bag in the water on the shoreline.


One of the easiest and most delicious ways to cook your trout is by seasoning it inside and out with olive oil, salt, and lemon pepper. I carry my oil in a reusable squeeze bottle like HumanGear’s GoToob+ ($25 for three). Pocket-size Stasher Reusable storage bags ($14 for two) or one-ounce Nalgene containers ($6) are good for packing spices. For those willing to haul in more fixings, a real lemon (save some for seasoning as you eat) intensifies the flavor, and butter (it should keep a day or two at moderate temperatures without refrigeration) is richer than oil. Dedicated backcountry chefs can pack the fish’s cavity with garlic, dried herbs like thyme and oregano, onions, and spices like cayenne. Keep in mind that adding veggies or other things to the fish will lengthen the cooking time.

Once you’ve seasoned the fish, wrap it in aluminum foil. If your fish are smaller than eight to ten inches, you might be able to combine a few into one sheet; otherwise, wrap them up individually. If you’re lucky enough to be able to cook your trout over a campfire, wait until you have a good bed of coals, then lay the foil-wrapped fish over them. If you have a grate—or an easy-packing grill and pit combo, like the UCO Flatpack ($34)—you can also raise them above the fire to better control the cooking temperature. Cook the fish for five to ten minutes (a general rule is eight minutes per inch of thickness, but exact numbers depend on the fish and your fire), flipping it halfway through.

If fires are a no-go due to local restrictions or fire danger, cut the fish into manageable lengths for your pot or pan, then fry them over your camp stove. While using foil isn’t necessary in this case, wrapping the fish can make cleanup easier.

You’ll know your fish is ready to eat when the meat is opaque and flakes easily.


If cooked properly, the meat should slide right off the bones, giving you a lot more than you’d get by filleting the fish prior to cooking (which is often tricky with smaller trout anyway). Pull the meat off carefully to limit the number of bones that end up in your mouth, but be prepared to spit a couple of small ones out.

The skin and fins are all OK to eat, as are the eyes and the cheeks—the latter are tiny scallop-like morsels that have long been prized for their rich, almost sweet flavor.

From hook to plate, you can be chowing down on a fresh, all-time backcountry meal in just 20 minutes, having carried little more than a rod, a few sheets of aluminum foil, a squeeze bottle of oil, and a few of your favorite spices.

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