How to Clean and gut a trout with leaving the head on

All my life I shied away from buying and cooking whole fish because I didn’t know how to clean them. I didn’t know what to do with the skin, leave it on, leave it off? How to take off the scales? How do I cook it? What about the bones? So if I bought fish, it was already filleted.

Now that I have started fishing, obviously I had to learn how to clean them. I’ve been mostly catching trout so by now I’m very comfortable cleaning it and this lead to enjoying cooking fish and experimenting with new recipes. which is a motivating factor for me to go and catch more fish.  However because it was very hard to find useful websites or videos about cleaning it, I thought I write it up here and also made a video.

On YouTube there are 1000s of videos but these were the issues I’ve had:

  • half of them were about filleting the fish (that’s very different from cleaning and gutting it). I don’t prefer that method, because you end up losing a lot of meat
  • the ones that clean it the way I want to, cut the head off, which alters the way you gut it (I like to keep the head on)
  • a lot of the videos are not from a good angle, or are somewhat confusing, and don’t focus on the one crucial part. Because of that, I have messed up gutting my fish so many times, which resulted my sink looking like a massacre.

in addition to reading the step by step directions here, you should watch me video as it will make it a lot easier to understand.


So here are the things you need

  • butter knife (for taking the scales off and the clean the kidney
  • a sharp knife. A fish – fillet knife or hunting knife is great, but any sharp knife will work as long as it’s not serrated
  • it is best to do it in the sink under running water (less messy) but not mandatory
  • you want to do this as soon as you can, so ideally you would clean the fish at the lake or river, after you caught it


Step 1.  take off the scales using the butter knife. Stick the knife under the scales and to a sweeping motion, going in a forward direction. Make sure you get it from the entire fish. (I like that the scales of trout are very small and they’re easily flake off. When I was scaling a bass, those scales were big and hard and jumped all over the place)


step 2. Hold the fish upside down. Using your sharp knife you will cut along the bottom from the anus (a small whole towards the end of the fish), all the way up front, and stop in between the gills. It is very important that you don’t cut too deep, because you do not want to slice or puncture the intestines.  You’re only cutting through the skin and the flesh. Depending on the size of the fish, this cut could be as small as 1/5 of an inch.

Step 3. Run your finger through the cut to make sure you do cut deep enough. If not, fix it.

Step 4. Under the head of the fish, between the gills, you will find 2 sets of lines that look almost like a V, except for they do not meet. Ignore the bottom one, look at the one that is directly under the mouth. Cut along the lines that are already open and finish the V shape. Put the knife underneath it and cut it away from the chin.


Step 5. With one hand, hold the fish’ mouth. With your other hand grab what now looks like a second mouth. Get a good hold on it, put your thumb inside it and slowly tear it away. You have to actually tear through some meat, so forcefully pull it, but if it’s done right, it will pull out all the intestines and everything connected to it. There will be some blood, but nothing form the insides will be broken. Discard all that.



Step 6. Look inside the fish, and on the inside, where the spine is, you will see a dark blood-line, attached to the spine. This is actually the kidney. The bigger the fish, the wider and bigger this is. Using the butter knife (or a spoon), scrape it all off, leaving nothing on. Rinse everything off and you are finished.


This gets easier with practice, but after you do it for the first time, it will all make sense. I highly recommend watching my video, it is easier to  understand.

Now you can bake it, fry or make my Hungarian Fisherman Soup. Check out the recipe here

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