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This week's Feature Blog

Fish Preparation

By: Mark Romanack

It’s tough to beat fresh fish cooked in the great outdoors.

​ It seems everyone enjoys a fish fry. The secret to creating a memorable fish meal is knowing how to properly process fish. The process starts from the second the fish hits the deck and continues until the meal is complete.


​When it comes to fish, freshness matters big time. In our family, freezing fish is something we only do as a last resort. Whenever possible, we prefer to prepare our fish fresh within a day or two of catching it. Fresh fish just tastes better.


​In the spring and fall when the water is cold, keeping fish in a live well until they can be processed is a good option. In the summer time when surface waters are 70 degrees or warmer, a livewell is only marginally useful. Most of the time a fish that gets tossed into a livewell with 70 degree water is going to die within a few minutes. Letting that fish float around in lukewarm water is a bad idea.

​The other problem with livewells is folks can’t resist culling from the livewell to improve the overall weight of their catch. Culling a fish back into the lake after it has floated around in a livewell for a few hours is criminal. That fish is likely going to die and be wasted.


​It’s never a bad idea to put the fish you intend to keep on ice. The faster you can cool down a fish, the better that fish is going to taste and the longer you can keep that fish fresh and table ready. Tossing a fish on ice helps to firm up the flesh, greatly improving the overall quality of the fish meal no matter how that fish ultimately gets cooked.

It’s never a bad idea to put fish on ice as soon as they are caught. Cooling down fish quickly makes the flesh firmer and helps to keep the fish fresh longer.


​A lot of anglers are fond of bleeding their fish. The idea is that cutting the gills before the fish is tossed into the livewell or ice chest will allow blood to pump out of the meat, leaving a fillet that is blood free. Some people swear that bleeding a fish makes it taste better and others say it doesn’t make any difference.

​The jury may still be out regarding bleeding a fish, but it’s safe to say that this process makes the fillet table much cleaner and easier to keep sanitary.


​Some fish are tailor made for filleting and others not so much. A walleye, perch, salmon and even panfish can be easily filleted and deboned to perfection. Some species like northern pike are very bony and harder to fillet without missing some of those nasty “y” bones. Catfish are also tougher to fillet and removing the skin is also tricky.

​No matter what species is being filleted, the thing to keep in mind is how thick are the fillets? If the fillet is thicker than about one inch, it’s going to be an issue cooking that fillet evenly.

​When dealing with larger fish, it’s wise to fillet the fish and then cut the fillets into smaller pieces that are uniform in thickness. This helps insure that all the fish cooks uniformly and is done at the same time.

One of the keys to a good fish fry is making sure all the fish pieces are uniform in size. This helps the fish all cook at the same time.

​An electric fillet knife is the best option for firm fleshed fish such as walleye, pike and panfish. Soft fleshed fish like trout and salmon are better filleted using a traditional long bladed and flexible fillet knife.


​Cutting fish in steaks is popular with larger saltwater species and a few anglers also practice this processing method with species such as trout and salmon. The biggest issue with cutting fish into steaks is the bones are hell on a fillet knife. A kitchen cleaver is a good option for busting through the backbone in larger fish.


​Smaller fish such as stream trout are often best processed by simply slicing open the belly and removing the guts and gills. This practice makes it possible to enjoy every morsel of meat on delicate species like brook trout, rainbows, spring coho and other small fish.

One of the best ways to keep knives sharp are belt style grinders.


​Keeping your knives and cutting tools sharp is critical to effectively processing any fish. A dull knife is an evil thing and an accident waiting to happen.

​A knife can be sharpened a thousand different ways. I like a rotating belt style sharpener such as the Work Sharp models. By simply changing out belts with different grits, even a very dull knife can be turned razor sharp in a couple of minutes. Using a fine belt, I like to touch up my knives regularly. It’s far better to sharpen a knife while it is still pretty sharp than to wait until the blade is dull as a butter knife.


​Most of the people who enjoy fishing also enjoy a fish dinner. When that fish is properly cared for, the meal that results can be just as noteworthy as the time spent on the water.


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