How To Clean a Catfish In 15 Seconds (Without Skinning)

How To Clean Catfish 15 Seconds 450I’m often questioned about the process I use for cleaning catfish.

These are all of the details on how to clean catfish and better yet not only how to do it but how to clean a catfish in fifteen seconds or less.

Being a fishing guide, you learn to get really good at cleaning catfish and you learn really fast. Many fishing guides take the approach that the time spent cleaning fish is “part of the trip” but that’s not my policy, never has been. I fish the allotted time and then clean fish. When I’m cleaning fish I’m on my time, therefore I need to get finished quickly so I can go home or get ready for my next trip.

I’ve got a a strict catch and release policy for all trophy catfish (over ten pounds). Big cats are all released after we take photographs.

Trophy class fish are brood fish that help keep the lakes populated and provide opportunity for future anglers. Catch, photograph and release is the only way to go with the big catfish.

Remember it can take decades for a catfish to reach forty or fifty pounds.

In addition, I firmly support a selective harvest approach and am not one that believes you should keep fish “just because you caught them”. Over the course of a year my clients keep catfish, but we also release a lot of fish as well.

Bottom line, just be aware of what you’re doing, the size fish that you’re keeping and how many. It’s an effort that we all have to be involved in.

Skinning Catfish

Catfish SkinnersWhen the topic of cleaning catfish comes up the first question people always ask is “do you skin the catfish

The answer is always the same, absolutely not.

I once thought this was the only way to clean a catfish but that all changed a very long time ago. I took the combination of techniques that several friends used, added a few of my own twists and combined them all into a technique that is fast and easy and produces the same amount of fillets as skinning catfish.

It’s a lot less work and it’s a heck of a lot faster. When I see someone buying catfish skinners I want to snatch them out of their hands and plead with them to stop the madness.

The same technique is used for cleaning blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead catfish.

I still know people that insist on cleaning catfish with the old school fish skinners approach. They start by removing the skin from the catfish and then filleting the meat off the fish afterwards. It’s not an easy process and is incredibly time consuming.

If you’ll spend a little time and learn how to use these techniques you’ll be happy you did.

The Right Fillet Knife

My fillet knife of choice was always the American Angler Ultra MT3 Electric Fillet Knife. It was the only fillet knife I’d found that was powerful enough to clean catfish that would also hold up for extended periods of time. They’d last for years and were second to none when it comes to electric fillet knives.

Then they stopped making them. I still get teared up when I think about them and wish I could find a secret stash of them to buy, I’ve tried.

In the absense of the American Angler Ultra MT3 Electric Fillet Knife there’s a whole mess of options that are all equally disappointing. I’ve tried everything on the market these days, some of them a couple of times and finally settled on a alternative.

Electric Fillet Knife

Academy Tournament Choice KnifeI finally settled on the Academy Tournament Choice Electric Fillet Knife.

There’s nothing special about it, it’s not as powerful as my beloved MT3, it won’t last for extended periods of time under heavy use (for a weekend angler you’ll get a lot of life out of it) and there’s really no “wow factor” at but in a slough of mediocre electric fillet knives it’s the best!

That’s not a knock on Academy. I love their store and they make good products. Judging from all of the products on the market, it’s hard to build an amazing product when it comes to electric fillet knives.

Here’s why I’m using the Academy Tournament Choice Electric Fillet Knife:

  1. It’s cheap at a whopping $19.99 full price.
  2. It works as well as all others on the market and significantly better than all of the other $20 to $30 options and it performs as well as the $50-$60 electric fillet knives on the market.
  3. Academy stands behind any product with the Tournament Choice name on it (their store brand). I don’t abuse the fact that they do this but on occassion I’ll have a knife that only lasts a couple of days. I take it back and they make it right!
  4. It accepts the Mister Twister Fillet Knife Blades. That’s important. Keep reading and I’ll explain why.
Mister Twister 9” Electric Fillet Knife Blades

Mister Twister Electric Knife BladesThe #1 requirement on my list for an electric fillet knife is that it must work with the Mister Twister 9” Electric Fillet Knife Blades.

Fillet knife blades have to be replaced often, and these are the best, and they’re the only replacement blades that are readily available.

The Mister Twister Electric Fillet Knife Blades are super sharp right out of the package but the main reason they work so well is they’re much more flexible than most electric fllet knife blades. The ability to slightly flex the blades while cleaning catfish is essential to the process I use.

Always make sure you have good sharp knife blades. Dull blades will make this process much more difficult and will reduce the life of your knife (and are dangerous as well).

Fillet Knife (Not Electric)

Dexter Russell Fillet KnifeYou need a good quality fillet knife. Not an electric model like previously mentioned, just a good old fashioned piece of sharpened steel that you’ll power with some elbow grease.

There’s a ton of fillet knives on the market of various quality.

In recent years the Bubbe Blade has been all the rage. I listened to the Bubba Blade hype for a couple of years and then one of my clients gave me one. I’m really glad I didn’t spend money on it, it’s dissapointing at best and certainly not a $50 fillet knife. I really like the handle but beyond that it’s a major letdown and I’d take a basic Dexter Russell Fillet Knife over it any day.

If you want an even better quality knife the Cutco Fisherman’s Solution has a huge following and I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about them. They have an almost cult-like following. I’ve simply never used one because it’s sort of a hassle to get them. Everytime I’ve seen them in person it’s been at a fair or event and I didn’t want to be the guy that walks around with a big knife all day.

Kevlar Glove

I never wore one of these before but a few years back I was cleaning some blue catfish we’d caught in the spring and I almost cut one of my fingers off cleaning fish and decided I better start using a Kevlar glove.

I don’t wear this all the time now but try to as much as I can for safety reasons. If you’re not really skilled with an electric fillet knife (or any knife for that matter) or if you’re accident prone then get yourself a kevlar glove.

Cutting Board

Rapala Cutting BoardI used a piece of plywood for years. DO NOT use any kind of stone (like granite etc..) because it will ruin your knife blades on the first use.

The board grossed out some of my clients so I finally bought a huge Rapala Pro Series Fillet/Prep Board. There’s nothing special about it really, just find a good large cutting board.

Antibacterial Soap and a Scrub Brush

To make sure your work surface and knife blades are clean and free of germs prior to starting.

Preparation For Cleaning Catfish

Now, what should you do with the catfish prior to cleaning them?
How should you store them?
Should you hit them in the head and kill them before cleaning?
Should you run a nail into then and kill them?

There’s three approaches, none of them involve a club.

Livewell

  • Keep fish in the live well while fishing.
  • Drain the live well prior to heading in.
  • Remove the fish and put them in several large Rubbermaid tubs or in a big Brute Outdoors Cooler (you can use the coupon code catfish edge for a dsicount on your Brute Outdoors Cooler).
  • Ice the fish down after they are removed from the live well and by the time I you start cleaning, everything is good (it only takes a few minutes).

Ice Chest

Brute Outdoors CoolerPut the fish directly on ice while fishing and keep them that way until you clean them. If you don’t like to have a big ice chest taking up a bunch of floor space in the boat this won’t work.

We like the Brute Outdoors coolers because they’re super tough and won’t fall apart plus they’ll hold ice for up to five days in the extreme heat.

You can use this link and the coupon code CATFISH EDGE to get a discount at checkout if you want one of these super duper coolers (they’re even available with a Catfish Edge lid graphic).

Stringer

Last but not least is the trusty old stringer (if you must). If a livewell or ice chest isn’t an option this is your only choice.

I’d rather go to a Justin Beaver concert than spend all day dealing with a stringer, adding fish, moving it and all the nonsense that’s involved.

The End Goal

No matter what you do, livewell, ice chest or stringer you need to either keep the fish alive or keep them on ice.

You don’t want a bunch of dead stiff fish that aren’t cooled laying aroud for long.

They need to be alive or be on ice. Otherwise you’ll get some sort of really nasty ju-ju that ends with “ism” or “ella” or something weird like that and you probably don’t want it.

I’d rather go to a Justin Beaver concert that have any of that stuff also!

Ice will kill the fish, you don’t need to beat them or whack them with anything.

Your other choice is just to clean the darn things and quit being a tree hugging sissy and just celebrate the fact that you’re at the top of the food chain.

Did You Really Just Fillet a Live Catfish?

Three years ago a customer filmed me cleaning catfish on the tailgate of my truck and I posted the video on Youtube of me cleaning catfish (we’ll get to the video in a minute).

There was absolutely no effort put into it but since was posted nearly half a million people have watched it and there’s been a whole boatload of comments (over 1500) of which we’ve had to delete over half of.

In typical Youtube fashion, there’s tons of armchair experts, colorful comments and a whole rash of those PETA types that have an issue with everything hunting or fishing related that can’t comment without using foul language so we had to delete their comments.

One of those PETA folks asked me once “what I felt when I rammed a hook into a fishes mouth”. I told them “the drag slipping”.

Anyway, in the video (I promise we’ll get to it) I’m cleaning catfish.

They’re alive when I’m cleaning them and there’s a whole bunch of people that have a big issue with that.

I’ll say two things.

First, in all of the years I’ve been cleaning catfish, and all of the catfish I’ve cleaned, not one single fish has ever complained during the process.

In all seriousness, fish don’t feel pain, if you read the scientific facts you’ll quickly learn that, even though the animal rights propaganda tries to convince people otherwise.

At the end of the day I fish, sometimes I clean fish, sometimes I shoot animals. You either get it or you don’t.

If you follow the process I show you then you’ll see that I’m cutting the air bladder while cleaning the fish. It dies very quickly after that.

If you’re not cool with cutting a live fish then put it on ice and wait for it die.

If you don’t feel ice is humane, causing them a slow death through lowering their body temperature until they die then whack them in the head with something or do what you have to do.

Ultimately, it all ends the same. You have to do what you’re comfortable with and follow your own morale compass.

Just don’t crticize me for following mine.

How To Clean a Catfish In Fifteen Seconds, Step By Step

This process is for smaller catfish. I don’t keep bigger catfish, in fact I’ve recently changed my catch and release policy from ten pounds to five and always encourage others to put the big cats back.

The techniques not nearly as easy on a larger catfish between five and ten pounds and it’s also much harder on knives, especially the electric models.

Here’s everything you need to know (there’s a video further down the page).

Preperation

Prior to starting, make sure you have a clean work surface. Scrub the cutting board and knife blades with antibacterial soap using a scrub brush and allow the soap to sit on the surface for several minutes before washing it off.

Antibacterial soap doesn’t work immediately. You have to allow it to sit for several minutes. You can also use a mixture of bleach and water. I used to do this and then everything I owned ended up covered with bleach stains.

Lay the fish out and take a great fishing picture to share with your family and friends.

Make sure you’re knives are sharp. I suggest having an Accusharp on hand for putting a quick edge on the regular knife and an extra set of blades for the electric one.

Put on your Kevlar glove to prevent injury.

Cleaning The Catfish

How To Clean Catfish 15 Seconds

Take your first catfish and lay it out on the cutting surface. Remember, some sort of wood surface or a good cutting board.

Remember through this process that you should always cut away from your body and always push the knife through the fish, never pull the fish through the knife.

Draw an imaginary line from just past the dorsal fin to the pelvic fin and cut down and at an angle. You’re cutting through the rib cage. This is the hardest cut you will make when you clean a catfish (cutting through bone). This is the ONLY cut you’ll make through bone when you clean the catfish. Once you cut through the rib cage, it gets easier.

When you hit the vertebrae you’ll feel the knife bind. Stop your cut and reposition to cut sideways or better yet quickly change the angle of the cut without stopping the knife. Once you get some practice you will be able to make this turn with a fluid motion without stopping.

Cut down the vertebrae holding your electric fillet knife at a slight angle following the bone until you get to the tail. Stop about one half inch before you get to the tail.

Flip the fillet over using the blades of your knife so the skin is laying on the flat surface.

Start at the tail and use your knife to cut the skin from the fillet. When making this cut you hold the blade at a very slight angle from the flat surface you are cutting on and push down on the blade. This is where the flexible knife blade comes in handy. You’re need to be able to push down on it and cut along the flat surface, it’s essential to the process.

Cut the fillet off skin, again pushing the knife through the cut.

Turn the catfish over and repeat the steps on the other side.

If you didn’t do so while cleaning the fish, puncture the air bladder. It’s a white sac towards the bottom. If you’re throwing fish carcasses in the water this will keep them from floating when you throw them in the water.

As you finish cleaning fish, throw the carcasses into a bucket.

Once the fillets are removed from the catfish, take your fillet knife (not the electric one) and cut the rib cages from the fillet.

You’ll cut back from the tail towards the top of the fillet at an angle removing the small portion of the rib cage from the meat. This is a quick and simple cut

If you have someone with you, have them cut the rib cages from the fillets while you are cleaning the catfish, this will speed the process up greatly.

The most common problem for most people is learning the cut to remove the skin from the fillet. This is usually because they’re not using the right knife blades and they don’t have the flexibility needed. You need some flex in the knife.

If you’re not going to stick with em and release everything over five pounds and plan on cleaning some fish between five and ten pounds (we know you’re going to throw back the fish over ten pounds) there’s a couple of extra tips.

First, slow down. The larger the fish the harder it is to cut the bones and the more area you have to cover as well. Just slow down and follow the same process.

Second, there’s a large piece of meat on the belly of the catfish. The larger the fish the more meat there is (go figure).

Insert your index finger in the abdominal cavity and put your thumb opposite your index finger on the outside of the belly and pinch. If there’s meat in there you’ll feel it, it’s thick.

Simply cut following the bottom of the rib cage, remove the entire area from the fish and then remove the skin on both sides using the same technique used while filleting the fish.

You don’t need to do this with smaller fish as there’s nothing there.

Then There’s The Head

Larger fish also have a patch of meat on the top of their head. You won’t get anything from smaller catfish but the larger five to ten pound fish and up (that we hope you’ll throw back) have meat here that you can remove if you want to deal with it.

Did I mention it would really be great if you released the larger catfish?

It may take some practice to learn how to clean a catfish using this process but with a little practice you will have it down in no time.

How To Clean A Catfish Video – Step By Step

The following video shows you step by step the process I use to quickly clean a catfish in 15 seconds.

**The following video is graphic. If your not sure about it, don’t watch it!

But, But, That’s Not Right…

I think I’ve seen and heard it all in the comments on Youtube (outside of the PETA debate).

Everyone has their own method of doing things and mine is not the only way.

I’ll say that the way I clean catfish is quick, efficient and with minimal waste.

The title of this is How To Clean a Catfish In 15 Seconds. If I’m really in a groove and not running my mouth, I can clean smaller catfish between one and three pounds at a rate of one every 7 to 10 seconds, or less.

Could you use skinners and get a little bit more meat? Sure you could.

Could you slow down and take a few extra steps and get a small amount more from each one? Yes

But in the end we’re talking about a minor percentage, a tiny piece of meat. The work (and time) involved with getting that extra percent or two of meat is something that you have to decide for yourself. If you’re willing to put forth the extra effort, then have it.

What Happens If You Puncture The _____________________

Every few days someone asks about the “juicy stuff”.

What happens if you puncture the stomach, intestines, or any other internal organs. Doesn’t that make the meat go bad? Won’t it taste bad?

No

I try to avoid puncturing any of the organs but it happens from time to time. I try to avoid it because it gets really messy but it’s not going to ruin the fillets, it’s not going to make them taste bad and it’s not going to make you sick.

Quit listening to bad information, there’s a lot of it out there, check this out for a huge resource of tips to get started.

What About Red Meat and Bloodlines (Or Mudlines)?

Larger catfish have a layer of red meat on the outside of the fish between the meat and the skin. How much will vary from fish to fish. It doesn’t taste great to some people so they remove it. Others don’t care and leave it.

If you’ll put the big cats back you won’t have to worry about it! :)

Then there’s the “bloodline” or what some call a “mudline”. This runs in a line down the length of the fillet where there’s a slight depression. This is the lateral line of the fish. On smaller fish it looks like the rest of the meat but larger catfish it will often be discolored (dark red or some shade of it). Just like the red meat some claim it tastes bad, others don’t care. If you’re concerned or have an issue with it, just trim it out of the length of the fillet or you could also put the big cats back!

Why Are Channel Catfish Fillets Yellow and Blues And Flatheads White?

Blues and flatheads as a general rule have a much cleaner diet feeding primarily as predator fish (they eat a lot of live stuff) and don’t spend as much time scavenging. That’s part of it but there’s also the fact that they’re completely different species of fish.

Catfish Between Five and Ten Pounds

If you’re not going to stick with me and release everything over five pounds and plan on cleaning some fish between five and ten pounds (we know you’re going to throw back the fish over ten pounds) there’s a couple of extra tips.

First, slow down. The larger the fish the harder it is to cut the bones and the more area you have to cover as well. Just slow down and follow the same process.

Second, there’s a large piece of meat on the belly of the catfish. The larger the fish the more meat there is (go figure).

Insert your index finger in the abdominal cavity and put your thumb opposite your index finger on the outside of the belly and pinch. If there’s meat in there you’ll feel it, it’s thick.

Simply cut following the bottom of the rib cage, remove the entire area from the fish and then remove the skin on both sides using the same technique used while filleting the fish.

You don’t need to do this with smaller fish as there’s nothing there (at least not enough to fool with).

Preparing Fillets After You Clean Catfish

If you have access to fresh water while you clean catfish, wash them while you’re cleaning. If not, bag them into Ziplock bags as is, and then wash them when you get home.

Always put the fillets on ice during transport.

Make sure you clean your sink with antibacterial cleaner prior to putting the fillets in the sink (your sink is a germ pit).

Place the fillets in the sink and wash them thoroughly with fresh water using your hose sprayer on your sink.

Make sure you get all of the blood from the fillets when washing. The pressure from the hose sprayer gets all of the blood out of the fish. When washing with the hose sprayer you will notice foam in the water. This is from the blood. Wash the fillets until the water no longer foams. The fish will taste better.

The Best Way To Freeze Catfish

Once you clean the catfish and thoroughly wash the fillets you can always cook them fresh but that’s not always an option so you may have to freeze them. There’s tons of options that are complicated and not necessary.

Here’s how to freeze your catfish fillets:

  • Put the cleaned and washed fillets into Ziplock bags.
  • Fill the bags with water 1″ over the top of the fish.
  • Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice and mix well.
  • Remove the air from the bag (by squeezing it)
  • Seal the bag well
  • Place in the freezer and freeze your catfish fillets

The fish will keep for a VERY long time frozen like this and will not get freezer burn. I’ve kept fillets for well over a year without problems.

What Do You Do With Fish Carcasses?

Rope Handle BucketWhat should you do with the carcasses after you clean fish? There’s a variety of options.

One of these giant plastic buckets with the rope handles are great for using when you’re cleaning fish. They’re super cheap and available at most box box stores or even dollar stores.

Throw them back in the water: I clean fish at the lake and dump them back in the water when I’m finished. They get eaten by the other fish, turtles and other critters in the lake. Just make sure you puncture the air bladder so they don’t float. BE COURTEOUS. Take them out in the middle of the lake away from the banks so they don’t become a nuisance to others.

Fertilizer: – I have several people that come and get buckets of fish carcasses from me that use them for fertilizer in their gardens and flower beds. I have never personally done this but it is a great way of recycling and putting them to further use.

Fish head soup: Occasionally I have people approach me at the lake who want carcasses for making fish head soup. That’s not my cup of tea but evidently some people enjoy taking the heads from the catfish and boiling them to make a soup with.

Like anything else, you get better with practice. Give it a try the next time you clean catfish and it doesn’t work exactly right, just keep trying. With a little practice you’ll learn how to clean a catfish in 15 seconds!

Get On The Fast Track To Catching Catfish!

To get on the fast track to catching catfish and learn everything you need to know to become a successful catfish angler check out the Catfish Edge products.

Summer Channel Catfish Techniques and Spring Blue Catfish Techniques are both great ways to learn how to catch a ton of catfish in a short amount if time if you want to take a few home for a fish fry.

Summary
Article Name
How To Clean a Catfish In 15 Seconds (Without Skinning)
Author
Description
How to clean a catfish quickly and easily in fifteen seconds or less without skinning. Everything you need to know to clean catfish in step by step detail.

Comments

  1. Lee Thayer says

    Great video. I have been cleaning fish like this for probably 30 years, pike, salmon, large crappy, etc. Where I live now, southern Thailand, I clean snapper, ocean perch, sea perch, shark catfish, etc. Only difference is I start just behind the gill not at the dorsal.

  2. Malcolm crisci says

    Thank you for explaining how to clean them and good video. By the way your right about those peta guys ionce emailed one telling him hunting is good for deer populations and he responds by sending me one full of insults and saying he hopes i shoot some one by accident.

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