How to clean a trout

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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

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.

How to clean a trout

How to clean a trout

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.

How to clean a trout

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

How to clean a trout

How to clean a trout

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

How to clean a trout

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

How to clean a trout

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

Clean Trout in 15 Seconds or Less

Uncle Harold came knocking with four brook trout, commonly called brookies, for me Monday morning. He left with a dozen duck eggs and we’re both happy with our exchange. You can clean trout in 15 seconds or less once you get the hang of it. I think brookies are the easiest fish there are to clean.

How to Clean a Brook Trout

You might or might not need a cutting board. I use one to make clean up easier but I don’t actually make any cuts on the board. It’s easier to put the board through the dishwasher than clean the fishy smell out of the counter.

Start with a small sharp knife. I used a four inch paring knife. Hold the trout in one hand. Please excuse my fingernails, this wasn’t the first trout I cleaned this morning, and we’ll leave it at that. I don’t rinse the fish before I clean them because it will make them slippery.

How to clean a trout

Start cutting at the anus (yes, I know…but it’s fine, you can do it). This will take a little pressure even with a sharp knife. Expect to use very little pressure. The tip of the knife indicates the starting point. Make the cut all the way to the top of the body cavity.

How to clean a troutSlice up the belly with only the tip of the knife, all the way up to the gills. The knife will slide through like it’s cutting almost room temperature butter. This isn’t messy.
How to clean a trout
How to clean a troutYou’re going to make two cuts, one at the top and one at the bottom. You can slide your fingers under the guts to pick them up.

How to clean a trout
How to clean a trout
Make the second cut at the end of the digestive tract, slide your fingers under everything inside, and pull out. There will be little resistance. Wash the body cavity under cold running water. You’re done. How to clean a trout

That’s it. That’s how to clean trout in 15 seconds or less.

Fresh-caught trout often taste best when lightly fried in butter. Rainbow trout are traditionally cooked and served with the skin on for added flavor.

How to clean a trout

  • 1 or 2 whole (1-pound) Trout, cleaned (head can be on or off), gills removed
  • 2 ounces butter*
  • 1 plate of all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper (to season the flour)

My husband cleaned the trout just after he caught them by gutting them, cutting off the gills, and most importantly, scraping off the blood line off the backbone. I also want the head cut off!

How To Clean Fresh-Caught Trout:

How to clean a troutFirst you need to cut the head off just before the Pectoral fin (this fin can be nipped off or left on). This is an optional step, as some people want the head left on when cooking.

Hold fish with belly facing up. Using your fillet knife, cut from the anal hole forward towards where the head was or still is.

After pulling out the entrails, take an old tooth brush and clean the blood vein that runs along the spine. If that is not cleaned out it, will effect the taste. Rinse the trout thoroughly (inside and out ) and prepare to cook as you wish.

NOTE: If you like to eat the fish skin, make sure you remove all the fish scales before cooking. With the trout held firmly by the tail, scrape very firmly from the tail to the gills several times on both sides with a sharp knife. I, personally, like to have my trout scaled before cooking.

How To Cook Fresh-Caught Trout:

When ready to cook, rinse the cleaned fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Drying will prevent the fish from steaming when you cook it . Cut a few diagonal slashes along each side of the fish. Roll the cleaned trout in flour seasoned with salt and pepper until covered.

How to clean a trout

Heat the butter in a frying pan until bubbling and then fry the trout for about 5 minutes on each side until golden brown.

To test for doneness when cooking the trout, insert a fork at the thickest point of the fish. Perfectly cooked fish is nearly opaque, should be very moist, and will flake easily with a fork. Fish that looks slightly dry is overcooked. Undercooked fish will look translucent and raw. If you have a digital meat thermometer, the internal temperature in the center of the fillet should reach 140 degrees F.

How to clean a trout

Serve with a slice of lemon for a slightly fresher, livelier taste.

Makes 2 servings.

* As they say, “everything tastes better with butter!”

I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer . Originally designed for professional use, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world. I only endorse a few products, on my web site, that I like and use regularly.

You can learn more or buy yours at: Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer.

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Comments from Readers:

Hi! Thank you for your Pan-Fried Trout recipe/guidance. I normally fillet some sea bass but the market had ran out so I ended up with trout and your recipe. That was awesome! Thanks from the UK. – Regards Simon Wheeler (Leicester) (2/28/16)

Used your Pan Fried Whole Rainbow Trout recipe last night and my husband said “Who could ask for anything better?”… and he is very picky about his food. – Ellen Giles Wheeler (6/21/15)

I tried your easy trout recipe, which also covered scaling and the preparation instructions. Voila – a hit! My dad and I so enjoyed the meal – using butter for frying adds a different – better tastes. We awoke to fond memories of a meal well-enjoyed meal. – Sheryl (3/13/11)

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.

How to clean a trout

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 clean a trout

How to Gut a Trout

Here are the simple steps of what to do with your caught trout. You will see how easy cleaning trout is, and how to fillet a trout when you are ready to cook it.

  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.

How to clean a trout

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.

It’s the lightest backpacking meal—and one of the easiest and tastiest

How to clean a trout

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.

Cleaning

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.

Cooking

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.

Eating

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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How to clean a trout

The quickest way to clean specks — or most any fish

Admit it: The worst part of a fishing trip is not finding trout, but cleaning the day’s catch.

Yeah, we all say it’s part of the experience, but few people really like getting their hands full of slime and fish guts.

So it’s important to get the job done as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

That’s where these seven steps come in. I first learned it by watching guides in Venice, La., and soon discovered that it’s a way to work around the rough bellies of reds and specks.

Now it’s the only way I clean pretty much any fish but panfish (which, honestly, is not that difficult).

And once you get the steps down pat, they all seem to flow together almost as a single, continuous movement.

You’ll burn through the day’s catch, get the fish in the freezer and clean up in time for dinner.

1.) With the cutting edge of the knife turned towards the tail, insert the knife through the fish just below and slightly behind the pectoral fin.

How to clean a trout2.) Smoothly extend through the length of gut cavity to near the anal vent.

How to clean a trout3.) Lay the fish on its side and make a vertical cut to the backbone behind the head of the fish.

How to clean a trout4.) Turn the knife blade to face toward the tail and hugging the backbone cut down the length of the fish to separate the fillet from the carcass.

How to clean a trout5.) Remove the fillet and set it aside. Its edges should be smooth and straight. If it is raggedly, the knife needs honing.

How to clean a trout6.) Turn the fish over and repeat the filleting procedure for the remaining side. Then cut out and discard the rib cage from the fillet.

How to clean a trout7.) With a fingertip, pinch the fillet, skin-side down to the cleaning surface, and with the other hand use the Flex blade to gently cut-scrape the flesh from the skin.

How to clean a trout

Just caught your first trout and excited to get back to camp and start cooking? Trout is a light flavor fish that is as easy to cook as it is to catch, as long as you follow our easy instructions and your trout will be ready for cooking in just a few minutes.

It is important to act fast as fish can quickly start to decay due to internal bacteria and digestive enzymes, especially in warm weather so make sure to clean and store your lake and rainbow trout quickly if you want to eat them! Lets get started learning how to clean lake and river trout!

Tools for Cleaning Trout

In order to clean your catch you will need the following items: a sharp filet knife, a clean cutting board and a trashcan. The most important tool is a good filet knife, we recommend the Mercer Culinary Millennia 8-Inch Narrow Fillet Knife for home use and the Kershaw Fillet Knife with Sheath while camping. Both knives a made of steel and come razor sharp, just be careful while packing!

Cleaning Your Trout

Step 1: Lay your trout flat on the cutting board.

Step 2: Cut the trouts stomach towards the head, continuing to the head. Make sure your cuts are slow and confident, remember you only get one chance at preparing your trout for dinner!

Step 3: Insert the tip of the knife into the gills and cut upwards, removing the head.

Step 4: Remove the inner organs and blood with your hands or a spoon. After you have removed the head and entrails make sure to properly dispose of them if you are camping. Leftover fish are tasty treat for for a number of animals, including bears!

Step 5: Clean the remaining trout with cold water, removing and blood stuck to ribs or the spine. Try using a hose, or water bottle if you are camping. Cleaning the trout does not take much water but be sure the water is clean and not dirty river water!

Step 6: Place your catch flat on the cutting board and insert your knife under the rib, carefully removing them from both sides and the spinal column.

Remember, removing bones is not necessary! Trout can be cooked with the bone in and still taste delicious!

If new to cleaning a fish, remember this: No matter what type of fish you are cleaning, size matters. This holds true for trout as much as any other species.

If you are a high-lake angler who likes to fry up pan sized morsels at camp or a parent taking your child out on their first trout-angling adventure in a stocked lake, cleaning these usually smaller trout proves quite easy and simple.

How to clean a trout

On the other hand, if you catch steelhead or lunkers from deep lakes, the larger girth and length of these fish present more cleaning options. Whether it is large or small, you need to make sure all excretory organs and creamy, viscous skeins inside the gut cavity are removed.

From there, you can either throw the entire fish in the pan, cut a larger fish into steak-size chunks or filet it to avoid all bones. However, also know that there is more to this chore than just the cleaning.

Cleaning a trout can be much less difficult than many other species. For one, a trout’s skin and scales do not provide as much resilience or stubborness as a bass, walleye, crappie, perch or catfish.

You need not scale a trout or otherwise peel its skin. You can throw it in the pan or oven with skin attached, or even the head and tail if you or your dining mates are not light of stomach.

Also, a trout does not host as many needling, potentially blood-drawing fins along the spine or pectoral area. A trout can be handled without protective gloves.

Once you get a handle on cleaning these morsels, you can actually become good enough to remove gill rakers, entrails and veins all in one sweeping tug—at least for those trout of ranging from roughly 6-13 inches.

Of course, the ease of cleaning any fish ultimately comes down to the sharpness of your fish or fillet knife. Keep it sharpened between each fishing trip.

Getting back to size, let’s examine how a novice angler approaches trout of sizes A, B and C.

How to clean a trout

How to Gut and Clean Trout depending on Size

Cleaning Trout A

These trout likely come from smaller than average waters: High-altitude lakes, streams you can cast across, planted rivers, ponds and, most especially, lowland lakes stocked with trout for opening day of fishing. They fit perfectly inside a medium to small frying pan.

The ventral or butt of the trout and its gill rakers—lying beneath the gills—become your focal points when cleaning pan-sized trout.

✔ Start by inserting the knife into the ventral or butt, a blackish, small hole in front of the ventral fin.

✔ Continue cutting up toward the head with fish upside down in your hand.

✔ Once you reach the reddish gill rakers, insert the knife horizontally and underneath said rakers to sever them.

✔ Then place your forefinger underneath the rakers and pull them back toward the ventral. The entrails should follow as they remain attached to the rakers.

Then, you simply need to take a small spoon or spoon-end of many fish-cleaning knives to scrape the white, mucus-looking skein and blackish blood vein from deep along the spine of the fish. Rinse the now vacant cavity with cool, fresh, running water.

Need a visual? Try starting out with a YouTube tutorial:

Cleaning Trout B

Trout that weigh in over a pound-and-a-half or stretch to 16 inches and more can challenge the size of your pan if not the appetite of your dining friends or family.

In this case, you can apply the same approach as on Trout A, but cut or steak the fish in half.

Note, however, that gill rakers become tougher to sever and remove along with the offal when trout reach these proportions. You may need to cut the main tube from guts to rakers and then drag all the entrails out, while removing the gill rakers separately with your sharp knife.

Cleaning Trout C

Do you most enjoy eating fish without bones?

Then you probably prefer to catch Trout C—steelhead or trout that grow up to the length of your arm and sometimes longer. Because of their size, they lend themselves to filleting better than small trout.

With a very sharp filet knife—usually an instrument that features an extremely tapered blade with a fine point on the end—proceed to slice into the back of the fish, starting from just below the head, but not all the way to the guts. Continue downward toward the belly with knife blade perpendicular to the fish.

Fish cutting boards (found at several outdoor retailers and usually of plastic rather than board), complemented by a heavy duty clamp at the top of the board, work best for filleting fish.

But, a straight board of real wood, wide and long enough to accommodate the trout, can work just as well.

If you wish to secure the fish to the board, use another knife, pierced though the tail to keep the fish steady as you carve your filets.

To better understand this method, again, try using a YouTube tutorial.

It’s not just the cleaning that counts

No matter how painstakingly you clean your trout, it all goes for naught if you fail to keep it cold. Ice is best. Keep ice and cooler handy when catching them and after cleaning them.

Bacteria that compromises flavor flourishes in moisture, especially warm moisture. Therefore, don’t leave your fish dangling in lake water on a stringer after catching them.

  • To truly treat your taste buds, place your freshly caught fish on ice and preferably not submerged in melted ice.
  • Eventually, even ice in a cooler melts as your fishing day progresses, but start out with pure ice.
  • Take fish off of the ice when starting to clean them and immediately throw each fish back onto new ice after cleaning.
  • If you ever run out of ice, you should simply drop your catch into a dry cooler as a stopgap. Then, try to buy or obtain ice as soon as possible.

When storing your fish in the freezer, always try to wrap them tightly in freezer paper rather than plastic, which can result in air bubbles that invite bacteria.

Head on or off?

The saying, “a fish rots from the head down,” applies more to social, political and corporate worlds than it does to the fishing world.

A fish’s head rots faster than other parts of the body as evidenced by watching your dead trout in a creel of grass or on a stringer. You will notice discoloration first on and around the head, then along the body.

Really, when it comes to heads, it’s a matter of preference. If you otherwise can’t fit your trout in the pan, lob off the head. Same goes for the tail.

Trout, especially the red- or pink-meated kind, rate among the best flavored sportfish in freshwater. It is always best to treat them accordingly when it comes to freshness.