How To Clean And Fillet A Catfish


After catching catfish in a lake, you will need to clean and fillet the fish before you can go ahead and cook it. The catfish features tough and leathery skin. If the skin is left on the meat, eating the meat wouldn’t be appealing to anyone.

Irrespective of whether you reeled in a catch when catfish fishing or you just purchased your catfish from the local store, you can clean and fillet the fish at home, using your household tools. To make the cleaning and filleting process easier for you, we will show you how to clean a catfish and how to fillet a catfish.

Skinning the Fish

After your catfish baits help you land the catfish, the first thing you will need to do after getting the catfish out of the fishing cooler is skinning. For this reason, we will show you how to skin the catfish before showing you how to clean a catfish or how to fillet a catfish.

1. Make Cuts Behind the Gills on Each Side

The cuts are supposed to be slanted. They should meet in the catfish’s stomach. You can use your fillet knife to make cuts behind the gills at 45-degree angles towards the fish’s head.

You should focus on cutting about 3.2 to 6.4 mm (1/8 to 1/4 inches) deep. If you cut too deep or too shallow, you will make removing the skin much difficult. To connect the cuts, cut around the bottom of the fish’s head.

Note: Make sure the fillet knife is sharp. When compared to a sharp knife, a dull knife will be tough to use. Additionally, it will be more dangerous.

2. Cut Along the Catfish’s Spine

The cut should run all the way from the head to its tail. Your cut should start at the base of the head. Pull the knife down the body of the fish.

Similar to when making the cuts behind the gills, you should make sure the cat does not go deeper than 3.2 to 6.4 mm. On reaching the dorsal or top fin, work the knife around it. Working the knife through the fin is not a good idea.

You have to be cautious about the sharp barb usually available at the end of the dorsal fin. The barb could end up puncturing your skin. Some catfish species usually have toxins and poison on the barb.

3. Slice the Skin Down the Middle of the Belly

Starting at the incision you made around the catfish head, cut the stomach. The depth should be 3.2 to 6.4 mm (Note: cutting too deep could puncture the fish’s internal organs). Stop when your cut is at the point where the tail fin starts.

4. Make Vertical Slits on Both Sides of the Tail

Locate the area where the scales stop and the tail fin starts. Make a cut that joins the spine and belly cuts.

5. Use a Pliers to Remove the Skin

Using your finger, peel back a part of the skin below the gills. When you have a large enough part, grab it with your fish pliers.

In one fluid motion, peel the catfish skin back towards its tail. Using one of your hands, you will need to hold the catfish head down. To ensure that the skin does not break or rip, you should pull it away slowly.

Once you reach the tail, the skin should peel off the fish. Repeat the steps outlined above to remove the skin from the other side of your catfish.

Removing the Catfish Innards

To follow the steps in this section, you need to first remove all the skin. Before cleaning the fish, you will need to remove the innards. After taking you through the process of removing the innards, we will show you how to clean a catfish before showing you how to fillet a catfish.

1. Remove the Head

When removing the head, the first thing you will need to do is snap the fish’s neck by bending its head towards the spine. Next, put the head back in place and initiate twisting. While twisting the head, pull it away from the catfish body to remove it.

If you are just getting started with fishing, chances are, you have never twisted the catfish head before. This means that the twisting may not feel comfortable. If this is the case, get a butcher’s knife and use it to chop the head off behind the catfish gills.

2. Remove the Fins and the Tail

Grab your kitchen scissors and use them to cut the fins and tail off the catfish. If you do not own kitchen scissors, you can use your fishing knife. Be sure to cut as close as you possibly can to the base. This is the only ideal way to make sure that you have removed the fin entirely.

Note: To remove the dorsal fin completely, cut about 1.3 cm deep. Next, use the fishing pliers to pull the fin off the body.

3. Remove the Entrails with Your Finger

For you to reach the entrails, you will need to cut through the fish stomach using your knife. Next, run your finger through the catfish inside. You should start on the side that is closest to the tail. Scoop the internals and get rid of them.

If you do not want to spend some of your time getting fish smell off your hands, you can wear gloves. Both the normal fishing gloves and ice fishing gloves may not work in this case. You will need to invest in some nitrile gloves.

Note: To keep your kitchen from stinking, you have to put the fish internals inside a separate garbage bag and throw them away as soon as possible.

4. How to Clean a Catfish

After getting rid of the internals, it is time to learn how to clean a catfish. You will need to run the catfish meat under the faucet. This will clean both the residual and blood from inside the catfish body.

After cleaning the catfish, pat it using a paper towel. Next, put it back on the cutting board.

Note: You should focus on using cold water only. Hot water could start cooking your catfish. You don’t want this to happen since it could ruin your meat.

How to Fillet a Catfish?


By now, your catfish should be clean. Also, it shouldn’t have the skin, innards, or head. After going through the steps in this section, you should be able to cook the catfish meat. Just like there are some nice bass fish recipes online, you should find some catfish recipes.

Follow the steps below to learn how to fillet a catfish:

1. Cut Down Along the Spine

While cutting down along the spine, you should be working the knife slowly towards the ribs. This should make it possible for you to separate your meat from the bones. According to the experts who have already compared the boning knife and the filleting knife, using the boning knife will help you achieve better results when separating the meat from the bones.

You will need to use short strokes when cutting around the rib cage. This will keep bones out of the fillet. Work the entire rib cage length from the catfish head while moving towards the tail.

Note: If your catfish hook landed a fish whose length does not exceed 16 inches (41 cm), cooking the fish as a whole may be the ideal option.

2. Poke Your Knife Through the Belly

Using your non-dominant hand, hold the catfish still. Next, put the knife between the fillet and the spine. Push the knife through the fish until it comes out of the fish’s belly. When the tip of the knife is visible after pushing it through the belly, cut the fillet slowly.

Note: Stay safe by avoiding putting your hand at the point where you intend to poke the fish.

3. Removing the Fillet

Still using the non-dominant hand, lift the tail portion of the fillet from the rib cage. Next, cut through the bottom fish part that is still connected to your fillet. Once you remove the first fillet, you can go ahead and set it aside.

4. Remove the Fillet from the Other side

After removing the first fillet, the whole filleting process shouldn’t be new to you. All you will have to do is flip your catfish and then repeat the process on the other side. To make sure that no bones are left on the fillet, work slowly and cautiously.

After removing the fillets, you will need to wash the fillets thoroughly with fresh water. When washing the fillets, be sure to get all the blood from the fillet. To make your work easier, you can use a hose sprayer.

Generally, when the meat still has some blood in it, you will notice foam in the washing water. Wash the fillets until you can no longer see the foam.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning and Filleting Catfish

What happens if You Puncture the Innards?

If you are just learning how to fillet a catfish and how to clean a catfish for the first time, one thing you may not be familiar with is what happens if you puncture the intestines, the stomach, and the internal organs. Some of the questions you may ask yourself include:

  • Will this make the meat go bad?
  • Will my meat taste awful?

The answer to both questions is no. Puncturing the innards, however, is something that you should try as much as possible to avoid. This is simply because it can get extremely messy.

Just because you have punctured the innards, you shouldn’t worry that the catfish meat could end up making you sick. Also, your meat, as long as you clean it correctly, won’t taste bad.

Should I Remove the Bloodlines and Red Meat Lines?

If you manage to land a bigger catfish after casting your bait caster, you may find a red meat layer between its skin and meat. The amount of red meat varies from fish to fish. Whether you remove this red meat will depend on personal preference.

Some people claim that red meat does not taste good enough. Hence, they remove the red meat line. Some people do leave the red meat line. The thing to keep in mind is that the red meat line will not affect you negatively.

The catfish does feature the midline or what some catfish anglers refer to as the bloodline. This usually runs the length of the fillet where there is a slight depression. This is usually the fish’s lateral line.

On smaller catfish, the bloodline may have the same color as the rest of the meat. However, for the bigger catfish, it will appear discolored (usually dark red). Just like the red meat line, whether you remove the bloodline or not will depend on personal preference. If you do not mind its taste, you can leave it on your fillets.

What Do You Do with the Carcass?

There are a couple of things you can do with the carcass, depending on your preferences. These include:

  1. Throw Them Back in the Water

If you are cleaning next to the lake, you can dump the carcass back into the water once you are done. The carcass will be eaten by other fishes, turtles, and even critters found in the lake.

You should puncture the air bladder to keep the carcass from floating. Also, take them away from the banks. This is to avoid having the carcass come back to the bank.

2. Use them as Fertilizer

If you do own a flowerbed or a garden, you can use the carcass as fertilizer. However, since bones could be dangerous, these should be discarded properly.

3. Make Soup

If you do like fish soup, you can make fish head soup. All you will need to do is clean the head and then boil it to make soup.

Globo Surf Overview

Cleaning and filleting catfish is not a complicated process. Additionally, the process does not require you to invest in new equipment. You can simply use the equipment you have at home.

During the cleaning and filleting process, you will be using sharp equipment. Caution is necessary to avoid hurting yourself.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!