Fishing is a favorite outdoor sport of millions of Ohioans. Our state has many good places to fish in its creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes as well as the Ohio River and Lake Erie.
Fishing is fun, but your angling trips can be even more enjoyable when topped off by a meal of delicious fish you have caught. By knowing a few tips on how to handle your fish from the water to the dinner table, you will be able to enjoy some tasty fish dinners.
Filleting is a popular method of preparing fish for meals. With practice and the proper knife, filleting is really easy.
To fillet a fish, you simply cut the flesh away from the bones and skin. The end product is a boneless and skinless (or scaleless) piece of fish ready to be cooked.
First, Keep Your Catch Fresh
Nothing beats the flavor of fresh fish. But to ensure the fish you catch are at their flavorful best, take some time to plan for their proper care.
Fish is a very perishable food. If you bring fish home from a fishing trip, keep your catch alive as long as possible. A good stringer, fish basket or boat live well is fine for short periods, especially when the water is cool. But the best way to keep fish fresh is to put them directly on ice.
Most fish caught in Ohio waters are safe to eat. But occasionally fish consumption advisories are issued for certain species of fish at specific water areas, by the Ohio Department of Health. To minimize exposure to contaminants: eat only skinned and boned fish, removing as much fat as possible; roast, grill, broil or bake fish; do not eat or reuse juices or fat cooked out of the fish. For updated fish advisory information, call the Department of Health at (614) 644-6447.
When you are ready to fillet the fish, first examine it for freshness. Gills should be red or bright pink and moist, not white or dull pink and slimy. Fish odor should not be excessive; the eyes should appear fresh and clear.
Get the Right Knife
A good fillet knife has a long, thin, flexible blade. Most sporting goods and department stores sell fillet knives. Buy a good quality knife and keep it sharp.
Have a smooth, flat board to for a cutting surface. A canoe paddle makes a good cutting board if you are filleting for a shore lunch.
How to Fillet
Understanding the bone structure of a fish will help you fillet.
Make sure the fish is dead to avoid injuring yourself. Make the first cut behind the gill cover. Cut only until the knife touches the backbone. Do not cut through it.
Knife inserted behind gill cover
Knife into fish along the rib cage
When the knife blade no longer contacts the rib cage, push the knife through the width of the fish. The blade will exit on the bottom near the vent. Continue cutting along the bone until the fillet is cut off at the tail.
Cutting meat from rib cage
A second method is to cut through the rib cage and remove the ribs along with the fillet. An additional step is then required to cut the ribs away from the meat.
Remove the skin from the fillet by inserting the knife at the tail and cutting the meat from the skin. Hold the fillet in position by pressing down on the skin, with your thumb.
For those anglers who are transporting fillets, a patch of skin, enough to identify the species of the fish is required to be left on the fillet until a person reaches their permanent residence.
Repeat the same steps on the other side. Keep the fish cool, even during the filleting process.
Contaminants are found at higher levels in the fat of some fish. You can reduce the amount of these contaminants in a fish meal by properly trimming, skinning, and cooking your catch. Remove the skin and trim all the fat from the belly flap, the line along the sides of the fish, along the back, and under the skin. Cut away a V-shaped wedge to remove the dark fatty tissue along the entire length of the fillet. Cooking does not destroy contaminants in fish, but heat from cooking melts some of the fat in fish allowing some of it to drip away. Broil, grill, or bake the skinned fish on a rack so the fat drips away. Do not use the drippings to prepare sauces.
How to Store Your Catch
Fish will taste best cooked soon after they are caught. Fish can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two days, but if you cannot cook them within that time they should be frozen.
The best freezing method is to submerge the fillets in a container of cold water. Plastic freezer bags, freezer containers and paper milk cartons are good packages. Tightly seal the container and freeze it. This method helps prevent freezer burn and preserves the fine flavor of your catch.