One item I see many survivalist websites recommending to include in your bug out kit is fishing gear. But on a recent trip with a number of our students, I realized just how sheltered city living can be. Many of them had never fished in their life, and when they looked at preparing their catch to eat, I've never seen more confusion.
Growing up by the water, one of my dad's first lessons to me was how to clean and prepare a fish. It's something I've taken advantage of, and assumed that it was common knowledge. But for many it's not. Fish are one of the best survival foods, as they're a relatively easy protein source to catch. For anyone wanting to survive in the wild, pay attention. Today, I'm going to do a quick recap on how to properly clean a fish, and how to cook it at your campfire.
Gather your materials
To clean a fish effectively, you need to prepare a few things. First, find a flat, solid area to work on. If you're camping and have a cutting board this is ideal, but you can also do this on a log or a large flat rock if you've no other option. You're going to need a source of water, a large, sharp knife, and your pan to throw the cleaned fish into.
If you're in an area where there's significant animal activity, or bears, I highly recommend not cleaning any fish by your camp. You're far better off walking for 5 or 10 minutes downstream to clean your fish there, and keep all the smells away from where you're sleeping.
Dispatching your fish
I'm definitely a meat eater, but I also believe all animals deserve your respect and you should treat them accordingly. Even fish. I usually dispatch any I catch with a quick sever of their spinal cord, cutting up from their gills and through the backbone. Or if they're a little larger you can push your knife through from the side. Always do this first.
Scale your fish
The next step is to remove the scales. They're not pleasant to eat, and this is usually the part of the process where scales fly everywhere. Hold the fishes head firmly, and using the blade at a 60 to 90 degree angle, start scraping from the tail, slowly working your way towards the head. Your blade should be picking up the scales and scraping these off from the skin. Make sure you work around the entire body of the fish, and be careful of any spines or sharp edges on their gills as you do this. Once you're done, give the fish a good wash, and check if any scales remain. Repeat until there's none left.
Skin your fish
This isn't always necessary, as it depends on the type of fish you've caught. If you're looking at a catfish though, you're going to want to remove the skin. Simply make a slice that breaks the skin behind the head, and around the fins, and gripping the head in one hand use the other to slowly peel the skin back. You may need to use your knife to cut the skin loose. Once you're done, give it another rinse.
Cleaning your fish
The simplest method for gutting a fish is to insert the blade of your knife into the anus of the fish, and cut in an upwards direction towards the head of the fish. This will allow you to open up the belly, where you need to reach in and remove all the guts. You may need to remove and other organs that lay along the spine. Some fish also have a thick stomach membrane, if so, you're going to want to scrape this off with your knife as it doesn't taste good. Once you're done, give the fish a good rinse again, and you're done.
From here, you can roast the entire fish over your fire, or if it’s a little larger you're going to want to either fillet or steak out the portions.
Filleting your fish
This is the method I use the most, but it's also a little fiddly the first time you try. Lay the fish down flat on your cutting surface, and slice your knife down behind the pectoral fin. You want to cut down to the backbone, but not through it. Now angle your knife so the blade will cut towards the tail, and slowly start cutting the flesh from the bones. You want to keep this as close to the bones in the ribcage as possible, so you remove as much of the flesh as possible. Once you've got one fillet off, flip the fish over and repeat.
Steaking your fish
If you've caught a particularly large fish, it's often more effective to cut steaks than to try and fillet it. Simply lay your fish on the cutting surface, and slice your steaks straight down, about an inch thick all the way along. You may need to use a little force to cut through the backbone, and there may be some bones you need to remove afterwards, which is especially important if you've got young kids with you. Or me. I hate bones in my fish when I'm eating it.
Cleaning and preparing a fish you've caught is rather simple, even if it seems hard at first. Once you've done a handful, you'll be much more confident properly dispatching, scaling and gutting your fish, and then comes the fun part. You can cook and eat it!