How To Scale A Fish

While the actual process of fishing, cooking, and eating your catch is enjoyable, scaling a fish can be a huge challenge if you don’t know how to scale a fish.

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Removing the scales from your catch can be a very messy affair, but so is eating a fish without removing its scales.

While many of us will be happy to leave it to the fishmonger, chances are you won’t be in the company of the fishmonger while out fishing.    For this reason, it would be essential to know exactly how to scale a fish.

The thrill that comes with preparing and consuming a fish that you’ve caught yourself is almost unparalleled. In fact, some anglers swear that it’s much sweeter than even the most delicious of foods.

While the actual process of fishing, cooking, and eating your catch is enjoyable, scaling and cleaning the fish can be a huge challenge if you don’t know how to scale a fish. Fortunately, scaling a fish isn’t as hard as you may think.

When it comes to scaling a fish, you should keep in mind that it will be a lot easier to remove the scales if the fish is wet. You should, therefore, hang the fish on a stringer in the water or a bucket full of ice water. This is also important to keep the fish fresh and flavorful. Whether you’re planning to eat it immediately or at a later date, scaling it and cleaning as soon as possible will keep its flavor.

As we’ve noted, scaling a fish can be a tricky and messy affair. Here’s everything you need to know.

Table of Contents

What is Scaling a Fish?

Scaling a fish is essentially the process of removing scales from fish in readiness for cooking. Scales are not edible and can spoil the entire dinner if not removed. Learning how to scale a fish is also essential as it basically turns you into a top chef on the trail. If you’re out there and have landed a catch you’ll only be a few minutes from enjoying a sumptuous meal.

So How Do You Scale a Fish?

If you’re planning to make a sea-to-table meal after landing a catch, here is a simple guide to the entire process.

Rinse the Fish

The first critical step to scaling a fish is to rinse the fish. Whether you’re out there or in your kitchen, make sure that you perfectly rinse the fish under cold water to remove the slimes. The slimes are what make fish slippery and quite hard to hold. By rinsing the fish, you’ll able to get a firm grip on the fish while also reducing the chances of fish slipping while you’re scaling it.

Again, you should let the cold water run over the fish for several minutes. This is important in loosening the scales so that removing them becomes a lot easier.

Have a Protective Layer in Place

Honestly speaking, scaling a fish can be quite messy. You’ll have the scales scattered all over the place. To reduce this, you should have a protective layer to ensure that the scales remain in a single place as you remove them. You can place an old newspaper, cardboard or a parchment paper at the bottom or use a trough that can be cleaned once the entire process is over.

Scrap Off the Scales

With a sharp knife in place, firmly hold the fish in place with your weaker hand. Make sure that the fish is flat on the protective layer. Hold it by the tail so that it doesn’t slip through your hands. If you have some disposable gloves, you can put them on to protect your hands from getting pierced by the sharp fins.

Hold the knife with your stronger hand and remove the scales with the blunt side of the knife. Holding the knife at 45º angle, place the blunt side of the knife just at the start of the fin and scratch against the fish’s skin. In other words, scrap from the tail to the head until all the scales are lifted off. Turn the fish on the other side and do the same.

Run your fingers smoothly and carefully against the grain of the fish to make sure that all the fins are removed. You can repeat the process until all the scales are removed.

Gutting the Fish

You should always keep in mind that your fish won’t be ready for cooking by just removing the scales. After you’re done with the scales, it’s important to gut the fish. This is principally the removal of the innards and other contents in the fish’s abdomen. The main aim of gutting the fish is to make it safer for consumers since the innards contain some toxins that may cause food poisoning.

To gut the fish spread the protective layer on board. Lay the fish on the cutting board and use a sharp fillet knife to cut open the fish’s abdomen. Start from the gills and stop just above the tail. Use the sharp tip of the knife to cut a shallow opening on the abdomen. You should be careful not to pierce the innards. You can then pull all the innards and guts off.

Clean the Fish

Although you’ve removed the scales and the innards, you’re not there yet. You’ll have to clean the fish ready for storage or cooking. Generally, it’s important to clean the fish as soon as possible to prevent it from spoiling. In addition to cleaning the fish, you should also clean everything that you used to scale and gut the fish. As such, you should have sufficient running water.

Using cold water, make sure that you clean all parts of the fish. This is to remove all traces of blood and slime. Do not forget to remove the blood clots along the bone. It’s advisable to use the knife to scrape it out. While you can also use your fingers, you have to be careful not to get pierced by the fish’s sharp fins. You should also remove the black skin by rubbing the cavity with rock salt.

To read more on gutting, cleaning and filleting a fish, read here.


All in all, make sure that you thoroughly clean the fish as well as everything that you used in scaling and gutting the fish. Keep in mind that the smell of fish can be horrible and so you should use a perfumed dishwashing liquid to clean all the apparatus used in cleaning the fish.

Also, don’t forget to properly dispose of the innards or any unwanted parts. In the end, you should be able to enjoy your catch, knowing very well that it was worth the fight. Bon Appétit.


Scott Kimball

Scott Kimball

From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.

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