As the old saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” and when it comes to anglers, all you have to do is replace the last word with whatever you may have caught that day.

Filleting is the accepted practice for meat removal on almost every game fish species. However, with a little ingenuity, you can enjoy a new twist on great table fare by trying a different approach to cleaning your catch.

In many other countries, cooking fish whole is as common a practice as filleting them is here, and it can be downright tasty if done correctly. The first thing to contemplate if you would like to smoke, grill or bake a fish in its own skin is to remove anything you wouldn’t consider edible. This means gutting and usually scaling whatever you plan to cook.

When scaling a fish, you can use a number of implements, including devices made specifically for the task which can be found at almost any sporting goods retailer. However, I’ve also seen other gear used for the chore, including a butter knife and a paint scraper. Scaling a fish also can be beneficial when attempting to fillet one with a tough exterior that quickly could dull a blade.

Once you’ve scaled a fish that you plan to cook whole, it’s time to gut it, which again is a relatively simple process. You will want to make a belly cut on whatever species you’ve caught and then remove all the innards and anything else you wouldn’t want to eat. You also should remove the gills, which can make a good meal go bad quickly if they are cooked with the rest of the fish and leave a funky taste.

I’ve seen few anglers who regularly “bleed” their catch along the Texas coast, but it’s a common practice in many other locales. The theory is that by removing as much blood from the fish as possible it will make it more edible. However, as long as you keep the fish on ice and take care of it promptly and effectively at the cleaning table, you can remove whatever “red” there is on your meat. It’s also advised to get rid of red meat if you’re going to freeze your fillets since it can leave a fishy taste if it sits for any length of time.


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