Everyone who catches fish and likes to eat them has one thing in common: they need a good spot to clean and properly prepare freshly caught fish. Any fish that you plan on eating should be kept alive or on ice after they are caught. Properly handling fish from the lake to the cleaning table to your dinner table helps you get the most out of your catch.
There are a wide variety of types of places to clean fish, but they also have some common features. You need a smooth, level surface on which to cut the fish. You need a good source of clean water to rinse your fish and a proper place to properly dispose of the carcasses. Other than a good, sharp knife or two, that’s all you need. If you use electric knives, a good ground fault electrical outlet nearby is a must.
When I was growing up, my school-teacher father and I fished multiple times each week. He took an old, rolling barbeque pit frame and made a piece of wood to fit on the top. We rolled it over to the backyard hydrant and had an old washtub into which we threw the remains. They were later buried in a compost pile by the garden and helped grow awesome vegetables.
But fish-cleaning stations have come a long way since then.
“You see people using just about every kind of setup you can imagine to clean fish, from an old 2×12 on the tailgate of a truck to fancy, stainless steel fish-cleaning stations like they have at the state parks and some marinas,” said Josh Maxwell of Arcadia, a member of Team Overalls. “But the more organized you are for cleaning fish, the better. And the way you clean and handle your fish does have an affect on the quality when you cook them.”
Maxwell fishes mainly for crappie, but he said the same principles apply no matter what kind of fish you’re cleaning.
A perfect table
“I have an old, stainless steel table that I use, and I like stainless because it cleans up so easily,” he said. “It’s also good and flat and is easy to maneuver the fish around on. Some of the ones like they have at our state parks and marinas are really nice because they have the tables, plug-ins, water and even collection areas for the fish remains. Some of them even have grinders that make mulch out of the entrails and run them back in the lake.”
One thing Maxwell does is use two big, stainless steel pans with cold water. When he filets a fish, he throws the halves in the first pan. Then, he takes them out, cuts out the rib portion and puts the finished filet in fresh water. Depending on the temperature, he always keeps them cold.
Saltwater fishermen usually have the same type of setup, but on a larger scales. Some marinas have almost setups almost like butcher shops. Another popular setup for small- to medium-sized fish are portable, fold-up plastic tables. Many anglers who live on the lake also have tables built in to their boat docks with double sinks and city water run out to the cleaning area.
“There’s not a right or wrong way to do it,” he said. “Just have a good cleaning table area where you can be efficient, and keep it clean. That’s the key to making the most of your fish from lake to table … to table.”