There’s More Than One Way to Clean Trout - Scott Haugen

There’s More Than One Way to Clean Trout - Scott Haugen

Trout are mild to the taste, which is one reason so many people enjoy eating them.


Trout can be cleaned many ways, and how you want to cook them often dictates how you’ll clean them. Plan ahead and try multiple options to get the most of what these mild fish have to offer.


“We’ve just always cut off the heads, gutted ‘em and fried ‘em whole,” shared one of six members during a recent fishing trip. “That’s how we do it,” chimed another. “We always fillet and smoke ours, eating it right out of the smoker or making dip,” shared yet another. What surprised me was how many of them cleaned and cooked trout the same way every time, missing out on the versatility of this fish.





If you’re new to trout fishing, know there are many ways to clean trout and even more ways to cook them. Keep in mind that how you cook trout often comes down to how you clean them, so plan ahead.

To get the most from your trout, deliver a quick blow to the top of the head, between the eyes. Immediately break a couple gill rakes to bleed out—if in a boat, hold fish over the water. Once bled, place trout in a cooler with ice to chill as soon as possible. Don’t try to keep trout alive on a stringer as it stresses them and compromises meat quality.





Some folks like cooking trout with the scales on, some like scaling them. Scaling a trout can be done with a knife, but a quick and easy way is with a garden hose. Line up your trout in the grass, heads facing away, and use the jet of the nozzle to remove the scales.

To gut a trout, place the fish on its side on a cutting board or hold it upside down in one hand. Insert the tip of a fillet knife into the vent, sliding and lifting as you cut to the throat. Place the fish on its side and run the knife behind the gill plate until it hits the spine atop the back of the fish, right behind the top of the head. Cut down along the side of the fish, under the pectoral fin and behind the gill plate. Flip the fish over and repeat the same cut on the other side. With the skin cut all the way around the head and gill plate, grab the trout in one hand, head in the other hand and break the neck at the cut, forcing the head toward the body cavity. The head, pectoral fins and all entrails are removed in one piece.

Next, clean out the kidney, that long, dark purple organ running the length of the backbone on the inside of the fish. It’s encased by a subcutaneous layer of skin that holds it tight to the spine. Cut down the center from head to tail end and scoop out the kidney. Force any remaining blood from the vessels and thoroughly rinse fish inside and out. You may choose to fillet away the rib bones at this time.

With the trout cleaned, it’s time to prepare for cooking. Some folks like peeling off the skin, others like the skin on; try each to see what you enjoy.




Cooking a whole trout is one option, and many people like this because once cooked, the meat easily peels away from the skeleton. There will be some small pin bones remaining, which run perpendicular to the lateral line, and these can be eaten or remove once cooked. Trying to remove pin bones prior to cooking can separate the delicate meat.

You can also fillet a trout. With the fish on one side, insert the knife at the base of the neck. Keeping it tight to the spine, slide the blade all the way to the tail. You’ll feel the blade cutting through the pin bones. Remove the entire fillet, flip fish over and repeat. If you’ve not yet removed the ribs, it’s easily done by cutting underneath them with a sharp fillet knife, or they can be removed once cooked.

Trout can also be cut into steaks. Remove all remaining fins, position trout on one side and cut through the skin and meat all the way to the spine, leaving 1 1/2-inches between cuts. Turn the fish over and continue the cuts, meeting prior cuts atop the back. With a sharp knife cut through the spine at each cut, cleaning removing each steak.


When cutting trout into steaks, slicing through the skin and meat all the way around the fish before cutting through the spine, ensures the tender meat is not compromised.


No matter how you clean trout, they can be fried, smoked, baked, poached, or grilled; and so much can be done with the meat once it’s cooked. Cooking time varies based on the size and thickness of cuts.





Be it in streams, rivers, ponds or lakes, with spinners, worms or flies, there are many places and many ways to pursue trout. There’s more than one way to clean them, too, which ultimately reveals just how tasty trout can truly be.

Note: To book an Alaska fishing adventure with Scott visit, where you can also get signed copies of his many books. Follow Scott’s adventures on Instagram & Facebook.






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1 comment

Always enjoy learning all about fishing and getting information from the pros.

David Getner

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