How to Prepare, Clean and Fillet a Catfish

Everyone has their own techniques and opinions when it comes to fishing for catfish and in this video/instructional guide, we’ll show you how to take that big catfish you caught and turn it into a tasty meal that everyone can enjoy.

Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to prepare, clean and filet a catfish in this simple, step-by-step guide.


To begin, we suggest you place your live fish in a large holding tank for 3 to 4 days. This will flush the dirty river water out of the catfish, giving it a much nicer and cleaner taste. Make sure to remove the dirty water and add new clean water to the tank every day or every other day.


Fashion a hanging chain or find a sturdy tree branch to hang your catfish from in order to be able to pull the skin off without having to hold it with your hands. It is very important that whatever you hang the fish from can withstand a fair amount of force. We highly suggest using a chain around a large tree limb for the best results.


Once the catfish is hanging from the tree, take a long, sharp knife and pierce it through the brain of the fish. This is called stunning the fish, which is a humane way of filleting it and preventing any injury caused by flopping.


After the fish has been stunned, use the knife to cut a large slit above the tail fin to allow the blood to drain out onto the ground. This will make skinning and filleting the fish a much cleaner process. Allow for most of the blood to drain out before continuing with the next steps.


To prepare for skinning, make incisions on the back of the fish right below the base of the head. Make sure these incisions are deep enough to pull the skin off but not too deep. Make the cuts all the way around the fish, cutting below the fins under the head and make cuts along both sides of the backbone. Be sure when cutting the fish NOT to pierce any organs, for this can lead to tainting the meat with the bile from the fish and will alter the flavor and cause you to have to clean the fish even more.


Now that the fish has been cut for skinning, take a pair of skinning pliers and, starting at the top, grasp the skin of the catfish and pull in a downwards fashion. Be careful to grab the skin only and not the meat of the fish. The skin on the fish can often be very tough and hard to remove; this is why it is important to have the fish securely attached before pulling on the skin. We have found that the larger the fish, the harder it can be to remove the skin. Often times, alternating sides that you pull from on the skin can help work the skin off. Pull the skin all the down past the tail until it is completely removed.


Once the skin has been removed from the fish, you will want to face its belly and slice it open all the way up the middle so you can access the organs on the inside. Cut out the membrane that is holding the organs to the sides of the fish. Be careful not to pierce any of them. Once the organs are out of the way, you can cut around the first fin and to the back of the fish to get more access to the fish. Loosen the organs from the spine all the way down the fish by cutting the bottom fins off and pulling the organs and bottom fins as one piece out of the fish.


After the organs are out, you can cut around the dorsal fin of the catfish so that it can be removed with the head when the time comes. This is a much easier technique than trying to pull the fin out later.


To remove the head, you can help yourself out by making a starter cut in between the vertebrae to assist you in ripping the head off of the fish. Once the starter cut is made grab the fish by the tail with one hand and brace the head of the fish with the other. Take the tail end of the fish and pull it up to the head until you hear a ripping and cracking sound and the head separates from the body of the catfish.


Now that the head has been removed, all that should remain is the fillets. Take the fillets and wash them off in cold, clean water so that any contamination can be removed and any excess blood will be washed away. If necessary, you can change the water several times until the water no longer changes colors when you place the fish in it.


Next, to begin filleting, start at the top of the fish and work your way down, cutting along the spine down the length of the fish. Make sure to leave the fat on the spine connected, this tastes very bad compared to fat you would find in pork or beef. Make sure to cut around the bones so that you don’t include any in your meat. Now flip your fish over and finish cutting the fillets off, making sure to cut off the meat from the backside of the rib cage to get the most meat out of the fish possible.


Finally you can remove the red meat on the fish by cutting out the red strip on the fillets, making sure to cut as close as possible to the strip of red meat to preserve as much of the white meat that you can. Once you have completed these steps you should have the fixings for a great catfish dinner!
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