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John Merwin lives in Vermont, where, when he's not tying flies, building lures, or digging up worms with his backhoe, he writes the monthly Fishing Column for Field & Stream magazine.

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December 18, 2008

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Cermele: Are You Pro to the Bone?

You would think the ability to clean fish comes with the territory of knowing how to catch them. I pride myself on doing it well, as nothing burns me more than killing a fish, then butchering the meat into an unappetizing  pile of mush. I can think of many situations where good anglers have passed me the knife, or subtly asked if I'd be cool with cleaning the fish. For the most part, these guys are catch-and-release anglers who keep only occasionally, but I've also had some casual, non-hardcore anglers hook a fish on my boat and ask if I'd clean it before the net even hit the water. The thoughts of doing it themselves was mortifying.

All that said, you might think a DVD devoted entirely to fish-cleaning seems a bit much. That's what I thought, too, when I got a copy of Minnesota guide Steve Scepaniak's "Fish Cleaning Made Easy!" But after watching it (all of it, I was enthralled, frankly) I've decided it is probably one of the most informative fishing videos I've ever watched, partially because it's very clear and well put together, and partially because I'd rather have more anglers know how not to waste fish they kill than how to actually catch them.

Steve shows you how to clean, skin, scale, fillet, and bone 9 species, including perch, crappie, trout, and catfish. He even details removing pesky Y bones from pike. Mixed in with all is a great knife-sharpening bit and tips on keeping your catch fresh on the water.

A lot of this stuff seems like a no-brainer, but I promise you'll learn something, whether you've been cleaning fish for years or never tried it. There's not one of us out there that hasn't messed up dinner with a bad cut, gut, or skin job. Tell me about your worst fillet table massacre. If it's brutal enough, maybe I'll send you a copy.



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I can't say that I have ever truly "butchered" a fish. I don't keep any fish to large to eat whole. This includes catfish, bream, and bass. Their are three reasons for this. 1) It's much easier to clean fish for frying whole, 2)the flavor in smaller fish is just better, and finally 3)you waste much less meat, particularly if you know how to eat around the bones.

I found your comments about people who don't normally fish quite interesting. When people who aren't used to it, see blood and guts, they flip. I think this illustrates perfectly a major issue in America. People today have become so far removed from death, that they tend to not fully comprehend what a gift life itself is. I have found that most hunters and fisherman have a much greater appreciation for life than those who don't hunt and fish. I feel that we would see a drop in suicide and murder rate if more people would hunt and fish.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I've got a day off since I'm exempt from semester exams!


Worst fish-cleaning experience? Easy.

As the sole 12-year old in camp, I was charged with the responsibility of cleaning the entire Trout Opening Day catch for the 15 or so attendees. In PA, the traditional opener is the third Saturday in April. The water source available was a spring creek in Bald Eagle State Forest, situated in the northcentral portion of the state.

After the third fish, I couldn't feel my hands. After the tenth, they started refusing to take orders. 28 rainbows later, the springhouse looked like outtakes from an episode of "Iron Chef." And the best part? I got to do it all over again the next day.

Those stripes are earned the hard way, kids...

Jim in Mo

I began trout fishing at Bennet Springs St. Pk. in So Mo in the 80's. The first two years we always cooked them whole but I then decided we'd fillet them and I'd show the boys how, it looked simple. I laid our days catch of 9 fish on a large cutting board on top a table at streams edge. My first cut down the side left to much meat, I flipped the side down and proceeded to remove flesh from skin. I sliced thru the skin twice so I changed my blade angle. That was fine but I began putting too much pressure with my knuckles on the cutting board and when I got to the edge of the board it flipped over and all 9 fish went back into the stream.
The ole man didn't look to smart that day.