There's nothing quite so satisfying as peering into an ice chest full of freshly caught lake trout and realizing that after four hours of doing little more than sitting in the sun and drinking beer, you now have dinner. Until, of course, you remember that someone is going to have to clean those suckers.
In my family that task always went to the least squeamish, and my dad would gamely set to work, cigar wedged into the left side of his mouth, while my sister and I watched in horrified fascination. Cleaning fish is a revolting but necessary business; my dad's method gets the job done as quickly as possible.
1. See if your fish needs to be scaled. You can tell by laying him down and gently scraping at his skin with the tip of your knife, moving from the tail towards the head. If the scales are large and flat you've got a scaler; you can either continue scraping "against the grain" with your knife, rinsing with lots of cold tap water, or you can use a copper mesh pad and just scrub the scales away.
2. Using a good sharp filleting knife, make an incision from the "vent" -- it's what you think it is -- under the fish right up there near the tail. Cut in a nice straight line up to the fish's "chin."
3. Next, make a cut right behind the gills straight through the backbone. Snap off the head and, while holding the fish, pull the head and all the entrails down and away from the fish. The motion is not unlike peeling a banana.
4. Throw that nasty stuff away, then take a spoon and scrape away the "kidney line," which is that dark vein running parallel to the backbone. Rinse some more.
5. Some people don't like the dorsal fin left on... fins are easily removed with pliers and discarded.
6. Voila. Your fish should be ready for flourin' and fryin'!
Publication date: 06/10/04