How to Clean a Trout Easily

Trout is one species of fish that I enjoy eating. There is a wide variety of trout, and the method for cleaning them is the same for each trout and many other species of fish.

The process of cleaning a trout is simple. At a glance, it looks like this:

  1. Cut through belly
  2. remove intestines
  3. remove the kidney
  4. rinse

This is a brief look at how to clean a trout and the method I use if I’m eating a freshly caught trout by the water.

Tools Required to Clean a Trout

You do not need many tools to clean a trout. If you are planning on cleaning your trout by the river or lake you could get by with a filleting knife alone.

However, if you plan to incorporate the trout into a bigger meal or have guests you may want to prepare the fish a little better and need a few more tools.

Chopping Board

Cutting boards come in different materials; I find plastic or wood works best for fish.

If you use wood, make sure it is a dedicated fish board.

Another feature to look out for in chopping boards for fish is a fish clamp. Some dedicated fish chopping boards come with a clamp to hold slippery fish in place.

Filleting Knife

A fish filleting knife makes processing the fish a lot easier. This type of knife has a long thin, flexible blade that bends around the bones of the fish.

It is designed to get the most flesh from the fish while keeping it all in one fillet.

Chopping Knife

There are two reasons why you might want a chopping knife when cleaning a trout. 

  1. You can use it to chop off the head and tail. A filleting knife can also do this, but it’s a lot easier with a chopping knife.

  2. Some people just prefer filleting with a chopping knife. I suggest trying both a filleting knife and a chopping knife to filet a fish and see which feels better to you.


Sometimes after you filet a fish, there are still some pin bones left in the filet. This is where a pair of tweezers comes in handy. By using the tweezers, you can gently remove these bones without damaging the flesh.

How to clean a trout

We will look at a few different methods on how to clean a trout. The method you choose will depend on how you plan to cook the trout, the type of trout, and your own personal preference.

Most of the methods are similar, with some added or removed steps. Each method will work for each trout, so choose whichever method you prefer.

Fillet with no cleaning

How to Clean a Trout

This method is a little harder to get right the first time around and takes a bit of practice.

However, once you learn this method, it’s the quickest and easiest way to fillet a trout. It involves no cleaning. This method is only for removing the filets. If you want to use the whole fish, then you need to use the second method.


Place the fish on its side with its back facing you. With your filet knife cut just behind the gill rakers. Run your filleting knife along the spine of the trout, working towards its tail.

Be careful not to go too deep with the cut as you will risk puncturing the intestines.

When you reach the tail, fold the fillet back and use the tip of the knife to cut the piece of fillet attached to the belly. Follow this cut down to the tail releasing the filet.

Clean and Fillet

This method is the first method I learned as is similar to method two with extra steps added.

I recommend starting with this method. It will work on a large variety of fish and produces unblemished fillets with little effort.

Open the Cavity

How to Clean a Trout

Place the fish on its side with its belly facing towards you. Towards the fishs’ tail, you will find the anus.

Insert the tip of your knife into the anus. You don’t need to go too far in. Work the knife towards the gills opening up the fish’s belly. Stop once you get to the gill rakers.

Remove the Head

Place the knife just behind the trout’s gill rake and make a cut underneath to sever the gill rakes.

Some people prefer to leave the head on the trout and cook it hole. If you prefer this method, you can skip this step.

Remove Intestines

Once you have opened the fishs’ belly cavity, you will see the intestines. Grab the fish’s jaw bone or gill rakers and pull down towards its tail. The entrails of the fish will be attached and will all come out in one piece.

Remove the Kidney

A trout’s kidney lies along the ventral surface of its spine. You may see it incorrectly referred to as a bloodline in some places.

To remove the kidney, take a knife and make a slit the whole length of it. Now under running water, use your thumb to push along the slit and wash out the back of the body cavity where the kidney once was.

Remove the Tail 

Depending on the size of the trout, you may want to use a chopping knife. There is no more flesh beyond the fish’s anus, so place your knife right at the anus and cut the tail off.

Similar to the head, some people like to leave the tail on the fish when cooking. This is more for aesthetic reasons as the tail is not very palatable, and there is nothing there to eat.

If you wish to leave the tail on the trout, you can skip this step.

Rinse the Trout

Now that the fish is fully cleaned out, rinse the whole fish under fresh running cold water.

Fillet the Trout

Place the trout on its side with its back facing you. Insert your filleting knife on the top side of the fish’s spine just behind the gills, trying to keep it as close as possible to the spine.

Keeping the knife along the spine cut towards the belly and tail simultaneously.

Do not completely remove the fillet. Flip the fish over to the other side and repeat the same procedure. You can now fully remove both fillets.

Remove Pin Bones

How to Clean a Trout

Inspect the fillet closely and look for any pin bones. These calcified nerve endings stay in the filet and are best removed before the fish is cooked.

To remove the pin bones, use the tip of your fingers to feel along the fillet.

Once you located the pin bones, use a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers to grab the bone.

With a gentle pull, the pin bone will come right out.

Try to pull with the grain of the flesh and not upwards; this way is easier to get the pin bone out and causes less damage to the flesh.

Remove the Skin (Optional)

How to Clean a Trout

Grab the filet a the tail end and peel it back with your thumb. Use the filet knife to make a cut between the skin and the flesh. Keep a tug on the skin while running the fillet knife through.

How to Store Freshly Cleaned Trout

Now that you got your trout cleaned, it’s time to think about storing it.

The best trout is fresh trout. However, if you are not ready to eat it just yet it’s best to freeze the trout.

Vacuum Sealer

If you have a vacuum sealer, this is the best method to store trout in the freezer. 

Freezer Paper

How to Clean a Trout

Freezer paper is another way to store trout or any other fish properly. It is also a more durable method of storing fish than vacuum sealing. 

Freezer paper has a waxy inside. First, wrap the fish in freezer plastic or in a Ziploc bag. Then wrap the Ziploc in the freezer paper with the plastic facing in.

How Long Will Frozen Fish Keep?

Frozen fish will last forever but will start to lose taste and texture over time. Many times I’ve had frozen trout that was a year old and tasted perfectly fine.

However, it’s best to consume it within eight months of freezing to get the most from your trout.

Store the trout using one of the methods above at 0F or lower.

Storing Trout in Fridge

Fish kept in the fridge will last 1 – 2 days if stored at 40F or less.

To keep the freshly cleaned trout in the fridge, wrap it tightly in freezer paper. It would also be best if you kept it in a Ziploc bag.


Do trout need to be descaled?

Trout have very small and thin scales, and most people generally do not descale them before cooking. I leave the scales on and cannot even tell that I am eating scales.

How soon after catching a trout should it be cleaned?

It’s generally considered that fish is fresher the sooner you bleed them out. However, as long as you get your fish chilled once you kill them, they can stay whole until you get home.

Can you eat the skin on trout?

The skin on the trout is one of the tastiest parts, in my opinion. However, this depends on how you plan on cooking the trout.

Most people like to eat trout skin that has been fried and has a crispy texture.

I like to fry them in butter; this gives the skin a deep rich flavor.

Can you leave the head on a trout?

It’s perfectly normal to leave the head on a trout while you are cooking it. This is common practice in some high-class restaurants. However, it’s important to know that the head is the fastest part of the trout to rot. 

So if you plan on leaving the head on the trout, be sure to keep it frozen and not in the fridge.
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