How to Clean Lake Trout: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Clean Lake Trout

Cleaning lake trout is a crucial skill for any angler or fish enthusiast. Properly cleaning the fish ensures that you’re able to enjoy the best quality of meat while minimizing waste. Safety should always be a top priority during the cleaning process. Using the right tools and following the correct techniques not only ensures a successful cleaning but also reduces the risk of accidents.

How to Clean Lake Trout Like An Expert

Tools and Equipment

Before you begin cleaning a lake trout, gather all the necessary tools and equipment. These include a fillet knife, a suitable cutting board, gloves, and a designated cleaning station. The fillet knife should be sharp and ideally have a flexible blade to maneuver around bones and joints. The cutting board should be large enough to accommodate the size of the fish and have a non-slip surface to prevent accidents. Wearing gloves not only protects your hands from the fish’s scales but also helps maintain hygiene. Set up a clean and organized station where you can comfortably clean the fish.

Preparing the Lake Trout

Properly preparing the fish before cleaning is essential. Start by chilling the fish. Cold temperatures help firm up the flesh, making it easier to handle and clean. If the fish was caught recently, chilling it can also help prevent spoilage. Remove any hooks, lures, or fishing gear that might be attached to the fish. Carefully inspect the fish to ensure you’ve removed everything. Rinse the fish under cold water to remove any excess slime or debris. This not only makes the fish easier to handle but also helps maintain the cleanliness of your workspace.

Scaling the Fish

Scaling the fish is an important step to enhance the eating experience and to ensure that no unwanted flavors come from the skin. The scales can harbor dirt and bacteria, so removing them is essential. Scaling also improves the filleting process. Use a scaling tool or the backside of your fillet knife to gently scrape the scales from the tail towards the head. Be sure to cover the entire body, paying extra attention to areas around the fins and along the lateral line.

Gutting the Fish

Gutting the Fish

Gutting the fish involves removing the internal organs. This step is crucial to prevent any off-flavors and to enhance the taste of the fillets. Begin by making an incision from the anus up to the jaw, following the belly line. Be cautious not to cut too deep to avoid puncturing the intestines. Gently open the body cavity and carefully remove the innards. Use your fingers or a spoon to scrape out any remaining bits. Once the cavity is clean, rinse it thoroughly under cold water to remove any blood or residue.

Filleting the Fish

Filleting is the process of removing the flesh from the bones. Start by making a cut just behind the gills and pectoral fin. This will serve as the starting point for your fillet. Hold the fish by its head and make a shallow incision along the dorsal side, following the backbone. As you proceed, gradually angle the knife downward to separate the fillet from the ribs. Use smooth, controlled motions to avoid tearing the flesh. Repeat the same process on the other side of the fish to obtain two fillets.

Removing Rib Bones

After filleting, the rib bones might still be attached to the fillets. These small, fine bones can be undesirable when consuming the fish, so removing them is recommended. Locate the rib bones by feeling along the lateral line of the fillet. To remove them, carefully slide your fillet knife under the rib bones while lifting them away from the flesh. Keep the knife parallel to the bones to avoid wasting any meat.

Skin Removal

Removing the skin from the fillets can be a matter of personal preference. Skinless fillets are versatile and can be used in various recipes. To remove the skin, start by holding the tail end of the fillet with one hand for grip. With your other hand, gently slide the fillet knife between the skin and the flesh, applying a slight downward angle. Use a back-and-forth sawing motion while guiding the knife along the fillet. Be patient and maintain a steady pressure to ensure clean separation.

Trimming and Inspection

After filleting and skinning, it’s important to inspect the fillets for any remaining pin bones or bits of skin. Run your fingers over the fillet’s surface to detect any small bones that might be sticking out. Use clean tweezers or pliers to carefully remove these bones. Additionally, check the fillet for any areas where skin might still be attached. Trim off any excess skin or dark-colored sections. Rinse the fillets once more under cold water to remove any loose bits or debris.

Proper Disposal

Dispose of the fish waste responsibly. If you’re not using the fish remains for composting or other purposes, check local regulations for guidelines on proper disposal. Avoid throwing fish remains in bodies of water, as it can disrupt the ecosystem and attract scavengers.

Cleaning Up

Cleaning Up

After you’ve finished cleaning the lake trout, take the time to clean your workspace. Wash the cutting board, fillet knife, and any other equipment you used with hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination and to maintain hygiene. Dry and store your tools properly to keep them in good condition for the next use.

Optional: Curing or Freezing

If you’re planning to enjoy the lake trout at a later time, you have a couple of options. Curing the fillets with a dry rub or brine can create delicious smoked trout. Alternatively, you can freeze the fillets for long-term storage. Wrap the fillets tightly in plastic wrap or vacuum-sealed bags, removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Label the packages with the date to keep track of their freshness.


By following these steps, you’ll be able to effectively clean lake trout and prepare the fillets for cooking. Each step contributes to maintaining the quality of the fish and ensuring a safe and enjoyable meal. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts aren’t perfect. With time, you’ll become more skilled and efficient at cleaning lake trout, and you’ll be able to savor the fruits of your labor by preparing and enjoying delicious dishes.


Why is it important to scale lake trout before cleaning?

Scaling lake trout removes dirt, bacteria, and slime from the skin, ensuring a cleaner and more pleasant eating experience. It also makes the filleting process smoother and helps prevent off-flavors in the meat.

Can I leave the skin on the lake trout fillets?

Yes, you can leave the skin on the fillets if you prefer. Some people enjoy the added flavor and protection the skin provides during cooking. Just make sure to thoroughly clean and cook the skin if you choose to keep it.

What’s the best way to store cleaned lake trout for later use?

After cleaning, wrap the fillets tightly in plastic wrap or vacuum-sealed bags. For longer storage, freeze the fillets. Remember to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Label the packages with the date for easy tracking.