The Fiddleback Forge F2 is Andy Roy’s interpretation of a fish and fowl knife. It has a featherlight blade with a fine edge that is exceptionally nimble in hand and perfect for processing both fish and small game. When this knife came out, I knew I had to have one as I find myself fishing and hunting birds more than I do large game and this knife seemed ideal. It doesn’t add much weight to the pack and it is purpose built. I received my desert ironwood F2 with only a few days before leaving for South Africa on safari where it would get a really thorough field test. I had handled an F2 before at BLADE Show but there was something about this one that drove me to action immediately. I knew I had to give it a workout before packing it along to another continent. The next morning, I took a trip to my favorite local fishing hole and came up with two rainbow trout that would taste great for lunch. Just as I started to clean the first, I had an epiphany and came up with this “how to clean a fish” instructional for the Fiddleback Forge website.
Warning: If you don’t like the sight of blood, prepare to be triggered.
Warning 2: If you get triggered, toughen up, fish are delicious and you can’t grill it until you kill it.
Before I start cleaning a fish, I make sure my knife is sharp and I have plenty of water. A sharp knife will make cutting through skin easier and it is safer than forcing a dull knife. I also make sure I have plenty of water, running ideally, to wash my hands and the fish frequently. I also wash my knife if the handle becomes covered in fish slime. Running water will help you wash away scales (not relevant with trout that don’t have them) and you’ll also keep your workspace cleaner.
The type of cleaning presented in this article is not filleting. That involves removing the fillets from the fish body and discarding the head, tail, and bones. If you are in a survival situation, you can make fish stock with these normally discarded parts. Filleting fish is common on commercial boats and outfitters that package fish in ice to send home with you. The method presented here is better for grilling fish or baking them whole. It is one plenty of outdoorsmen use and I prefer it for making fish “cooking-ready” in short time.
The first step is to make a shallow slice from the vent (where fish poop comes out from from in case you were wondering what the “vent” is) to the gills. You should not cut through the lower jaw and you’ll probably stop your cut right at the gills. This slice should be shallow to prevent puncturing the entrails. Make sure to cut into the stomach cavity thoroughly and watch your hands during this step to prevent accidentally cutting yourself.
Directly under the jaw of the fish is a thin membrane. If you insert your knife from one side of the fish to the other cutting it free, you will have a flap you can use as a handle to pull the gills free from the carcass. Depending on the size of the fish, you may have to do a little extra trimming under the jaw and around the gills but the lower jaw should be intact with the bottom of the fish’s mouth cut away.
This next step is one that does not feel like warm apple pie if it is your first time. When you stick your fingers into the carcass for the first time, you may be grossed out but there is nothing in there to hurt you and you have guts inside you too. Pulling backwards on the flap cut from under the fish’s mouth toward the tail, you will dislodge the gills, heart, intestines, and swim bladder with a steady and strong pull. Sometimes, the small fins just behind the gills may get ripped off in the process. What is important is removing all the guts and not puncturing or popping them inside the fish’s cavity.
One additional (and in my opinion a necessary step) is scoring the dark line of blood along the spine with the tip of your knife and using the back of your thumb nail to scrape it out toward the head. This black blood is not harmful to humans but it does have a strong fishy flavor and if you’re preparing fish for someone else, they may not like it.
The last step of cleaning a fish is thoroughly rinsing it. If you are worried about rinsing the fish in the water where it came, don’t be. As you cook the fish, you’ll kill off anything harmful in the water that is left on the fish’s body. How you cook the fish is up to you. A sharpened stick can be threaded through the mouth and pushed into the body toward the tail. Perpendicular sticks can be used to keep the body open while you cook it over the fire. My preferred way of making trout is right in a pan of butter with lemon, thyme, and garlic with spoonfuls of the buttery seasoning basted over the top as it cooks.
When you’re done, make sure you toss all of remnants of your fish back in the water to be carried downstream if you are in bear country. Don’t make a mess of the bones or skin if you want to avoid having any visitors in camp. If you haven’t already, clean off your knife, strop it, and put a thin coat of food-grade oil on it before you store it. The more times you clean fish, the more efficient you’ll become at it. Watch professionals do it and you’ll be in awe as they manipulate the fish and blade effortlessly in a razor-sharp dance.
Remember, if you like eating what you catch, you need to know how to clean it. With a good knife like the Fiddleback Forge F2, you’ll be inspired to get outside and catch your own. I’m impressed with the “Fish” side of this knife so far and am waiting to test the “fowl” side later this fall after my safari. I’ll continue to evaluate the performance of this blade but first, there are some nice trout waiting for me.
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