How To Gut A Fish: From Whole To A Clean Belly & How To Store The Fish

Fish is mostly sold clean – pre-gutted and fileted. While this helps sellers maximize quality, it also makes the cooking process faster for you because you do not have to spend minutes removing the gut of your fish.

However, sometimes, you may have no other choice than to deal with the gut in your fish. Gutting a fish is the process of removing all internal organs in the abdominal part and preparing it for meals. It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is necessary if you must retain the quality of your fish.

Here, you will learn easy steps to gut a fish seamlessly and soon you will be doing this like a pro.

Why should you gut a fish?

Fish guts have bacteria that cause decomposition and spoilage to happen faster. Removing the guts prevents this process that eventually affects the flesh and leads to spoilage and waste.

Gutting fish before fileting also lowers the risk of puncturing the organs of the fish. Punctured organs will taint the flesh and make it darker instead of the appealing white color everyone likes to see on their fish.

How to gut a fish

how to gut a fish - millenora

Whether you bought whole fish from the fish market, a fisherman friend gifted you one or you caught it yourself, the process of gutting a fish is the same.

The materials you need are:

  • Pairs of latex gloves
  • A sharp knife (preferably a fillet knife)
  • A smaller knife for scaling
  • Cutting board
  • Old newspapers for the surface of the board
  • Tongs
  • Re-sealable bags
  • Trash can
  • Plenty of water


  • Wear rubber gloves and line the cutting board or any flat surface with newspaper

Knock out the fish

  • If you have a live fish, you will have to kill it first
  • Hold the fish down with one hand and strike the head with a heavy, blunt object. You only want to knock the fish out not smash its head
  • When you are sure the fish is unconscious, spike the brain with a thin knife that can through the head
  • Rinse the fish under running water to wash off slime, dirt, and debris. This rinse will also wash the blood off the body of the fish
  • Afterward, cut off the fins from the base with the filet knife. Removing the fins will make gutting easier


  • Hold the fish 45 degrees to the cutting board or flat surface and scrape off the scales with the blunt side of the knife
  • Scrape both sides of the fish, from the tail to the head. Then, rinse off the scales and check for any areas you did not touch


  • Hold the fish up again at 45 degrees to the cutting board with the belly area facing you
  • Then, slide the knife into the vent (the anus area which is near the bottom of the tail) of the fish and begin to cut. Cut upwards towards the neck but you should not cut too deep into the belly. Otherwise, you may puncture the intestines
  • If you do not plan to remove the head, stop cutting at the neck. Cut through the throat and gills if you will remove the head
  • Now, spread the belly open and pinch the organs where they connect to the head. Gently and slowly pull them out so you do not puncture any organ and create a mess
  • Put the guts and entrails in the trash can
  • Still holding the belly open, rinse the abdominal cavity under running water until it is clear of blood and you can see white flesh
  • You can go ahead to store the fish on ice, refrigerate or freeze it if you don’t plan to use it immediately
  • You can also filet the fish and use up the filets or freeze them for later
  • Clear off and discard the used newspapers and gloves. Wash all the knives and bowls you used during the gutting and cleaning process
  • Most importantly, wash your hands too
gutted fish - millenora

How long can you keep a fish before gutting it?

If you do not have ice on hand, gut the fish immediately after you take it out of the water. 

With a box of ice close by, you can keep the fish for up to a day or two before gutting it. However, the earlier you gut your fish, the better its quality.

Furthermore, if you are keeping the fish for a day or two before you gut it, bleed the fish before storing it on ice. Without bleeding fish, the blood in it will coagulate and discolor the meat and alter its taste. Moreover, it will begin to go bad fast.

Nonetheless, ungutted fish (even if you have bled it) will gradually begin to go bad after 48 hours of storage on ice. So, you should gut the fish as soon as possible to preserve its quality.

How can you store fish after you gut it?

After gutting fish, you can put it on ice or store it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Using ice

This is the best form of storage for fish you intend to transport or use while camping. Get a cooler with a drain so you can easily release the ice water as it defrosts. Retaining water in the cooler will ruin the flavor of the fish.

If you will be out for long, get more ice close by so your fish remains intact until you are ready to cook it.

Refrigerate the fish

Refrigeration keeps the fish longer than keeping it on ice. Moreover, you do not have a bother with draining out ice water. All you need to us ensure that the power supply is constant. After cleaning the fish, prepare it for refrigeration.

Pat dry the fish with clean paper towels. Afterward, wrap them individually in wax paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.

Put all wraps of fish into a big plastic bag or airtight container and refrigerate. Make sure you use the fish within two days for the best quality.

Freeze the fish for longer storage

Freezing is the way to go if you intend to keep the fish for months. You have to keep the fish wrapped airtight. Start with placing it in a freezer-safe ziplock bag. Squeeze out as much air as you can before you seal the bag.

Wrap the bag of fish in aluminum foil and freezer paper. You can place the wrapped fish in the freezer now.


Why do frozen fish contain the gut?

Producers of frozen fish do not remove the gut before packing it because it is a time-consuming process that may compromise the quality of the fish. When you buy frozen fish, allow it to defrost and remove the gut before you cook it.

Do people eat fish gut?

Most people do not eat fish guts. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises against eating organs of fish because they usually contain high amounts of toxins. Some people eat the liver, heart, and intestines of fish.

Fish intestines look like pasta after cleaning and steaming them. You can add them to pasta dishes if you do not mind.

What will happen if you do not gut your fish?

You risk losing the quality and taste of your fish if you do not gut it. Removing the guts of a fish also eliminates bacteria that can cause decomposition and spoilage.


The gutting process is not the best part of fish preparation. But all dinner plans are on hold until you have done this. If you follow the steps above, you will not always need the help of your fishmonger. To retain the quality of your fish, gut your fish within 24 hours of purchasing it.

Also, if you don’t need the fish immediately, freeze it. If you have a dog, you can save the guts for it and save some extra cents.

Remember to wash your equipment and hands well so you don’t go about smelling fishy. But, if your hands still smell like fish, use any of these methods to get the fish smell off your hands.

Good luck on your next fishing adventure! 

Thanks for reading.