Technique: How To Scale A Fish


Like cleaning a fish, scaling one involves 'getting up in there'. It's just that this time it's with the back of a heavy knife (I've never liked fish scalers - simply no need). With fresh running water close by and a chef's or other larger heavy knife, begin by grasping the fish by the tail. Grasp firmly, covering as few scales as possible. If it's your first time (or even second or third) go slowly, take your time and always keep the knife pushing away from you.

Starting just above the tail, push the back of your knife up under some scales and move the back of the knife gently at a roughly 45 degree angle toward the head. The scales will pop right out, but you may have to make two or three passes over an area to get them all. If you try to go too quickly though, scales will fly everywhere!!

Take your time, be careful and rinse often, trying to catch as many as you can before they go down the sink or your driveway. By running your hand tail to head you will feel whichever ones you've missed.

If the fish you are scaling has a large, sharp or pointy dorsal fin (the larger fin on the back of the fish), you may want to remove it before scaling. It's difficult to work around and can prick you as you are working with the fish. Carefully cut below it down the back. Work your way down the entire fish and use a smaller knife for the belly section or a small fish if you's like. Rinse the scaled fish well, giving one last check for those you may have missed.

Use a dry towel to hold the tail and do the whole process under water and they dont fly all over the place making clean up easier. It also will save water if your doing more than a fish or two.


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Lynda L's picture

Thanks for this!

Rebecka Evans's picture

After living in Florida for the past five years and doing a considerable amount of fishing I've had several occasions to scale fish. Unlike the little trout that I'm used to catching and cleaning from the Rocky Mountains, ocean fish have proved to be cumbersome and frustrating to scale.

I've experienced flying scales, dorsal pricked fingers and have uttered some not so elegant words while struggling in the "No See-um" infested night air!

Don't get me wrong, scaling is well worth the effort when you take the first bite of your days catch but I usually need a stiff drink to wash down my dinner.

In the future, I'll try to be more patient and follow your fish scaling advice. I'm really looking forward to seeing the scales "pop right out"!

One note: to get rid of fishy smelling hands...vigorously rub your hands with toothpaste. It really works!