How to Scale a Fish

How to Scale a Fish

Scaling a fish is quite easy. It may be even easier than catching the fish themselves! Scaling a fish means to remove its scales and make it edible as well as easier to cook. Pretty much anyone can be taught to scale a fish, and if you have plenty of fish in your catch, you can practice on for hours!

What is Scaling a Fish?

Everyone who has purchased fish sold from inside the grocery store freezer section has bought fish that is ready to cook. Consumers don’t have to do any prep work or alter the fillet in any way. 

But catching and prepping a fish to freeze for public consumption is not a straightforward process. The fishers have to clean the fish, assess their health, gut the fish, and remove their organs. After these steps are completed, then a fish must be scaled for them to be consumed.

But what is scaling? Scaling is the process of using various tools like a knife or scaling tool to remove scales from fish. The vast majority of fish have scales, and this part of the fish can severely cut or hurt the mouth of the person who is chewing it. If you have never touched a fish, fish scales feel incredibly soft when you pet a fish from head to tail. But if you go drag the knife in the opposite direction, petting a fish from tail to head will result in many cuts. Scales are sharp and are not appetizing to eat.

fish scales

There are many different methods you can use to scale a fish. And the more practice you get scaling a fish, the faster you will be.

Equipment Needed to Scale a Fish

A fish can be scaled with two different tools: a scaler and a knife. A scaling tool is designed to quickly and easily remove the scales on a fish and catch onto its scales. But if you are a traditionalist, then a medium-sized knife will be fine to use. Make sure the scaling tool and the knife are both sharp.

Cutting board (optional)

You can scale a fish on pretty much any surface like a tabletop or countertop. But if you prefer to scale your fish the moment you catch them, then a tabletop may not be available for you. So if you keep a small cutting board with you in your fishing gear, it can be a solid item to make scaling easier. 

But many fishermen do not like carrying extra equipment, especially if they are planning to hike a few miles to their favorite lake or river. In this case, you can simply scale the fish in your own hand, although it may be much more difficult.

Bowl of water

After you’re done scaling your fish, you must rinse it to remove any extra scales on the body.

How to Scale a Fish

Even if a person is not used to prepping and preparing fish, scaling them is quite easy. The only hard part of scaling a fish is that they are quite slippery and can easily move across the table and slip out of your hand if you don’t have a firm enough grip.

Here are the steps a person must perform to scale a fish properly:

  • Wash and rinse the fish: Take the fish and rinse it in under running water for a minute or so. Make sure to rub the fish with your thumb and fingers to loosen any seaweed, rocks, or sand that is caught on its body. Place the fish in a bowl of ice-cold water when you’re done and continue to rinse the rest of the fish.
  • Pat it dry: Take the fish out of the bowl of water and remove any moisture with a towel or paper napkin. Properly drying a fish will make it easier for you to grip it while you are scaling.
  • Prepare your knife or tool: The knife or tool you are using to scale a fish must be sharp and wide enough to run across its entire body in a single stroke. Do not use small knives when scaling a fish. But the knife must not be so large that you are not able to control it. Do not use a chef’s knife or a bread knife.
  • Prepare to scale: Place the fish down on a cutting board or tabletop that is protected by a newspaper or some other covering. Take the tailfin in your non-dominant hand and place the knife at the very edge of the body where the tale almost begins. Then slowly drag your knife towards the head. You should be able to feel the different scales brushing up against the knife. As you properly scale this fish, you will see many scales gather on the blade of the knife. Scales will also go flying off in different directions. Repeat this motion over the entirety of the fish until it is soft enough to slide your fingers in any direction without being cut. You do not have to scale a fish’s face. 

Helpful Tip

Do not be surprised if the fish flies out of your hands during scaling. It is common, and you should get used to holding the fish’s tail in such a way that it does not go flying.

What to Do After Scaling a Fish?

Hooray! You have successfully scaled your first fish. That wasn’t so hard now was it? After you have scaled a fish, rinse it again and ensure there are no scales left on the body. It is only after scaling that you should prep the fish and filet it so it can be cooked. It can be vacuum sealed and saved for later.


Scaling a fish makes it easier to eat, cook, and store. Plus, there will not be any danger in eating fish if all of the sharp scales are removed. Scaling a fish takes a bit of practice, but it is quite easy to do, and you can always ask to help out a Fishman if you are not interested in fishing, but wish to practice scaling.

Read more about How to Vacuum Seal Fish.

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